Friday 24 May 2013

Move to a different blog sphere


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Sunday 17 March 2013

The collecting journey

To collect is a given; what to collect is the question. Once you've worked this out, the journey can begin......
If you are interested in contemporary art, or would like to be more interested in contemporary art, then this is the year to work all of that out, to take the plunge and commit. Opportunities abound over the next few months for the novice and experienced collectors alike to further knowledge, fine tune and expand their collections. 
First up is Art Month Sydney ie art in March - which is currently in full swing. It is art at every turn: see, hear, play explore and collect. Exhibitions, tours, talks, dinners, drinks - every dealer and artist in town is vying for your attention. 
5 of the group of 6 collectors featured in Collectors' Space,
1 wishes to remain anonymous

Art Month Sydney 2013
Buying art is a core focus of Art Month, though its not about buying the one piece for above the couch but encouraging the art of collecting
The pop-up Art Month exhibition at CAS Sydney, Collector's Space is worth checking out for inspiration. It is a series of rooms, each dedicated to an edited precis from the prized collections of 6 Sydney-based collectors. There are some really fabulous pieces here which, in this context, give an insight into how some people live with art in their homes. Videos, installations, big paintings, small sculptures - each room reflects the confidence these individuals have developed in their knowledge and taste, to buy some very interesting work.
CAS Sydney is a great venue, quite raw and informal - down a laneway, off Kent St - and lends itself well to this type of one-off event. Owned by featured collector Dr Clinton Ng, it has been the site of some interesting projects, including the  pop-up Arndt Berlin Gallery last year. Arndt Berlin brought 33 international artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gilbert and George, Sophie Calle, Georg Baselitz, Thomas Hirschhorn and Bill Viola to Sydney, for Sydney audiences to relish. So accessible, very little fanfare. Even John McDonald SMH art critic "was astonished by the range of this selection, and [he is] not easily astonished." (quote, unquote)
David Noonan Untitled 2012
silkscreen on linen collage, 214 x 304cm
Image courtesy the artist and Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels
Ng has been at the forefront of arranging these events. This suggests to me that, as with many sophisticated collectors, Ng has embraced collecting as a diverse and enriching experience which is more than simply owning a work, but has also become about sharing the experience.
Alexander Seton Dancing baby 2008
marble, caesarstone, hardwood 145 x 75 x 116cm
image courtesy the artist and Sullivan & Strumpf Fine Art
Ng possessions are highly prized: the David Noonan is breathtakingly beautiful; there is a large, arresting Daniel Boyd, still wrapped in bubble wrap - ready for loan; a slightly unnerving marble sculpture by Alex Seton; and two recent works from the sell-out first solo show of Clara Adolphus at MICK Gallery in Paddington. 
The point is: here is a seasoned collector who seeks out quality from all corners of the globe (see the labels), be it at the top end or entry level price bracket. He is not following the institutions or the fashionista, rather treading his own path, with a discerning, increasingly acute, eye.
Clara Adolphus First day 2012
oil on canvas 38 x 61cm
image courtesy the artist
The packing materials props in each room - purpose-built crates, bubble wrap and video cases -  got in the way of really seeing the works. I guess these extra props gave a sense of the potential for the hard yakka a great work can be subjected to. It may not be meant for lazing around on a living room wall. Quality works owned by private collectors are highly sought after as loans for exhibitions.  And, given the rawness of the space, I imagine the associated packaging assisted with protecting the pieces. But I would have preferred no distractions.
Let me just go back to the bit about a keen and discerning eye. 
Collecting (contemporary) art is like collecting anything: it takes time, patience, depth of knowledge, confidence, an openness of mind, a willingness to explore and take risks, and, yes of course, money. It need not be vast sums of money but it requires a disposable income of some sort. You can join the cogniscenti without forking out a non-existent fortune and still have food on the table and a roof over your head. Many of the great collections began with few dollars, with works paid off over a period of time.
Nicole Ellis various from 2012Cotton, linen, metallic fabric, acrylic paint, backed and mounted on wood
image courtesy the artist and James Dorahy Project Space
Most dealers of contemporary art will acknowledge that their bread & butter is in the price category below $5,000. Take for instance James Dorahy Project Space: you would be hard pressed to spend more than that on a single item in his space. The work is good, interesting, intriguing, engaging with ideas of its time and place in the world. Dorahy is committed to nurturing long lasting careers for his artists, who are beyond the initial emerging stage but not quite at mid career. His artists are increasingly sought after by collectors and institutions. In a few years time, these works will be priced above the $5,000 mark when they will have earned that right.  Nicole Ellis, an artist he represents, is featured in Collector's Space (a work owned by collector Michael Hobbs). 
Greedy Hen The secret level 2011
digital pigment print on watercolour rag, 42 x 59.5 cm
image courtesy the artists and Chalk Horse Gallery, Sydney
Amy Griffiths' works featured in Collector's Space exemplify the less expensive, but interesting approach. Unique beauty and quality need not cost the earth. A die-hard fan of Elvis paraphernalia, Griffiths also seeks out artworks by emerging Australian artists: the Greedy Hen duo (see my Xmas 2012 "an artful xmas" blog) and a couple of fabulous felt collages by Loretta Riley, a Gumbaynggirr artist from the Nambucca Vallery who was introduced to felting by Swiss artist Margrit Rickenbach
Collector's Space is on until March 24.
Similar modesty, I think, is found in the story of Bronius (Bob) Sredersas, a Lithuanian migrant who came to Australia under the 'Displaced Persons' scheme, post WWII. He arrived, on his own, with a single suitcase. He found work in the steelworks in Wollongong and lived a modest, quiet life until 1976, when he was robbed. It was then that he decided to offer his (by then) substantial collection of Australian art (think from Chevalier to Gleeson) and Chinese artefacts to the City of Wollongong. This was the catalyst for the Council to commit to a Gallery and establish the Wollongong City Gallery, now a key player in the network of small public galleries in regional Australia. Sredersas died in 1982, with no known relatives but his name, generosity and story live on in the Sredersas Gallery, the main exhibition space in Wollongong City Gallery
The story goes, apparently, that each weekend, obviously in search of something more than Wollongong could offer, he would travel to Sydney to visit art galleries. He established a friendship with Frank Watters and Geoff Legge of Watters Gallery and bought extensively from them, on his weekly steelworkers wage. It is a great story about a thirst for knowledge meeting with two luminaries in the art world who nurtured a passion. 
What I think is also particularly interesting, is that Sredersas must have wholeheartedly embraced his new home, to the extent that he committed himself to its culture and history - both of which would have been completely foreign.  If you know more of the Sredersas story, please leave a comment.
I only have to mention 3 collections - MONA, White Rabbit and the Kaldor Collection - for you to understand the potential for an individual's private passion to have a significant impact on the way a community sees itself (Hobart is no longer a forgotten city on a lonely isle, but a major international destination)Modesty plays no part in these ambitious mega collections which have shifted the landscape of Australian art museums with a jolt.
David Noonan 2012 exhibition
installation view Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels
image courtesy the artist and Xavier Hufkens Gallery 

