Default: ‘Everyday rebellions’ and Frances Stark

Two good shows. Frances Stark’s My best thing and Everyday rebellions, the latter curated by Emily Cormack, are both like Kunstvereine exhibitions—spare and intelligent. Kitty Kraus in Cormack’s exhibition is very cool. A new pale white flooring. A heat bomb slowly unloading. The power left on. Degradation, gloom, linearity—the movement in the work is atomic or sub-atomic. The arrow of time moves in only one direction. Material resistance (‘rebellion’, writes Cormack) is a default setting.

Throwing salt onto metal, Virginia Overell speeds things up just for a little while, turning up the ‘more entropy/greater order’ dial so to speak. In the second room, Dane Mitchell waits for nonsense between systems. Substituting ‘the smell of an empty room’ for fixing chemicals, Mitchell alters our perception of the documentary mechanism of photographic paper from image to three-dimensional solid.

Frances Stark’s My best thing, 2011, at the Potter is close to Joan Jonas’s video Vertical roll, 1972, at Gertrude. During her chat-dialogue with an anonymous undies-wearing Italian, Stark interrupts to explain an art point, saying ‘… you have to do more that just use the tools’. It’s a cliché, she knows, especially when spoken out loud—too much the professor—but Stark for that moment is unsettled by her young cam-sex friend.

Joan Jonas’s 1972 classic manipulates not so much video but television technology. She makes the TV format her own, in much the same way that Stark uses online chat platforms. Jonas takes the tension found in a buggered TV’s rolling black bars, and visually imprisons the women pictured on the screen. Both Jonas and Stark use the energy of language expressively, but not as proof.

Malfunctioning screens like a Jonas-day TV are gone now anyway. Finished.

Everyday rebellions, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, 11 May – 8 June 2013.

Francis Stark: My best thing, the Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne, 20 March – 2 June 2013.

Kitty Kraus, ‘Untitled’, 2006, lamp, ice, ink. Photo: Jake Walker

Joan Jonas, ‘Vertical roll’, 1972, black & white, sound, 9:38 mins. Courtesy Video Data Bank, Chicago

Frances Stark, ‘My best thing’, 2011, single-channel SD video, sound, 99 mins

Naval gazing: The busy beaver Turing machine and Justene Williams

In computability theory, a busy beaver is a Turing machine that attains the maximum ‘operational busyness’ (such as measured by the number of steps performed, or the number of nonblank symbols finally on the tape) among all the Turing machines in a certain class. (Wikipedia)

With a beaver-like ethic, Justene Williams’s seven small monitors in the group show FX at CCP generate a machine-like image and sound of whirling activity. There is a lot of action, as the not-quite-stuck-down papier-mâché sets, figures, costumes and world heave with Germanesque robustness. The dancing figures look and move like Vikings, their strength generated from the hips with a slow metronomic measure. The tone never sets because every time you think you have it figured out, you realise it’s not quite right. It doesn’t quite work.

The monitors are packed with detail, as the videos construct the illusion of a work ethic, but don’t compute towards efficiency. You feel art—Monet, Seurat, Berlin—but the rhythm takes you somewhere else. If you stay long enough, you might stay forever, waiting and hoping it’ll get somewhere, that the cake will be baked and come out of the oven. It never does. Williams’s work hits off lo fi not as an apathetic romantic hipster naval gaze, but as a kind of despair, like when you beaver away in the studio with anything and everything that is around you and then realise in fright that what you have created is something like a black hole.

Williams seems at one level to invert the Protestant work ethic. But if the Protestant work ethic emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation, when Williams’s works go a little bonkers, it feels like a Mercedes spinning out of control. How could this happen? Failed Fordism through troubling German (in)efficiency? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. And, in true Williams style, just as you register a bad feeling that it won’t work out, a figure will dance, have a light foot and you’ll laugh. Busy, busy, busy.

FX (Steve Carr, Greatest Hits, Lou Hubbard, Taree Mackenzie and Justene Williams), Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 3 April – 19 May 2013.

Justene Williams, ‘Berlin, burghers, microwave, Monet’, 2010, 7-channel digital video

Justene Williams, ‘Berlin, burghers, microwave, Monet’, 2010, 7-channel digital video

Justene Williams, ‘Berlin, burghers, microwave, Monet’, 2010, 7-channel digital video

Justene Williams, ‘Berlin, burghers, microwave, Monet’, 2010, 7-channel digital video

It’s not even a painting: ‘Like Mike’

Lob a rock into a well-attended contemporary art opening and you will not only become my hero instantly, you will hit at least one artist influenced by Mike Brown. Yet many have never heard of him and, of those who have, several would mistakenly consider him only a minor character in the narrative of twentieth-century Australian art.

