Miss April Advises: Wendy Ngo, Public Art Confusion.

Dear Miss April,

I almost crashed the Cayenne the other day. I was careening down Victoria Parade with the kids Ipading in the back and nilly had a conniption.

Theres a huge pile of Lavender steel holding up a gold George Jensen neck brace, two cartoon gunners in Lavender and a flock of olympic or gay coloured ufos. Really I dont care just choose youre side ladies, Putin/ Hair you choose. I found out later they were coolie hats. I had Jacinta google it on her Iphone5. The city of Yarra web site is very proud of these shallow cultural strereotypes. I pride my self on only being shallow for myself. I find it horrid in others.

OMG, its OMG awful. You seem to be able to explain public art. You cleared up the swarofski thing at the cultural centre. I was excited by the bling power but you are right it was a bit not shiny enough for any of us. Can you tell me that this thing is? Its like a vomit meets a car crash meets a thai restaurant interior. Can you tell me why its there? Can you tell me why it cost $3million [ jacnitas iphone, I was driving] and the electric cables are still showing. I have nice looking electrician if they need one.

Oh and whats with the tigers, this things not even in richmond, well one is, but really?

Hope you can help, i hate googling , it hurts the nails.

Your bestie

Wanda Gno.
East Melbourne

Hoddle Street Gateway by Avant Garde artist collaborative group "the community, the local business association, & the 3 tiers of government ". Think Girls on Speed combined with Pussy Riot, with fervent Richmond football club supporters and committed literal interpretation devotees.

Hoddle Street Gateway by Avant Garde artist collaborative group “the community, the local business association, & the 3 tiers of government “. Think Girls on Speed combined with Pussy Riot, with fervent Richmond football club supporters and committed literal interpretation devotees.

Dear Wendy Ngo

How delightful you (and your little brood) sound. I am so very honoured to be the recipient of your lyrical prose worthy to be presented as a gift to the gods, most assuredly. I have sashayed down Victoria Street many a time during the past annus mirabilis under my parasol, waving to the opium traders, stepping over the tracksuit wearers, admiring the beards imbibing in the open-windowed bars, and satisfying my delicate lady appetite with fragrant banquets of 6-8 mouth-watering dishes. I must admit I have been so confounded by the Leviathan and its many hats and accompaniments that they don’t seem to register in my long-term memory. Accordingly, I am as equally perplexed with every venture to the precinct of which I am so fond. Your correspondence therefore has provided me an opportunity of reflection and repose. I must know myself as I relate to the discombobulation that is known to be The Victoria Street Gateway Project.

My first revelation Mrs Ngo is that you are quite mistaken to view it as public art, as much as one assumes that giant sculptural and pictorial representations placed on public land is often assumed to be such. I also made a similar misassumption , and was at first keenly eager to discover who was behind this Avant Garde artist collaborative calling themselves ‘The Three Tiers of Government’ who had worked so closely with the other band of creative bohemians the ‘Richmond Asian Business Association’ and ‘Community’. Oh, my heart was all a flutter at the thought of discovering the identities of these foreword thinkers, cultural philosophers, and creative chieftans. Alas, I was shocked to discover that they were quite literally their namesakes and no professional artists were involved in this process at all. Ah, now that makes a tad more sense. Now that we gaze upon the Gateway with this tidbit, of course, NO ARTIST INVOLVEMENT AT ALL, and…the penny drops.

For what need do we have for the mind of the artiste when we have a successful architectural firm capable of designing award-winning buildings? The true creative here my demure Wendy is in fact Gregory Burgess Architects, who has proven themselves to be extraordinarily talented designers of celebrated buildings. Herein lies the quandary – their most literal approach, which must have served them well for architecture, does not perform well in translating culture into inspiring art. In fact, nowhere does The Victoria Street Gateway Project ever refer to itself as public art. So it appears it is suffering from a terrible crisis of identity. It is a construction, a gaumless literal creature.

You see, the gateway represents a boat (well, you know Vietnamese refugees, boat people arrivals, you know..). Then of course, we have traditional Vietnamese hats represented by, well.. big hats…suspended above. We are also presented with a light box panel of green bars (bamboo) with two “welcoming” tigers. Now this is a departure, as there are very few to no tigers left in Vietnam, so what is the deeper meaning here? Conservation? Species extinction? Oh, wait, football – oh how I laugh, so quaint. Thank goodness it only cost 2 million. Discretely I wonder on the ‘inclusive’ properties of declaring one’s sports tribe on a broad community gateway, but who am I to question such things, as the representative of the Richmond Asian Business Association declares: “Everyone has to support Richmond. If you support Collingwood that’s a different story. People boo us.” Ahh, welcome brothers and sisters, see how we represent you so. Halt Wendy, do not complain, for God help us they will probably stick a Magpie up there as recompense and that would just be too much to bear.

Then we also have aluminium panels fixed to the railway abutment walls, get this, you’ll never see this coming – another boat ! Plus, a traditional Vietnamese drum. Golly, I haven’t seen such dedication to literalism since Marcel Marceau. I am only surprised they restrained themselves from buying massive amounts of take-away rice paper rolls and just nailing them directly to the wall. Or perhaps suspended neon spring rolls could be a later addition, and let’s go crazy by putting up some sticks to represent chopsticks.

Do not misunderstand me, I celebrate the oeuvre of literal interpretation, some of my best friends are Westboro Baptists, and of course, I am a fervent practitioner of Literal Interpretative Dance, a most powerfully creative physical expression of the musical lyric.

Sunshine = widespread fingers, both hands move outward from a centre point.
Rain = wiggle fingers while moving hands from a raised position to a lower position in front of body.
Happy = beaming smile with open hands framing the chin, keep fingers wide.