David Noonan 2012 exhibition
installation view Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels
image courtesy the artist and Xavier Hufkens Gallery
So, back to Art Month's Collector's Space: Ng's David Noonan, an Australian artist living and working out of London, was bought from Xavier Hufkens Gallery in Brussels. Apparently there were none to be had here so Ng took his search global. That is not the norm - Noonan is represented here in Australia - but it shows the extent to which people will hunt down a key work by a significant artist. 
Dick Quan is the same - his room of goodies is way downstairs. Only a tiny snippet from Dick Quan's extensive collection is on show in Collector's Space. Quan seems to be equally passionate about travelling and collecting, confirmed by the artworks (and hotel slippers) presented. I'm sure there are many dealers overseas whose introduction to the Australian art scene has been through the travelling collector such as Quan and Ng (Nielsen, White Rabbit; Walsh, MONA & Kaldor). Australian collectors regularly visit international art fairs, exhibitions and events, to look, consider, learn about and buy new artists, thereby making deep and enduring connections with a very broad range of artists, dealers, curators as well as other collectors. 
installation view Art Hong Kong 2012
Several hundred Australians went to the Hong Kong Art Fair in 2012, on top of the approx 15 Australian galleries selected to take part. One can only assume that more will follow this year, at which they will be welcomed by the Art Basel group, which has taken over the management of this relatively recent and very successful Fair. From HK, many will take the short hop to the Venice Biennale Vernissage celebrations, before heading up to Basel for more. They will be feted as VIPs, offered special access and tailored programmes of extra delights (think visits to studios and special collections, dinners, talks, drinks etc) offered exclusively to them, all of which only strengthen the access, the knowledge and drive for more.
Simryn Gill  Inland (detail) 2009
cibachrome and black & white photographs 13 x 13 cm each
image courtesy of the artist and Breenspace, Sydney