Brown (1938–97) was Australia’s first major proponent of Dadaism and, later, graffiti art. He advocated spontaneous, collaborative art-making, long before it became a common part of so many artists’ lives. Ditto assemblage, appropriation and installation. Brown dragged modernism into the backyard of his Fitzroy terrace and thrashed it with a star picket, in the hope that no artist after him would have to question their right to make art. Outraged by the elite and commercialised art establishment, he was a man of absolute moral integrity, passionate about the accessibility of art and about creative freedom.

So what’s with the historical blind-spot? Richard Haese addresses this in his book Permanent revolution: Mike Brown and the Australian avant-garde 1953–97. After interviewing every Australian artist and art dealer born after 1920, all public gallery directors past and present, 218 curators, three-quarters of the living residents of Annandale and anyone who ever sold the artist pot, Haese concludes that Brown was an unwelcome guest at the dinner party of Antipodean art because of his indomitable rebelliousness against it. Had he made it past security, Brown would have spent the evening swearing at Nolan, Olsen, Drysdale and Whiteley, espousing the virtue of Dulux Quick Dry and ‘accidentally’ breaking Robert Hughes’s crystal ware.

What is remembered about Brown is that he is the only artist ever to have been successfully prosecuted for the crime of obscenity in Australia. In 1967, four years after Mary-Lou as Miss Universe was exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, he was convicted and sentenced to three months’ hard labour, which was eventually reduced to a $20 fine. Brown may have been unsurprised by the randomness and idiocy of the objection ‘on moral grounds’ that led to his conviction—‘It’s not even a painting!’ one AGNSW trustee is recorded to have said—but still, the response of his peers to the affair, and the coverage of the conservative press, damaged him irrevocably. He suffered a nervous breakdown, and never exhibited in a Sydney gallery again.

Like Mike is an adjunct curatorial project running in tandem with the current Mike Brown survey at Heide, and a playful intervention into the story of Australian art. While not suggesting that Brown was the messiah, curator Geoff Newton demonstrates that he was far more than just a very naughty boy. In this and other respects, Like Mike the project is like Mike the man—more significant than the farcical sideshow for which it will be remembered.

Like Mike, Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, Sarah Scout Presents, Utopian SlumpsNeon Parc and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, various dates between 18 May and 7 July 2013.

The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 4 May – 13 October 2013.

Newspaper clipping, ‘Sunday Mirror’, 1 December 1963, ‘The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown’

How the rich recycle their pleasures

I was a mind-wandering art installer working at Heide in 2007 when I discovered Mike Brown. His work made me wonder if he was exhausted all the time, exhausted from the hyper nature of his art-making, from the unhinged wrist spasms of his gestural painting, and the complex assemblages. His work gave off a warm afterglow of radiant energy from the hot act of making, remaining potent and ready to engage the viewer forty years on. Brown’s style is steeped in that 1960s through to 1990s pop-hippie-Oz-magazine thing. But Mike Brown’s work also transcends that time bracket and shares similarities with the art-making of today: the cool attitude, the material nature, the ‘hyper’ aesthetic, and the irreverence.

I remember installing Brown’s Kite. Once it was up on the wall everyone took a step back, the curators came in to see it. It was still controversial, still a big deal. Kite, consisting of an octagonal frame covered with collage and brush-and-ink writing, presents a charged yet eloquent dressing down of the mid-’60s Sydney art establishment and its stars. Mike went knives-out for everyone: Hughes, Klippel, Olsen, you name them. Brown declared the critics lame and the artists stagnant, and called on his peers to make progressive art.

How could you do that and survive in the Australian art world? As small as it is now and was back then? Those artists, critics and galleries he ran down in response to the Hungry Horse calendar of ’63 would surely have seen red and returned fire in career-stymieing ways. LOL.

Mike Brown the dude lived hard. He made beautiful work but was always poor. He fell in love, fell out of it; and celebrated the positive aspects of life, bringing to the fore slogans like ‘Power to the People’ and ‘the Miracle of Love’.

Mike Brown lived the artist’s life at the lofty heights that some freak out about. But his life seemed charmed if his work is anything to go by.

The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 4 May – 13 October 2013.

‘The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown’, 2013

‘The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown’, 2013

‘The sometimes chaotic World of Mike Brown’, 2013

‘The sometimes chaotic world of Mike Brown’, 2013

Grievous bodily collage

On Saturday 1 June Victoria Police removed parts of a larger installation by Paul Yore titled EVERYTHING IS FUCKED exhibited in the Like Mike exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts. The action followed a complaint made to police. Paul was questioned by Victoria Police on Monday 3 June and subsequently released without charge on summons. The exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts remains closed; a decision made by the Linden board of directors.