Do not avow my dry descriptions here best exemplified by interpretive dance extraordinaire Johann Lippowitz.

But I digress.

The Victoria Street Gateway Project is a noble goal conducted with honourable intention (I assume). It is most definitely public, but sadly does not reach it’s potential as art. Do not lament though Mrs Ngo, we must all learn that potential is often nary fulfilled, and tragically beautiful opportunities can be lost forever such as a drop falls into the tranquil stream of lament. However, the three tiers and business posse are sure to be happy, and the gapeseeds will no doubt reinforce their predetermined vision. There is naught to be done. Acceptance can be a powerful mindset.

Do take care of those darling children,
Yours,
Miss April

rice-paper-rolls-large

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Miss April Advises: Warning, not suitable for unsuitable readers: Hans A. Whey

Dear Miss April,

I have three things to say that are remotely connected but establish a pattern of inconsistency in the area of governence and moral governence on our behalf. Could you examine these articles and hopefully console me for I think that in the light of these observations my radical liberalism ( moral optimism) has been subsumed by hysterical liberal [voters]?

See three things below.

1.Artist works seized for illustrataing a sexualized Justin Beiber [ surely the beib’s publicist should have been the perp for premeditation BTW this content was shown under Mr Doyles watch with no mention of dripping cocks on Bourke street in the papers]
2.Blonde St Kilda footballer with respectable penis blackmailed by unnamed teenager[surely if your blackmailing you should be named no matter what your age or if not, your parents might need to explain how your child got to be there to take those pictures]
3.Bill Henson celebrates youth through beauty but is vilified [no one notices the beauty part except liberal Turnbull who owns one]

Liberal salutations.

Hans A. Whey

Dear Hans A. Whey

I’ve been quite oblivious to the current furore as I have other urgent matters at hand such as catching up with my cross-stitching and waiting furiously for the cinematic release of Behind the Candelabra.

However, after perusing recent newspaper articles at the local library I thought, golly, the powers that be really want to stoically protect our fragile minds from the corrupting scourge of collage. I then noted the key words – penis, child, degenerate, Justin Bieber, paedophilia –tax-payer funding – gasp! Dirty, dirty, words.

I am confident you are referring to the artwork of a young Mr Paul Yore. Unless I am mistaken and there is another hysterical bout of hypocritical self-serving Machiavellian manipulation Civic Duty afoot. He has been quite the hot ticket of late, in the city, along the hip-strip, amongst the leafy establishment, and now then down in the former-seedy-area-now-well-and-truly-gentrified St Kilda. Gosh, simply everywhere, so imagine my surprise that we all come so lately to the conclusion it is no longer suitable for the sensitive eyes of gallery hopping siblings and sensitive Councilors.

Look, to be perfectly honest with you Hans, I’m a bit of an old prude myself. I do not take kindly to nudity. I especially find male genitalia most distasteful when displayed both in flaccid and extreme performance mode even if it is plastic; combine this with the images of Justin Bieber children and you have just described to me the very things that I despise about the selfish putridity of adult humans. In my humble opinion, the only male grotesquery wont to be seen in the fine visual arts is the sacred penis of Baby Jesus, front and centre, so close to the picture plane it almost pokes one’s eye out whilst gazing in trembling holy rapture.

Correggio, Madonna of the Basket, c 1524, held in the National Gallery of London.

Correggio, Madonna of the Basket, c 1524, held in the National Gallery of London.

Needless to say, I was ready with softened nib pencil to underline the compelling arguments against Mr Yore’s work, justifying the necessity to ensure that I had no opportunity whatsoever to assess for myself the level to which I objected to the work. I was not disappointed. The complainant articulates: “The Pope is f—d, Everything is f—-d, the police are f—-d, Pigs with guns…The police would have loved that one…And when you go into the grotto, it looked like teenage boys with erections, with stickers over them…Degenerate…It’s not the right time to do any of that stuff at the moment anyway, you know what I mean with all the stuff with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Touché.

However, that being said so eloquently, I am but one among many and I have enough experience to realise that everyone has a right to tell their story, and to suffocate those who try to do so is a most heinous moral crime.

So what of it Mr Yore, are you trying to outdo the Pope with your sequined dresses and garish aesthetics? Is that it? You, a formidable man of a long 25 years, who looks around you to see the magnificent institution ruled by the Holy Seed See so vulnerable now that you choose to kick it while it’s down? What with all of the terrible truth coming out and such, and those thousands of victims who survived the stuff of nightmares persecute the sacred institution? Or perhaps you see those victims who did not survive.

All I can find from Mr Yore: “We live in a time that is very important for artists and musicians and writers to express themselves and a lot of people are confused about society and see the world as a dark place”. Ha! Well thoughts like that will get you arrested in these times sir, so is it worth it? Well, actually I suspect probably now more than ever. But I hear the City of Port Philip could just save themselves around $100,000 a year, and as long as it makes good economic sense it’s a win-win, right?

Children and artists, they make from what they see. Point in hand I move on to your second article, St Kilda Teen. You say she blackmailed someone? I do not recall, I was under the distinct impression the young lass was rather generously democratic with her photography. She too shared with us the visual outpouring of the world around her, it just happened to be a vast array of footballer penii*.

Should her name have been published? I thought St Kilda Teen was her name. Are her parents responsible? Well, responsible enough to send her to school. The visiting footballers successfully seemed to take over at that point.