Simryn Gill will represent Australia in the Australian Pavilion at
55th Venice Biennale 2013
Sam Jinks Untitled 2012
silicone, pigment, resin, human hair
36 x 36 x 18cm, edition of 3 + 2AP
image courtesy the artist and Sullivan & Strumpf Fine Art

Sam Jinks will be included in 
Personal Structures: Time, Space, Existence
a collateral event of the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, held at the Palazzo Bembo
and curated by Global Art Affairs Foundation
New for Sydney in 2013 is Sydney Contemporary art fair (not the first art fair in Sydney but possibly the first one with gravitas). Now under the expert guiding eye of Barry Keldoulis, it will open in September at CarriageWorks. Keldoulis knows more about collecting art and participating in art fairs than most of us, as Founder and Director of GBK.
Sydney Contemporary is a serious commercial enterprise and has great ambitions for cementing itself as the go-to fair in the southern hemisphere. Already it has enticed several leading international galleries to come, set up shop and show their wares to a broader public. In part seduced by the sunny climes of the Antipodes but more realistically no doubt, lured by a founder with an international network and reputation (Tim Etchells), the strong Aussie dollar and the introductions already made to Australian collectors. With these galleries come other international collectors, people who will be just as keen to find a footing in and explore a different art scene. 
Surely the flow on effect across the Australian art world has great potential.  
But before you get carried away with international travel and ideas for architectural monuments to house your collection, come back to the basics, to the most important factors which I believe are:
- who you buy from - get started with any gallery which is a member of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association (ACGA), an organisation committed to "creating ethics, expertise and excellence in the visual arts." 
- find yourself an independent advisor who can help you steer your way through the labyrinth of galleries, artists and artworks (and by that, I don't mean an interior designer who is hell bent on finding any ol' thing that matches the couch - a recurring theme...). 
- consider the artist's exhibition history, collecting history (bought by any public institutions?), critical history. 
- look, look, and look again; talk to people, listen, question and learn. James Dorahy tells a great story about a client of his who initially visited his gallery over 12 months, looking, talking, considering, asking questions; just looking, not buying. Once he'd done his homework, he started shopping. His discipline and patience paid off for himself, the artists and the dealer who now all enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.
- go to as many Art Month events, this year and next, as your diary allows. 
Be curious, bold, challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone; have the confidence to commit ie get out your cheque book. Negotiate with the dealer if you'd prefer to lay-by the work. But most of all, you have to like the work, love it at best, to enjoy it, savour it, connect with it and be inspired by it. 
Life is meant to be interesting and meaningful and art offers an interesting, meaningful life. 

Sunday 3 March 2013

An adventure out west

If it weren't for the good folk of south-western Sydney, I would never have made it. I had been to Casula Powerhouse before, though before they changed the access to it, now via a new service road. I couldn't find it - too new to appear on sat nav and certainly not in print yet. I got hopelessly lost but everyone I came across was very helpful about how to get there, from the staff at Casula (on the phone), to the graffiti artists painting the local water-towers, to the traffic men directing (no) traffic. I finally found my way and was particularly glad I did. 
Water tower Casula Powerhouse 
I can't deny that Casula Powerhouse and Campbelltown Arts Centre are a long way from my usual haunts. It is fact which just needs to be acknowledged (I imagine for many of my gentle readers). It is not a monthly visit for me I have to confess, not even bi-annually. For me it is a major expedition which requires time and planning, plenty of toll money, preferably a travel companion and definitely a cut lunch. This time the companion couldn't make it, but I was grateful for the cut lunch. 
I particularly wanted to visit Casula Powerhouse to see Onside - women in sport and the new exhibition at Campbelltown Art Centre The Social, both of which I would describe as two solid exhibitions, showing a great line up of impressive artists, dealing with some really interesting issues. 
Onside looks at women in the culture and cult of sport. We are continually told that art and sport don't sit comfortably together, to the point that many of us believe it. I don't think this cliche exists at a individual level - we are all the sum of many parts, with many passions and interests - but it certainly exists at a macro level when it comes to things like funding, policy, media attention and due acknowledgement. Ben Quilty,  artist and recent appointment to the Board of Trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW, has penned a great piece in the SMH about sport and art and tax. He is suggesting a greater equity in education: just as students pay HECS to go to art school and then pay tax on their successes in prizes etc, so too should elite sports people who currently, don't. It's an interesting article by an acclaimed artist whose contribution to the community's understanding and appreciation of (particularly) men at war is significant and enduring. When this broader contribution to contemporary Australian discourse is assessed alongside his compatriots efforts in the pool in London 2012, and the extraordinary levels of funding pumped their way, his arguments are worth consideration. 
Back to Onside. It is a fairly diverse group of artists, each of whom use their respective medium of sculpture, video, photography, collage even, to think about that level playing field, how deeply ingrained it is in our national psyche and the role women play in it. There is great humour, satire, talent and some sexiness on show. The only downside is that the exhibition is hung across a number of spaces which are not necessarily connected so the potential play between the artworks is diluted in parts. Casula is great venue and offers great opportunities for ambitious projects, but it is a difficult space in which to pull an exhibition together. 
Anne Zahalka Liverpool, where women kick goals 2012
type c photograph 84 x 59.5cm
Courtesy the artist, Josef Lebovic Gallery, 
and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Anne Zahalka Davina, Senior Project Manager, 2010/13
from the series Playing the Game!
type c photograph, 84 x 59.5cm

Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

I have always been a fan of Anne Zahalka's work (as is, I gather, a couple in Daylesford who own a guest house inspired by and named after this major Australian artist). Here she shows a series of portraits of women, real people, fit, kitted out and seriously engaged in their respective sports. Some of the work is new, made specifically for this exhibition; other pieces are from her ongoing series Playing the game!, first seen in 2009. 
Liverpool Where women kick goals is an image of inspiration. Culture and sport meet head on as Muslim Australian women don the hijab and footie boots, to tackle what is upheld as the ultimate Anglo-Celtic male bastion.  These women are real footie players and have become the real heroes. This is the potential for sport and the concept of the level playing field. Zahalka has captured these women and their determination to succeed in a male dominated, anglo-celtic world, be it on or off the pitch. 
Though Zahalka's portraits are highly staged, leaving little room for spontaneity or accident, she does use real people. What is presented - sitter, costume/ uniform, prop - tells one side of the story, but it is what is left out which adds the layers. With all the garb, Davina is the roller blader not to be messed with. But remove the war paint and elbow padding and Davina is a Senior Project Manager - of something tangible. The portrait becomes more complex: Zahalka teases out a glimpse of the whole person. We are none of us, particularly women, one dimensional. We are the sum of many cultural, physical, emotional (hormonal even!) parts. 
Anne Zahalka is one of Australia's leading photographers and throughout her extensive career, she has taken a similar approach to making images of Australian landscapes, cultural institutions, icons and activities. On the surface, a panoramic view of such sharpness, but on consideration, a questioning of what it is we hold dear and why - with humour, satire and very focussed eye.
Anne Zahalka Cole Classic II (the next wave) 1998 from the series Leisureland 1998, ed 12
type C print 115 x 145 cm
© Courtesy the artist; Arc One Gallery, Melbourne;
and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney 
Whereas Zahalka upholds ordinary people as heroes,  Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont applaud the ideal. The hero is perfectly poised, glamorous, wears lipstick and spangles. The idyll though is tainted with an uncomfortably satirical undertone. 
Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont Blood sport 2011
           giclee print on aluminium, 120x80cm 

image courtesy the artists

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont As certain as the sun will rise,
 our flys will fly
2008  giclee print  20x30"
image courtesy the artists

Gill and Mata Dupont are based in Perth, working collaboratively in a practice that intertwines photography, performance, choreography, film, installation and design. Blood Sport is a self-portrait of the artists. They are joyous in their victory, immaculate though artfully dowdy in their grooming, all of which is at extreme odds to their blood smeared bodies and clothing. Doing your best is not enough to secure first place: they have won at all costs. 
Their much acclaimed video piece  Gymnasium, is also exhibited and is, in a word, fabulous. Beefy hunks and gorgeous girls happily and effortlessly go about their gentle gymnastic routines. It is Utopia in Bonds singlets which sends shudders through us for its very show of perfection. It was the very deserving winner of the prestigious Basil Sellers Art Prize in 2010. 
The judges wrote: Gymnasium elegantly addresses the beauty, aspiration and ambiguities of physical prowess and achievement in sport. The video seamlessly integrates diverse components; audio, video, choreography, costume and location. Evoking the musicals of Busby Berkeley, the Ziegfield follies and the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, Gymnasium reflects on both the activities of athletes and our role as spectators.
The Basil Sellers Arts Prize is supported by Melbourne philanthropist (keen collector and Swannies fan) Basil Sellers AM to encourage a discussion between contemporary Australian artists and this ongoing, powerful and central part of Australian life, that is sport. Sellers believes that artists invariably look to question, reflect and comment on many facets of contemporary society but largely ignore the influence and place of sport in the Australian pysche. This particularly generous prize ($100,000 awarded annually) aims to address this, in a meaningful and sophisticated way. Gymnasium certainly meets these requirements. 