We sought the following comments:

Tamara Winikoff, executive director, National Association for the Visual Arts:
As a long-standing defender of artists’ freedom of expression, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has been vociferous in its condemnation of the latest raid by police, who seized the work of young artist Paul Yore from his exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in Melbourne. NAVA asserts that within the law, Australian citizens have the democratic right to make judgements about what they want to see and respond to according to their own understandings and value systems.

In my forthcoming artsHub article I comment that, ‘Art pyromaniacs are people who ignite a cultural controversy and hide on the margins watching it burn. Pillorying artists is an irresistible sport for people with political motives or who are seeking the opportunity to stamp their brand on public morality. But human imagination is the fluid that leaks through the cracks in tired rules and outmoded ideas. It is not easy to quell the subversive power of parody and interrogative probing’.

In a series of forums around the country in 2013, NAVA will be asserting that Australian cultural expression must be protected against the personal ideological crusades and political point-scoring exercises of particular interest groups.

Mikala Dwyer, artist:
The work Paul has created is from images and objects readily available everywhere.
They are complex two-dimensional and three-dimensional collages that are made from many many hours, days and years of thoughtful intelligent speculation on the nature of the world we live in. They are in no way pornographic any more than the world is.

It is sad that the Linden Gallery shows so little faith in what it exhibits but even sadder and more perplexing that the police are called in to waste their time following bogus complaints and were even compelled to vandalise these extraordinary and beautiful artworks. Police time could be much better used following real dangers to the community.

But perhaps even more unbelievable is the extent this farce has travelled. It’s time it just simply stopped.

Robert Nelson, Monash University and The Age:
Antiscandal. At first, I was angry. The persecution of Paul Yore is another regrettable episode that confirms the widespread backwardness of recent cultural history. The police may be obliged to investigate allegations but seizing artworks from an exhibition—which is clearly trying to hide nothing—is an absurdity that could only be justified on the basis that the exhibition puts somebody at risk. With what evidence did they make that judgement?

But have we as an art community done everything that we can to dispel the misconceptions held by the authorities and so many members of the public who abhor our liberality. When these perturbations arise, they are messy and invite unsympathetic and undesirable reactions. We prefer not to attract attention and hope for it all to blow over. We communicate poorly and take few steps to prevent another episode.

My own efforts on the topic propose a checklist of necessary criteria for invoking censorship. Further, I have made a submission (CI 235) to the Australian Law Reform Commission, where I detail the basis on which scholars and artists may legitimately consult material that might otherwise be incriminating.

Geoff Newton, director, Neon Parc, and curator, Like Mike:
Galleries work in collaboration with artists not unilaterally. The conduct of Linden reflects poorly on that organisation as an artistic institution and in my view it will ultimately affect their ability to attract the sort of artist necessary to sustain a vibrant audience base.

Until this time we have trusted and been patient with the board but its continued lack of support and non-communication leave us no alternative but to take the following action. We will stage a peaceful protest tomorrow, Saturday 8 June at 10 am, at Linden Gallery against censorship in the arts.

Alexie Glass-Kantor, director, Gertrude Contemporary:
Paul Yore is an early career artist dealing with images that emerge from a media environment that daily produces a deluge of mixed messages. The work is about the artist’s own identity and the work is intensely personal, it is not about pornography nor is it pornography. Often an image circulates but it can easily be taken out of context. Yore’s images have been circulating now for a few years, they are sexual and political but not about exploitation or pornography. They instead rely on the amplification of sexuality, chaos, and neuroses, underscored by complicated personal boundaries and trespass.

Historically the work can be read or perceived in relation to the contemporary practices of artists such as Juan Davila, Richard Larter, Del Kathryn Barton, Jean Michel Basquiat and Paul McCarthy. Exhibited in dialogue with the early works of Mike Brown it is important to acknowledge that that generation of artists was hugely influential locally. The sub/pop/cultural images that were key in Brown’s work are absolutely present in Yore’s works.

It is important that artwork is seen in context and I do not believe that the artist’s intention is to vilify or exploit children. There are situations where children have to be protected and as institutions we have an ethical imperative to do due diligence and act responsibility. I think that sensationalism, vilification and kneejerk reactions are counter-productive to intelligent discussion and create the kind of distraction where the artist and artwork become fodder for another agenda.

Charles Nodrum, director, Charles Nodrum Gallery:
Quote: ‘the work contained collages such as a cardboard cut-out of a child with Justin Bieber’s head stuck on, urinating from a dildo into a sink’ 
(Pia Akerman, The Australian, 4 June 2013).