Or did they? A most unusual event occurred, the girl did not go away. How utterly incredulous and confusing this is for young gods such as these – desire begets undesirable consequences?? How were they to foresee that this 17-year old girl would expect they admired her and wanted to be with her just because they graced her with their penetrative presence? They, along with other naked penises needed protection, stat; and that’s where multi-million dollar businesses can truly be rather helpful.

And so it came to be. The child was a child no more, she had transformed into the Femme Fatale. Vulnerable, abused, at risk? No, monsieur, no, you have it all askew. She is a liar, a temptress, a young lady that uses her sexuality to corrupt the heroes – and, how you say, does not shut up when men tell her to. This is the perfect French film script, non?

Quelle Horreur ! The underage Femme Fatale is, in popular media, somewhat akin to the most frightening of all underage seductresses, the man-hating, satan-worshipping, teenage lesbian murderess – terrifying to powerful heterosexual men, however completely fictional to all other social groups.

So in real life when a child has quite literally been debased what do powerful people do? Why, the send in an experienced, respected, compassionate family man. Unfortunately, it was reported he might have been accompanied by a bottle of wine, illicit substances, and alas, his penis. Heroes fall quickly when we see the world through the eyes of another. And the child eventually disappears.

Mr Bill Henson is a master of beauty, a Renaissance spirit, a painter’s photographer. There is no denying the true art of his magnificent works – you know, there’s no icky bits, nor ugly truths. Chiaroscuro. Allow me to repeat, Chiii-rrrra-scurr-o. You can’t argue with that.

And let us be quite frank with each other, once there is the sound argument of ‘but he’s famous internationally; he’s in all the national collections; it’s beautiful; important; investment’ – why, debate closed! Alas, herein lies our most despicable of lost opportunities. Debate never happened; not even a delicate vapour of conversation. What we got was:

Degenerate
Ignoramus
Paedophile
Wowser
You are
Am not

Not quite what one hopes for to invigorate important public discourse and insight. It does make one wonder the role of art in the first place, yes? But Sir, it would be grotesquely remiss of me to neglect to state indefatigably and publicly: therein lies in Mr Henson’s work a potent sexuality that one would need to have their eyes poked out with hot skewers to be unable to recognise. I would like to clarify, as I am merely a lay-person more interested in sneering at neighbours through my curtained windows , I do not believe they are in the slightest way pornographic. However, I find it incredulous that anyone could look at these images and not recognise their own selves at a time in the world where adults did not exist, where emotions ran deep and strong… and unfathomable.

Dearie-me, perhaps that is why the viewer can be so drawn in, but so uncomfortable. It is a world that we are perhaps not meant to observe, a burgeoning sexuality that needs to be protected from adults, from our gaze and interpretations. So much more difficult to do with photography – n’est pas? – we feel our presence, the subject’s, the photographer’s, it becomes so literal that we almost place ourselves in the role of intruder, destroyer, adult. What a lively conversation that would have made.

It is a rather interesting albeit shameful parody that we are at a point so vigilant to protect our children that we must whitewash, victimise, shame, objectify, and arrest them to do so. Alas, there is an ill wind my dear; a very ill wind indeed, and I suspect we won’t amble too much further along this path before we all turn to one another in a moment of horrific clarity and agree with Mr Yore. Everything is fucked.

Yours most sincerely, Miss April

* Penii – noun, plural. Anatomy, Zoology . the male organ of copulation and, in mammals, of urinary excretion. Miss April’s preferred pluralising of the singular form as the term penises can sometimes be a mouthful, although it can at times have a pleasing rhythm when strategically placed.

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In Arcadia: the art of Tomislav Nikolic & uncomfortable stuff about God

Tomislav Nikolic, 1: Hear the passion in their voices see the heaven in their eyes,
2: Their hopes and schemes are waiting dreams for less than paradise, 2012
acrylic and marble dust on canvas and wood
Diptych: 190 x 220.5 x 10.5 cm each

I understand the relationship one is expected to have with art today, the intellectual’s rhetoric. Take for instance Tomislav Nikolic’s recent body of work in arcadia, a strong collection of paintings that could be described in terms of colour field, formal abstraction, colour theory, insert references to Rothko & US / European abstractionists, terms that can categorise to the point of malleability enabling us to digest but also at times coolly aloof. What I really take away with me from this show, my true experience, is less sophisticated – feelings, memories and private thoughts that I cannot articulate.

Most particularly the diptych leaves me strangely exhilarated, the combination of scale and hallucinogenic qualities of the palette produce an uncharacteristic (for me) optimism and an altogether unreasonable thrill that – sigh, I just know that something good is going to happen. The optical illusion that one is larger than the other – first the left one, then the right one – produces an anthropomorphic rhythmical breathing pulse. The colours of in arcadia are saturated, they are beaming, they are the colours of Titian, the colours of the Masters, the colours of religious art; the blue of the Virgin Mary, the gold of icons, the light of Mystics.  And that is perhaps what I’m not supposed to talk about in this day and age, in the age of the intellect. I don’t want to throw my hat in with religion and the rhetoric of new age spiritualism leaves me squirming with ill ease, but where does that leave me?

DEATH. It’s still fairly sexy right now in contemporary art. Actually, over the past 5 years or so it has become positively mainstream. You can doll yourself up from head-to-toe in skulls. What underlies this fad? Could it be that the combination of the outing of atheism, plus the witnessing to mad behaviours of religious mania, encourages us to become less afraid of death? Are we becoming more present? It would be lovely to think of it is an awakening to the fragile beauty of our mortality: “Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have.” – Dr Gordon Livingston

Or perhaps we are afraid that the true death is looming, with the effects of climate change ravaging our world emblematic of an innate self-destruction, and the cold inaction of those in power, perhaps we now see that we might bear witness to the death of us all. If we are all gone, then death is absolute. There is no remembrance; we have fallen into nothingness.