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont Gymnasium 2010 film 4:07 min
production photos by Kim Tran

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont Gymnasium 2010 (detail) film 4:07 min
Production photo by Kim Tran

Other artists in the exhibition include: Deborah Kelly whose collages continue to discombobulate the female form, with an etymological, hirsute and decidedly racy approach. As part of an outreach education programme, she leads a workshop for girls from the Westfield Sports Girls High, whose resulting terrific collages are also on show. Kelly shows with Gallery Barry Keldoulis.
Elvis Richardson lays out a forest of gleaming golden (plastic) and broken trophies on the base of an upside polystyrene Mt Everest. Every sport imaginable is represented in this oversized trophy 'cabinet'; every hero gets a look in. Richardson hunts through the op shops, ebay, rubbish dumps, looking for "objects which record someone's identity at a moment in time". These broken trophies were the once treasured moments of success for lots of people which she has rescued and revitalised. She is represented by Hugo Michell in Adelaide.
Nick Selenitsch wants you to interact with his work - throw the felted, velcroed ball on his version of a target and see what happens. The 'goalposts' shift each time, there are no rules, it is softball anarchy. More work by Selenitsch can be found at Sutton Gallery, Melbourne.
 Laresa Kosloff New Diagonal 2007 digital video, 3 mins
production still: Alex Martinis Roe 
And a video by Laresa Kosloff, whose work I don't know, but which I thought was great. New Diagonal is wonderful sculptural performance: a visual mix of some of the formal and conceptual dynamics of sport, together with principles of modernist abstraction. Here, Kosloff moves into basic poses from yoga, aerial skiing, athletics and cycling along the triangular block. She pauses with each pose, becoming a dynamic example of minimalist sculpture. Beautifully in its symmetry, simplicity and structure. Love it.
On until March 24.

Half time, the cut lunch and then, the easy 18km drive down the road to the Campbelltown Arts Centre to see The Social. 

Curated by Megan Monte, the exhibition aims to look at ideas of popular culture and how artists use different approaches to question, engage with and reflect on it. What is high brow, what is low brow; what is in or out; how does it differ with each generation? 

Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton I Want Candy 2013 detail
hundreds & thousands
image courtesy the artists and Campbelltown Arts Centre
The dining experience is one cultural activity toyed with by Penelope Benton and Alexandra Clapham. Here they present something grand, made out of stuff which is not so grand. I want candy is 200kg of low brow confection glued and pinned together to create marvellously kitsch centre-pieces which are carefully arranged along a formal dining table and dramatically lit. 
The installation is an homage to Marie-Antoine CarĂªme, an exponent of high-art cuisine in Paris in 1800s, whose interest in architecture crossed with a talent for pastry to create monumental table pieces constructed of food. Labeled the ‘chef of kings’, his work was highly sought for royal and aristocratic banquets to entertain and impress guests. They were considered triumphs of the table. 
I want candy began as an interactive performance (on 8 Feb), the video of which I haven't seen and couldn't find. From the photos it appears to be the ultimate elegant dress-up party, with the ultimate lolly bags (though none of the guests look to be under 6 years old - the typical demographic for this food group). It looks like fun, even if it wasn't about the eating. The sculptural fantasies seem to be intact - no dirty plates, no obvious bites, no evidence of sticky fingers. The excess is implied: only a few of the senses are in overload (sight, smell), taste is denied the satisfaction. It is now a quiet installation, waiting for uninvited guests to view and imagine. The sign says it all - please do not eat! 
Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton I Want Candy 2013
raspberries, strawberry creams, licorice allsorts, bananas, hundreds & thousands, cardboard, timber, pins, glue. Performance 8 Feb: Penelope Benton, Jasmina Black, Matt Format, Marni Jackson, Samara Shehata, Justin Shoulder, Matthew Stegh
image courtesy the artists and Campbelltown Arts Centre
Benton and Clapham have been particularly busy, as they are also the incumbent Directors of Art Month 2013, which has just been launched. Start mapping out some preferred art activities in your diary. There look to be many interesting things on.
Christian Thompson Forgiveness of Land 2012
from the series We bury our own 2012
C-type print 100 x 100 cmimage courtesy the artist and Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne

Christian Thompson Invaded dreams 2012
from the series We bury our own 2012

C-type print 100 x 100 cm
image courtesy the artist and Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
On a much deeper investigation of things cultural  is the beautifully eloquent body of work We bury our own 2012 by Christian Thompson
Thompson is the inaugural Charles Perkins Scholar at Oxford University, studying for a PhD in Fine Art. The Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University holds a significant collection of historic Aboriginal artefacts and photographs and Thompson was invited to study the collection, to see what could come out of a dialogue with it. 
Something beautiful and provocative is the result.
Thompson has referred to the historical photographic images as a starting point. He doesn't actually present the historic photographs; they are images to be protected. Rather, he creates a visual metaphor through self-portraiture, his cultural identity and his position at Oxford University. He places himself in the frame, formally dressed in the attire expected of an Oxford student, though shielded by props which which suggest an Aboriginal history. The works are laden with a broader symbolism which extend beyond his personal experiences: I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt ... Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?"  Christian Thompson 

Jodie Whalen is in both Onside and The Social. For her, art and life are inseparable. She lives and breathes it. She is a performance artist whose performances in life become the subject of video works for exhibition. Liam Benson becomes a camp Santa, Neptune like image. Abdul Abdullah describes himself as 'an outsider among outsiders' as a 6th generation Australian with Malay Muslim heritage too. He is often told to "go back home". He wonders about the concept of home, how concrete or random it can be.
Abdul Abdullah Home # 2, 2012
digital print, 100 x 120cm
image courtesy of the artist and Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne

And finally 2 large installations by Josephine Skinner are particularly interesting. She is a PhD student at COFA UNSW whose practice can be defined as post-production of found online video material (analogue meets digital), around the ideas of love and devotion. She finds footage of private moments which are played out in public arenas. Again, retro meets contemporary: group personal enrichment sessions from the 80s, versus private singing on current YouTube. 
In Alone Together, a jumbled heap of old tellies, tidied, cleaned and still in good working order play old footage of a group listening to personal improvement guru Louise Hay. Each person is spell bound, captivated  and  adoring. There is no privacy as, together, in the hall, at the lecture, they are all lost in themselves, having a fine time with themselves. Maybe the privacy issues of social media have always been there, just in differing guises. 
Josephine Skinner Alone together  detail 2013 video installation: discarded CRT TVs, street found furniture, reused YouTube content. 
Photo: Susannah Wimberley
image courtesy of the artist
In Hopelessly Devoted, Skinner seamlessly slices and dices videos downloaded from YouTube of 5 or 6 people belting out the same cheesy love song, to synch them so carefully they read as a 'beguilingly banal and imperfect covers band". One of them is that song used by Daniel Mudie Cunningham - Take my breath away. Despite being a pretty terrible song, it is proving to be particularly versatile in its applications! 
The complexity and precision is masked by the simplicity of presentation and subject. Her work speaks of devotion, about personal moments in public spheres. The 3 min clip with the hairbrush becomes the 15 min of fame, but therein lies the quiet disappointment: the failure to find their moment of fame. Skinner doesn't use YouTube to exhibit her work. You have to be there. 
The Social is on until March 10. 
Josephine Skinner Take my breath away detail 2011-13 HD video, stereo sound, reused YouTube content.
image courtesy of the artist
I'm not sure if these two exhibitions are official Art Month events, but make them your Art Month events. Take the time, make the trip and enjoy the adventure. 
Josephine Skinner installation Hopelessly Devoted detail 2011-13 HD video, stereo sound, reused YouTube content.
image courtesy of the artist

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Telling stories

The art of story telling is not lost it seems, as it is stories which appear to be the inadvertent connection between the artworks and exhibitions I discovered these past couple weeks. I think many artists begin with a story to tell, be it theirs or someone else's, and then find a way to gel the narrative with their practice - overlaying it with medium, technique, theory, history, even 'style'.