Non omnis moriar, said Horace’s Odes – I shall not wholly die. Yes, and he was right. As long as people remembered, then death was not complete. Only if there were nobody at all left to remember would death be complete.” – Alexander McCall Smith, The Charming Quirks of Others

Nicolas Poussin, The Arcadian Shepherds, c 1628-9, 101 x 82 cm, Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth House.

Et in Arcadia ego – Even in Arcadia there I am.

Arcadia – the pastoral idyll, the classical Utopia; at one with nature, ourselves, life itself, it is pure contentment, Heaven on Earth.  But even in Arcadia, Death exists.  As I know Nikolic painted Don’t really want to know it better, want to keep it in the land of fantasy, in response to Poussin’s The Arcadian Shepherds, c 1628-9, he too must have been thinking of death.

6:Tomislav Nikolic, Don’t really want to know it better, want to keep it in the land of fantasy, 2012
acrylic, marble dust and 22.5ct champagne leaf on canvas and wood
104 x 85.5 x 6 cm

Poussin’s first version of this work is a classic Memento Mori allegory, telling the audience that even saucy bare breasted nymphs, and partying shepherds at one with nature must succumb to death, inscribed in stone ET IN ARCADIA EGO and a skull staring down at them to boot! Today the theme has a more interesting dimension to it, we can ponder our own mortality not as a Christian did with Poussin –  do not succumb to vanities, obey God in this life to ensure your place in Heaven, etc., etc. We can ponder Memento Mori with the tiny voice of Dawkins in our ear, ‘there is no God!’. Aware of our own mortality, without responsibility to secure an afterlife of bliss, our reasoning forces us to realise we are responsible for each other. The reprieve from suffering in this world can only come from ourselves; the responsibility for the continuation of life is ours.

But it’s not quite as easy as that though is it? The conscious process of considering our own mortality is going to lead us into the unknown. It is going to lead all of us in different ways because we are bound by our own experiences, intellect, capabilities, personalities, ability to process thoughts and emotions, not to mention ye olde family and culture. Some people need religion, others only for a short time, and others not at all.

I come away from Nikolic’s work thinking about the notion of Agape.  As he, the artist, peeks into the esoteric material of Alice Bailey, the Seven Rays, and Theosophy. It reveals (to me anyway) a longing to discover the mystery of what one feels but can not explain. Love. The love that connects and overwhelms us, that identifies the energy of life as something sacred, an ancient pre-God notion where the concept of Agape was so powerful and confusing that it somehow transformed into God. God is easier. With him we don’t have to think so much, he just is, and tells us what to do.

Tomislav Nikolic, 7: a constant overlapping, a cyclic development and a process of fusion, which is most confusing, 2012
acrylic, marble dust and 24 ct gold leaf on canvas and wood
85 x 108 x 5.5 cm

Let’s return to Ancient Greece for a moment. Andrea Mantegna painted Parnassus (1497) and Triumph of the Virtues (1502) for Isabella d’Este.  500 years later Tomislav Nikolic, using Mantegna’s works for inspiration, paints Hear the passion in their voices see the heaven in their eyes and Their hopes and schemes are waiting dreams for less than paradise, for us. This is the exhilarating diptych I referred to earlier, recalling the language of the Mystics – Agape.

“What is this which shines on me and pierces my heart without hurting it? I shudder and am aflame at the same time: I shudder, because I am so dissimilar to it, and I am aflame, because I am so similar to it. It is Wisdom, Wisdom itself which shines on me, breaking up my cloudiness, which yet covers me once more as I fall away from it through the darkness and rubble of my troubles.” – St Augustine, Confessions, I I.9.

Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus, 1497, Tempera and gold on canvas, 63 x 75 1/2 inches

Andrea Mantegna, Triumph of Virtues, 1502, tempera on canvas, 63 x 75 1/2 inches. Louvre, Paris

Parnassus, home to the Muses – Goddesses who inspired knowledge in arts and sciences. It is the land of poetry, literature, and learning. Another woman, Minerva Warrior Goddess of Wisdom, ejects the Vices from the garden of Virtues. Out says she to idleness, sloth, hate, lust, avarice and ingratitude. She, the powerful symbol of Wisdom, and Protector of the arts and sciences.  How telling that Wisdom is represented by a woman. I always thought Eve’s act was not a sign of weakness, but represented an admirable and courageous intellectual curiosity.

Arts, mythology, science, they were intimately acquainted, the combination of which was believed to be the path to wisdom.  How thrilling are those conversations that twist and turn from conjecture, allegory, evidence, to build stories that can teach us so more effectively then the retelling of facts.

It is ironic that our capacity for religion is seemingly intrinsically linked to our own extraordinary survival and evolution as a species. Our human drive to discover, to find answers to this painful human existence, this extraordinary world wherein we find ourselves. Our feelings of  ‘something bigger than ourselves’ developed our minds, imagination and intellect (actually, discovering red meat was delicious to eat had quite a bit to do with that too).

Like Tomislav Nikolic who travels to Arcadia, bringing back with him a plethora of confusing emotions and ideas, and pop lyrics, will we permit ourselves to delve into this layered conversation?  I do not believe in God, but yet I find myself talking to a God that I know my kind invented, when I need to. It gives me comfort, helps me to understand, and I am the wiser for it.  Only if he starts to talk back will I begin to worry.

PS: Tomislav Nikolic is represented by Jensen Gallery, Sydney. His exhibition in arcadia is happening now until 22nd December 2012.
PPS: I saw a preview of the show in Melbourne at Greenwood Street Projects. You can find out more about the artist on his website page, and see the complete body of work on-line here.