Oliver Watts The Sea Hare (still from HD video) 2013
cinematography John A Douglas, costumes incollaboration with Yuliy Gershinsky
Co-written by John Connell
Oliver Watts' The Sea Horse is a re-telling of a particularly strange fairy tale by Brothers Grimm. Watts is a founding member artist/ director of Chalk Horse Gallery in Surry Hills, where the exhibition is on till 16 March.  Watts strips bare the typical fable rather than takes it as gospel: the archetypal beautiful maiden in the formidable tower, who seeks the strong handsome husband, and who sets up a multitude of obstacles for any poor sod who wants to win her undying love and eternal devotion, is turned into a study of assumed power and how it is easily trampled, outfoxed even. I don't think it was the absurd romance which attracted Watts to the story. 
As an artist, Watts' ongoing interest is the intertwining of art and the law, as justice and power in its social hierarchical manifestations. Satire is his language (he was a founding member of The Chaser) and writing, paper cut-outs, video and painting are his tools. 
Oliver Watts The fox, 2013
paper cutout, 100 x 150cm
image courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery
Oliver Watts The raven, 2013
paper cutout, 100 x 150cm
image courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery

The exhibition incorporates video and paper cut-outs. The story is sparsely told and silently played out by actors in striking painted paper costumes and with paper props. The video is bewitching; the framed wholly separate paper cut-outs, sensational.These cut-outs illustrate the key players in this mad story - the raven, the sea hare and very wily fox - but with the artist's face. The beautiful maiden is allowed her own portrait. Watts puts impose himself within the story - his face becomes that of the raven, the fox and the sea hare. He is also in the video. Again, an artist who weaves and reflects on his own performance in his multi-discplinary approach.
Oliver Watts I am free 2010
paper cutouts from I am Tristan Tzara
image courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery
Large scale, geometric, cut-out colourful paper shapes are pieced together to create oversized images of the fable's characters (portrait of the artist as the fox, for instance) and one large landscape. There is great depth and richness in the flatness and irregularity of the many coloured shapes. They feel like oversized quality posters, like his earlier cut-outs, steeped in the poster traditions of early 20th century, with a tilt at Dada. I am Tristan Tzara was an exhibition in 2010 of paper cut-out posters, based on Tzara's writings and cut a  particularly dashing, debonnaire air, with a touch of the absurd and a nod towards anarchy. Make sure to venture into the adjacent studios, to catch a glimpse of an artist at work, or a work just completed, or just the organised jumble of artists' bits and pieces. 

The Commercial is the now not-so-new gallery, set up by Amanda Rowell. The Commercial introduces a wholly different range of artists whose practices don't follow a regular fashion or aesthetic; artists who are idiosyncratic, challenging and shaking up and down preconceived notions.
Lillian O'Neil creates many stories about love by way of large, cut-out collaged photographs, arranged and layered in complicated symmetrical compositions. Total Romance, which has just closed at The Commercial was a bit saucy and felt a bit like a '70s free love fest. It is after all a '70s tradition is it not, to cut out favourite magazine images and plaster them all over the wall. Honing in on the detail is worth it. Catch a sense of the works on line.
Agatha Gothe-Snape shows with Rowell too. I think she is definitely someone to watch and her work, which is fascinating and always surprising, something to follow. 
Agatha Gothe-Snape Every Artist Remembered (ACCA), 2011
Power to the People Contemporary Conceptualism and the Object in Art,
curated by Hannah Mathews, ACCA, Melbourne 
She draws her work from performance, from conversation and participation with an audience, from the gesture, and from text and colour theory. Already, a rich yolky yellow is her signature colour. She is interested in the making of art and experiments with media to deliver her aesthetic and message. From handwritten names of artists written across large sheets of paper Every artist remembered, to 'electronic drawings', to power point presentations. Her approach is refreshing in its fearlessness. She is setting the path, not following.
Agatha Gothe-Snape, We all walk out in the end, 2012, acrylic paint, Site-specific work commissioned for entrance hall of the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (photo credit: M. Sherwood)
Courtesy the artist and The Commercial, Sydney
You can subscribe to a series of power point presentations/ displays by Gothe-Snape (for a small amount) which are delivered to your inbox  - I'm not sure how regularly - to absolute delight. Even though you've missed quite a few by now, the subscription includes all previous (and future) posts. Her power point presentations are bold exclamations of text, sound, colour in rhythmic moving patterns. They are a bit reminiscent of animated snippets of '80s music videos: bold but a very clever use of what I guess is really a fairly limited technology. It is a very sophisticated way for her to toy with ideas and engage a large audience. Wait for her next exhibition or subscribe and experience her work today.
Gunter Christmann, So pleased to meet you, 2012,
acrylic on canvas, 100.00 x 119.50 cm (photo credit: Jessica Maurer)
private collection, Sydney
Next exhibition (opens Fri 23 Feb) at The Commercial is well established artist Gunter Christmann, who continues to work "energetically and experimentally" creating both abstract and figurative paintings. He hasn't had a Sydney dealer for a while, but did present a very elegant show of small works Eyes and Mind last year at the East Sydney Doctors surgery. Such a great use of a waiting room (which was only recently King Street Gallery on Burton) - so much more engaging than a lousy, out of date magazine.