Detail: 1: Hear the passion in their voices see the heaven in their eyes,
2: Their hopes and schemes are waiting dreams for less than paradise, 2012
acrylic and marble dust on canvas and wood
Diptych: 190 x 220.5 x 10.5 cm each

Detail: 1: Hear the passion in their voices see the heaven in their eyes,
2: Their hopes and schemes are waiting dreams for less than paradise, 2012
acrylic and marble dust on canvas and wood
Diptych: 190 x 220.5 x 10.5 cm each

Invisible Architecture at Greenwood Street: string, sex-appeal and Sandback

In actual fact I’m referring to the memory of walking into the house on my favourite street in Melbourne. It’s possibly my favourite house in my beloved city. It is a modernists dream,  I was trying to concentrate on the friendly lady inhabitant but the impact of the experience of walking into larger space was almost overwhelming. I’m talking about SPACE. Not walls, rooms, building, home, decor, house, architecture, these all melted away  – that was all completely invisible. All I experienced was being in a space, seeing into other space where I could wander, a flow of SPACE. It was all so fluid – a little invisible architecture waterslide for my visual perception. It was brilliant.

Fast Forward. Add Keanu Reeves. He’s dressed in a black trench coat and looks exotic, super fit and really serious. We are standing next to a Fred Sandback sculpture/thing/idea/installation. This is our matrix. We do black flips, kill baddies, my hair is perfect, we land on our feet and then we pash. Sexual fantasies ensue. Thank you Fred. I figure if a multimillionaire can open a private art museum to meet chicks then poor people can go to art exhibitions and indulge in fantasies. The string hums.

I like art that is cleverer than I am. Because art demands an emotional response before before an intellectual engagement. So it is must more satisfying if it is a challenging destination at the end of the road.

At the moment there is vibrant blue string tautly tormenting me and delighting me, because it is smarter than I am.

String.

However it does have brass fittings. There you go, it has some complexity to it. It zings, it hums, it has created space. No, not delineation, not replication of a room, nothing so literal, it has created a sense of something that suggests to me that one day I might even slightly understand quantam physics. It’s there, it could be there, its next to me and I’m in it, and here again I’m outside of it. For some reason, its also kind of funny.

I am not dedicated to abstraction. I wrote a 25,000 word thesis on erotica in religious art for God’s sake. But you know, I understand the dedication. Some people need God, some people need aliens, some people need abstraction.

Fred Sandback installation at the Fox/Jense & Greenwood Street Project in the left corner. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction), 2008 (& 1982), Blue acrylic yarn. Fred Sandback Estate number 2566 110 x 140 cm. USD $185,000. Photo taken August 2012.

If you want to experience Fred Sandback’s work in person and you live in Australia you will need to save up for an international air fare, or wait. The only way to see it down here is to keep abreast of Jensen Gallery’s exhibitions. I was lucky enough to have my experiential happening at Greenwood Street Projects during Melbourne Art Fair time. Word on the street is that there is also an installation currently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I’m not sure if we really understand how completely cool it is for a commercial gallery to provide access to work of this international calibre. The internet, photographs, books, only go so far. For some work, it’s all about the experience.

FRED SANDBACK
Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction) 1982
Blue Acrylic Yarn
Fred Sandback Estate Number 2566
Image courtesy Jensen Gallery

FRED SANDBACK
Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction) 2008
Blue Acrylic Yarn
Fred Sandback Estate Number 2566
Detail from Greenwood Street Projects installation.
It just looks like a close up of string? That’s because it is.

Awww. We wear our sunglasses at night…and inside. Photo just for the hell of it and from the public domain. From the Matrix film.

It continues! Hayes’ show at Dark Horse Experiment has been extended so you still have this week to go and see it. It’s attracted great attendance, media attention, academic interest – not bad for a cancelled show! The gallery is open Wed – Sat 12 – 6 at 110 Franklin St, Melbourne.

Museum of Love and Mortality

In 2004 I helped Cameron Hayes put together a publication to accompany his solo show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. When I went to deliver some to be stocked at the Arts Bookshop a rather peeved employee there complained: “but you don’t have any information in here about the artist!”

It’s true. I did try, but he refused, genuinely seeing it as erroneous information. “Just show the pictures”, Hayes instructed, “and the only text should be about the stories.” So that’s what we did.  No biography, nor exhibition history, not even a birth date. This time however, I happened to get a bit more out of him. So here goes:

Cameron Hayes is first and foremost a narrative painter. Usually his style of work consists of densely painted large scale canvases filled with figures and scenery, animals and architecture, playing havoc with retinal activity. Have a look at Mathias Ulungura…

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It’s that Art time of year again

Apparently galleries are dead and art fairs are where its at. Usually this sentiment goes hand-in-hand with an article about art fair oligarchs so I’m not sure if this is a permanent truism, but it is Melbourne Art Fair season and that’s always a bit of fun.

The Vernissage is done and dusted, loads of champagne, strict no service deadline, people trying to steal bottles over the bar (shh), perhaps not as a busy or buzzy vibe as past years but its the biggest thing on Melbourne’s art calendar still so lets not get too above our own station.

I’m quite partial to the odd wall sculpture myself, and Japan consistently delivers with Yamaki Art Gallery from Osaka becoming a regular exhibitor. Masayuki Tsubota’s beautiful work has become quite a draw card along with Toshimatsu Kuremoto’s tiny men.

I know how he feels. Small scale wall sculpture by Toshimatsu Kuremoto.

More miniature men appear in a bit of interior mind action going on in Ewen Coates sculptures. And again in Kendal Murray’s assemblages, along with miniature ladies and melodrama.

Fox/Jensen Gallery oblige us with some very fancy international artists. Is this so strange? Actually, yes. Australian galleries have Australian artists so it is quite a privilege to be able to see first hand the work of some illustrious names of the abstract ilk. A few home grown artists make the cut though, Tomislav Nikolic and Jude Rae are there. It’s hard to miss Nikolic’s one-two punch – they are fiery personalities. Berlin based  Arndt Gallery were here also exhibiting Sophie Calle.  Word is they are doing another project here in Melbourne soon so will keep you posted.

I suspect they want to be noticed. Gorgeous and not shy diptych by Tomislav Nikolic at the Fox/Jensen stand.

PAINT. Love it. Rex Irwin shows paint by Tim McMonagle. Yum.

We love our pavlova here. Tim McMonagle’s sensual handling of paint, glorious paint at Rex Irwin.

However, for lovers and friends and frenemies of art there are other things happening as well over the Art Fair weekend and beyond. Like…

Fox/Jensen again. Over at Greenwood Street ProjectsUmmm, yes, they do like abstraction. I love serious Germans and their Serious Art. This project is akin to a pop-up museum of international art.

The Cameron Hayes show which I wrote about last month is currently open at Dark Horse Experiment and will be until September 2. Receiving some media attention and discussion already, deservedly so. Nice one.

The New Fair – a pretty ballsy new start up fair by KalimanRawlins but for some reason they keep reminding me via Facebook that I am not VIP enough to score an invitation to the preview. I actually don’t require that persistent reminder. I am comfortably self-aware.

The Notfair.

Its the weekend to go and see art in Melbourne. Please do so.

Upon departure. Footpath 10.30pm outside Royal Exhibition Building 1st August. In the art world we call this detritus but that is so 5 years ago. Now we are back to calling it rubbish. Wasteful sad sacks – pick up your rubbish.

The approach to Cameron Hayes

In 2004 I helped Cameron Hayes put together a publication to accompany his solo show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. When I went to deliver some to be stocked at the Arts Bookshop a rather peeved employee there complained: “but you don’t have any information in here about the artist!”

It’s true. I did try, but he refused, genuinely seeing it as erroneous information. “Just show the pictures”, Hayes instructed, “and the only text should be about the stories.” So that’s what we did.  No biography, nor exhibition history, not even a birth date. This time however, I happened to get a bit more out of him. So here goes:

Cameron Hayes is first and foremost a narrative painter. Usually his style of work consists of densely painted large scale canvases filled with figures and scenery, animals and architecture, playing havoc with retinal activity. Have a look at Mathias Ulungura captures Hajime Toyashima – 19th February 1942 – this is indicative of his usual style.

Mathias Ulungura captures Hajime Toyashima – 19th February 1942, 2006, oil on linen, 167.5 x 254 cm.

But the Milikapiti show is slightly different. There are large canvases with empty spaces and small canvases with intimate scenes. This body of work, some painted in 2006, some as recently as this year, is in essence one work. Instead of many scenes in one canvas, individual scenes get their own canvas, and some characters have even evolved into soft sculpture format.

Hayes has decided to speak about this body of work, something he hasn’t done often in the past. I think he is frustrated. Of being misunderstood, of people not taking the time and care to look at his work in equal measure to the care he puts into creating it. It can be frustrating. One thing I have noticed following Hayes’ work is that he often tackles subject matter before the rest of us are quite ready to deal with it, or even recognise it. Years ago he painted a magnificent lolly coloured painting that investigated corporate paedophilia, the marketing of sexuality and childhood. A couple of years later it was a hot topic in the media. I’m not suggesting he is some sort of trend-forecasting zeitgeist, but that’s what happens when you have an observer like Hayes. They see things before other people do because he’s not participating. He’s watching and recording.

14 Kurdish refugees land in Milikapiti and ask, “is this Australia?” – 4th November 2003, 2012, oil on linen, 61 x 81 cm

Marketing and branding is something that still interests him today with this body of work. Many of these paintings were painted during an 18-month period when Hayes was living in a small Aboriginal community called Milikapiti Melville Island north of Darwin (Northern Territory, Australia) the home to the Tiwi people for the last 7,000 years or so. Fascinated by the clash and melding of Tiwi culture and European culture, the community life and Tiwi history acts as a backdrop. It is a microcosm for a global pattern of displacement, expansion of dominant nations, corporate/social branding taking over culture and identity. Take the painting The least convincing rap band in the world – 11 August 1997; or 14 Kurdish refugees land in Milikapiti and ask, “is this Austraila?” – 4th November 2003.  The latter work referencing the sinister use of marketing in politics and the media. Based on a true story, a group of refugees were spotted on a vessel in the bay at Milikapiti. The conservative Howard Government of the time did a fantastic job of instilling a fear and hatred campaign of refugees through the media, basically branding them as potential terrorists and possible carriers of unknown diseases. It worked. So pervasive was this strategic political message that it even reached across the nation from capital cities to remote small communities. So here we have asylum seekers in the guise of The Raft of the Medusa, instead of ragged cloth they are waving brand name t-shirts representing our new dominant culture – the well marketed Brand. Would they have more success by appealing, not to empathetic fellow people, not to other displaced victims, but to those who like the same brands – who do you identify with? Are you Nike or more of a Burberry? Are you Apple or PC? Are you Right or Left?