I found a very poignant story at The University Art Gallery (Uni of Syd)in its current exhibition Atelier Paris. This small, measured exhibition is the final in a series, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Power Bequest to the University of Sydney, a gesture of great benefaction by J W Power.

In 1967 The Power Institute acquired the Power Studio, one of the apartments in the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, an international complex for artists and writers. Many Australian artists and writers have had the great opportunity to live and work in Paris since then, staying in the Power Studio. The inside cover of this exhibition catalogue lists all of these writers and artists: it is a great who's who of major contributors to contemporary cultural life in Australia.
The exhibition features 5 divergent artists who have all enjoyed the hospitality of The Power Institute and shows the work that was generated by this visit: ADS DonaldsonTony Schwenson, Michele NikouAlex Gawronski and Barbara Campbell. All very different work, but all with depth and integrity. Donaldson's abstract piece as a homage to JW Power is a knockout; Nikou's bronzed poached eggs are lovely; Gawronski's photographs add another layer to the understanding of those by Atget, but it is Campbell's story which I found compelling.

ADS Donaldson Untitled (for JW Power) 2002-12
oil on linen, 134 x 198cm
courtesy the artist and The Power Institute
Michelle Nikou, aeiou, 2012
bronze, 5 pieces ed of 3
courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

Barbara Campbell prompt 43, 1001 nights cast (preface series) 2005
watercolour on Sennelier paper 10.5 x 24.5 cm © the artist
The works hung in the gallery do not start or finish there; rather are an introduction. What we see initially is 100 small watercolours, gorgeous gems in their own right, of painted texts - odd, seemingly disconnected phrases. The watercolours are details of a much larger project which is not fully articulated until the website is found, for me, offsite. Campbell's website  archives the entire project 1001 nights cast, in all its complexity and poignancy.
Start with the premis or the framework for the story project: 

In a faraway land a gentle man dies. His bride is bereft. She travels across continents looking for a reason to keep living. Every night at sunset she is greeted by a stranger who gives her a story to heal her heart and continue with her journey. She does so for 1001 nights.
There is a personal connection and a direct connection with the other 1001 nights,of ancient lore and known in English as The Arabian nights. This an assemblage of Arabic stories with which, so the story goes, Sheherazade amused the King over 1001 nights, to keep him distracted from beheading her in the morning. Her fate was sealed in her story telling and it worked. 
Campbell's 1001 nights cast is a similar act of survival and love, but told via the marvels of 21st century technology. Each day, in her Power Institute studio in Paris, Barbara read the daily newspaper reports from the 2nd Gulf War. The phrase which leapt out at her - something which spoke of the rawness of writing about war - she would paint, in watercolour. The watercolour was then webcast, sent out as a 'prompt' for someone to return within the day a story of no more than 1001 words, which somehow incorporated the phrase. At sunset, in which ever timezone she was in, Barbara would tell the story, put it out there online to whoever was listening. 1001 stories were told over 1001 nights.
Barbara Campbel lprompt 11, 1001 nights cast (preface series) 2005
watercolour on Sennelier paper 10.5 x 24.5 cm © the artist
Barbara Campbell prompt 1, 1001 nights cast (preface series) 2005
watercolour on Sennelier paper 10.5 x 24.5 cm © the artist
Each painted prompt is numbered. Each are documented on the website: pick one, any one, and up comes the prompt and the story. At random, I started at the beginning - no 1: The challenge of healing. Up came a story co-written with Barbara by Anne Brennan which moved me deeply. No 11 is the Carefully crafted image written with Domenico de Clario. And so it goes.
As I scroll through the prompts, it becomes obvious that this is a large scale and well-organised project that involved many people - no doubt friends, friends of friends, colleagues, enthusiastic bystanders - from all over the world, across many time zones but who came together each day, at a particular time, to offer a story to Barbara, in a gesture of healing.
Barbara's practice has long been based in performance and text, its meaning, structure and visual qualities.  Here emotion intersects with this quiet, patient, ongoing performance to construct a meaning, across time and distance, which is universal in its message and content. She is in conversation with Assoc Prof Mary Roberts on Wed 13 March 1pm, no doubt in the University Art Gallery. It would be well worth hearing her tell her story. 
As a real romantic, but not so pathetic as the princess in the tower, I hope for, and look forward to, the living happily ever after bit......