The least convincing rap band in the world – 11 August 1997, 2012, oil on linen, 31 x 41 cm

Displaced people. We have a world full of them now, don’t we? Indigenous people, migrants, refugees, the old, the young, women, the battered, the misunderstood, the abused, hell, even just the lonely. Hayes believes his role as an artist is “to tell a story” and in the Milikapiti works the story is this:

“Most art has a sub-text and a text. The text is the scenery and the characters, the location. The subtext is the motivation, the idea behind it. The Tiwi islands are just the text. The stories are mainly about what happens when you have a group of people and someone from elsewhere comes into the group. No matter what happens, even when someone has good intentions to do everyone a favour, usually that person usurps someone, their position within the group. Milikapiti is a good metaphor for that, because when the Europeans came in they (mostly) tried to help, and even then the result was that it did someone out of a job. For instance, when they gave everyone the dole [welfare] it meant that Tiwi hunters weren’t required to provide food, or when they gave everyone ladders, the best tree climbers that could reach mangoes were out of a job. And so that is part of the story of Milikapiti, the celebrity status of a lot of people had been lost. Their purpose had been lost. “

Dog torturers behind the Milikapiti Clinic – 17th June 1979, 2006, oil on linen, 213.5 x 198 cm

Halfway to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29th July 1964, 2005, oil on linen, 213.5 x 198 cm

The Missionaries themselves are a good example of this type of displacement, from various angles. Half way to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29 July 1964. “The nuns come in to try and help, and overall they probably did, but there were a lot of casualties along the way.” Hayes doesn’t judge these individual missionaries, on the contrary he seems to have a real affinity for their sense of adventure and bravery, in essence their own displacement. But what does it achieve all of these good intentions? A perceived superiority of technology, values, lifestyle, or belief systems – what happens when people meet, groups combine, cultures collide, and one inevitably has more power than the other?

Painted in 2012 Waiting for a confession 31st October 1967 shows the absurdity of the formal ritual of confession taking place in the incongruous context of the bush.  A 20-year-old priest takes confessions of octogenarian Tiwi people. He’s somehow dragged a portable confessional that is placed in the untamed bush. They’ve lived a long life so the list is long!

The humour found in the incongruous meeting of cultures has also been used in the soft sculpture installation The Hunters, 2012. Three elderly women are going hunting. They are wearing inappropriate t-shirts. Those who have ever lived in remote communities would recognise such a scene. Often there is only one shop with limited stock, usually the clothing range is t-shirts featuring popular rap bands, song titles and slogans, or multi-national brands. Here Hayes has used the lyrics from a song called “Horny” (yes, really) by Mousse T, a ludicrously banal pop song that was very popular on Australian radio. The figure is also carrying a ‘Hello Kitty’ bag, one of the world’s largest brands it has permeated nearly every remote corner on earth! The incongruity of the cuteness, the inappropriate slogans, the blood, and carcases – it displays the unique way of life, the idiosyncrasies of the Tiwi people. Hayes also uses this simple, funny scene as a metaphor for what he describes as an ‘ill-fitting culture’. The European choices, the white Australian lifestyle just doesn’t quite meet the women’s needs.

Three Tiwi women, three Hello Kitty handbags and bits of hard to identify axed up native animal – 31st March 2012 (or The Hunters), 2012, felt and mixed media, dimensions variable around 50 cm high

The soft sculpture installations are interesting aesthetic devices. They are visual references to scenes and motifs in the paintings, but they also act as light relief, objects of colour and texture, fictional characters in 3-dimensions. They bind the 2-dimensional works together as a series, much the same way as the artist uses visual devices in his large-scale canvases to link different scenes together – whether that be repeated characters (human or animals) and patterns (poles, trees, rivers) or colours. Hayes describes his formal approach to painting as such:

“In reality there is very little difference when you walk around the streets between colours when you look at things. They’re quite close. The problem is when you are a kid and you start painting you paint a red dress, blue pants, and a white background. But in reality that dress is either dark red or light red and the pants are the same and everything looks quite similar in tone. So that is something you learn as you get experience. If you don’t want it to look amateurish, or to be like a Mondrian or Matisse picture, most colours are quite similar. Also it’s a lot easier to look at if you haven’t got colours jarring against each other, and when you are painting you try and make everything conservative which leaves you the option of doing bold colours later to attract peoples attention in different directions. So you paint a picture, you try and get the colours – say if 1 is white and 10 is black – you try to keep everything about 5 & 6 so that at the end of the picture you can use your black & your white, or bold colours as highlights, as a way of directing. Because if you start off with bold colours you’ve got nowhere to go because your eyes just look at the bold colours first and everything is compared to that. You lose control of the viewer looking at a picture if you use too many bold colours because people look straight at that.”

Installation shot of soft sculpture poles, teeth, and various animals, felt and mixed media, dimensions variable, about 170 cm high at highest point

This body of work spans over 8 years. It is a compelling approach to universal themes from a considered and accomplished artist. Some of the artist’s own text used in his work is perhaps misleading, or like his work, a type of fiction. It is not a re-telling of Milikapiti history as much as it is a narrative ploy. He uses his experiences, the visual feast of Tiwi culture and history, as a metaphor for the issues discussed above: displacement, global branding, homogenising culture.  The fallout of this is a growing trend of alternative cultures, ideas, values, anything that contravenes the structure and value system of the dominant society becoming victimised casualties along the way.

But wait, there’s more!

Semi-authorised abridged artist biography in point form:

  • Cameron’s full name is Cameron Kingsley Hayes. He was born on Halloween in 1969. He’s lived in Sydney, Melbourne and Melville Island. He works in his studio every single day – EVERY SINGLE DAY. I have only known him to take a break on rare family holidays and trips to attend exhibition openings in New York. Even then he will suffer great anxiety about leaving his studio and will assuage his guilt by sketching, planning and conducting research for further work.
  • For his larger scale canvases, which is the majority of his work, it takes approximately 3 – 4 months to complete, and he will often work simultaneously on 2 – 3 canvases at a time.
  • He doesn’t have studio assistants, every brushstroke is his and every sculpture is hand made. He even taught himself to sew to do the soft sculptures. He went to art school at RMIT, Melbourne.
  • He admires the work of Cat Rabbit, Henry Darger and Hieronymous Bosch. The idea of creating soft, toy-like sculptures was inspired by fellow artist Chris Humphries.
  • He can often be found at the Melbourne City Library doing research. He reads a great deal about every subject he paints about.
  • If you ever truly wanted to get a different perspective on something, problem, social issues, political figure, anything really, he would be the person to ask. He will enlighten the topic from such a vastly different perspective it will amaze you.  If he ever stopped being an artist (which will never happen) he could get a job as someone who thinks so far outside of the box he could revolutionalise think tanks. However, he’d probably unintentionally offend you at the same time.
  • He runs every day and clocks up to 100 kms a week. He umpires A grade Amateurs football.
  • If, for some reason, you needed someone to take care of $50,000 in cash you could give it to Cameron. Even if you couldn’t pick it up for 10 years or more, you can be sure it would still be there and he wouldn’t have spent a dollar.
  • He doesn’t like to ask for favours.
  • In response to the question “how are you, Cameron?”, he will respond “I’m the same”, without exception.
  • Even as a child he was an observer, and already much like an old man. Observations of his elders influenced a very strong code of ethics.
  • When he was at St Kevin’s he was the captain of the cross country and known as a good artist. His family lost everything when his father was sent to prison. His school kept him on with a scholarship.
  • He has had the same haircut forever. He has never been drunk and has never taken drugs.
  • When the warm months start to turn cold he wears less clothes because he thinks it is a good way to train his body to get used to winter. When he catches a cold he wears a raincoat to go jogging because he thinks he can sweat it out.
  • When I warned him that I was going to “do something different which you probably won’t like” by doing this bio section, he responded “anything but flattery”.
  • His greatest fear is running out of time before he gets to complete all of his paintings.

Dr Clyde Fenton delivers yet another baby – March 7 1932, 2006, oil on linen, 44.5 x 53.5 cm. Dr Clyde Fenton was the Northern Territory’s first Flying Doctor in the 1930s. He attended Xavier College, and although he did graduate as a medical doctor in 1925 from Melbourne University, he was a self-taught pilot. A disaster to the Civil Aviation Department, but a hero to the Tiwi people, as he was their only hope for medical assistance at the time.

REFERENCE:

Cameron Hayes is represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York,  http://feldmangallery.com

http://cordite.org.au/features/the-last-cameron-by-evan-maloney/

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/20/1074360762196.html

Schwerin, Marielle & Hayes, Cameron, Cameron Hayes, 2004, ISBN 0-646-42962-0

(http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=4096660882&searchurl=isbn%3D0646429620%26x%3D56%26y%3D20)

http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-04-20/art/cameron-hayes-jozef-robakowski-art-sewn-tradition-innovation-expression/

A fabulous video preview of some of Hayes’ earlier work in the series by Boyd Hicklin

Another fabulous video preview of Cameron Hayes’ painting What happens when pretend politicians pretend to be terrorists by film maker Sarah Lewis.

Fantastic video by Sarah Lewis about Cameron Hayes – a must watch!

POSTSCRIPT:

This body of work was scheduled to be exhibited in Melbourne in June. Unfortunately, this exhibition was cancelled. There was some call for censorship due to the artist’s use of indigenous subject matter. Not only was this a seeming misunderstanding and reduction of Cameron Hayes’ work it was a serious censorship of discussion about the role of art in current social discourse and the relationship between indigenous and contemporary art in Australia. No doubt there will be further developments on this story! …. And there is! : This body of work is scheduled to be exhibited at Dark Horse Experiment in Melbourne, August 1st to September 2nd 2012. So people can see it for themselves, and talk!

Kick after the siren, Tapalinga Hawks vs. Milikapiti Magpies – 3 December 2002, 2004, oil on linen, 101 x 152.5 cm.
“History is subjective, people can pick out events and stories that they think are important.” And that is what Hayes is referring to by making up past dates to accompany the images in this body of work. This painting (above) was painted in Milikapiti. The artist’s local neighbours would visit him at work, an easel set up under the house. This painting was quite popular. Someone suggested it should be on display in the community club; another neighbour found it funny , stating it reminded her of how it used to be when she was a child. The community now has strict regulations regarding alcohol consumption, no alcohol was permitted at football matches while the artist was there. Hayes says of this work: “The main part of the story is how white Australian culture tries to order Tiwi life. In the background rubbish is burnt (Tiwi) rather than collected – rubbish pile burn offs, and this helps to explain why they are all over the field. One as an aesthetic device and two to reinforce the theme of the picture. Two ways of handling a problem in concert. Football is another analogy for white culture trying to order Tiwi life according to their rules, in this case footy rules. Here the whole team is standing on the mark, opposing team members are hugging. The rules work to a degree, but are adapted by the local culture, not fully accepted.
The beer cans I’ve used as an aesthetic device too. They are quite easily understood as they were everywhere, and on the footy field, the sun fades them and they become aqua in colour, they actually look quite beautiful. And when I was there it wasn’t a judgement that there were beer cans or that it was an embarrassment.”
This work was also included in the local art competition The Footy Art exhibition in 2005, where Kevin Sheedy (Essendon FC Coach at the time) awarded it First Prize.

Swimming caught fish – 12 October 2011, 2012, oil on linen, 35 x 35 cm