Questions: For the sexologist: 1) Since when has urination been classified as sexual? 2) How can anyone urinate from a dildo?(!)

For the judiciary, the legislators (and by extension, all of us citizens): a collage as described above can get the artist up to 10 years, yet paedophiles found guilty of multiple rape get less than that. Have we gone mad? And as for the above constituting child pornography, even the most pedantic logic-chopper would surely balk at that?

For the board of Linden: out of a large group show, small parts of one work were deemed to have possibly infringed the law—and were removed.  Why close the whole exhibition? Why instruct staff to make no statements? Since when has locking up the venue and locking down debate ever resolved any issue?  Since the offending material has gone, why not open the doors and let the public in?

Natalie Thomas, artist:
We don’t want any trouble mate, but they started it! These bloody artists! I don’t know who they think they are and that pile of rubbish is taxpayer funded too! The bloody nerve of them! It’s not even a painting!

Are Australian artists allowed to comment on celebrity these days? Treating Pop stars like Justin Bieber or Sports stars like Thorpie satirically, irreverently or with contempt, will get big media backlash and inflame Public Opinion. You can have ‘Your Say’ and write in that artists are a bunch of freeloading wankers. Few make the link that most Industries are Government subsidized in one form or another.

Paul Yore recently had his work confiscated, taken by Police from Linden Gallery (in sleazy St Kilda). His work is not pornographic. I think ‘playfully visceral’ is a more fitting description. The work makes a statement and with the artworks’ removal, I reckon Paul has had his Human Rights violated.

After talking to a friend about the unfolding drama, we discussed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Australia signed up to it in 1948:

Article 27
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Jon banged on about Article 27: how it’s not ideal, but how it says just enough to dam this tide of reactionary hysterical censorship. This is Australian 21st Century Censorship. And the election will deliver what we expect. A Conservative, fiscally fixated landscape of church-goers with which to play.

Game on mole.

Like MikeLinden Centre for Contemporary ArtsSarah Scout PresentsUtopian SlumpsNeon Parc and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, various dates between 18 May and 7 July 2013.

Paul Yore, ‘Everything is fucked’, 2011, tapestry. Photo: Devon Ackerman

‘Kid candle’ and ‘Rocks’: Two works by Robin Rhode

In Robin Rhode’s short black & white film, Kid candle, a young boy, dressed for the street, leans in to light a candle.

The ‘candle’ is a simple line drawing sketched on the wall, or perhaps on a paper backdrop that stands in for a wall. Either way, the flame catches and we see a flicker of fire as a black smudge begins to grow. The boy blows on it and the black smudge gets bigger. Briefly you expect the flame to overtake the image and destroy it but it doesn’t. Instead the film loops; boy leans in, lights candle, blows, flame flickers, grows etc.

Around the corner is another work, Rocks. A man wearing ice skates and dressed in a suit skates in staggered freeze-frame over a broken concrete expanse, the entire sequence formed by still frames animated together.

It’s the kind of dilapidated public square that marks a certain kind of city teetering on the edge. Our viewpoint is back a bit and slightly above. Space is flattened—we see the surface of the square but only sense the city.

He’s a black man and although his movements are jerkily rendered, they appear carefully choreographed. Behind him ice cubes gather behind each push of his skates and mark out a scattered path. He holds a half bottle of whisky and an empty glass. Ideas and world play merge in and out of focus—rocks/on the rocks/diamonds/wealth/poverty etc. Whether or not these stick in any meaningful way seems beside the point.

The man makes one loop, crosses over, completes another and ends where he started. His trail of ‘rocks’, now melting in the sun, mark out a Möbius loop.

Robin Rhode, The call of walls, NGV International, Melbourne, 17 May – 15 September 2013.

Robin Rhode, ‘Kid candle’, 2009, black & white super 8 film transferred to HD digital betacam, silent, 1:3 mins

Robin Rhode, ‘Kid candle’, 2009, black & white super 8 film transferred to HD digital betacam, silent, 1:3 mins

Robin Rhode, ‘Kid candle’, 2009, black & white super 8 film transferred to HD digital betacam, silent, 1:3 mins

Robin Rhode, ‘Rocks’, 2011, colour HD digital betacam, sound, 2:45 mins

Robin Rhode, ‘Rocks’, 2011, colour HD digital betacam, sound, 2:45 mins

Robin Rhode, ‘Rocks’, 2011, colour HD digital betacam, sound, 2:45 mins

Hi mail, love Lisa

I think it was in 2006 that we at TCB art inc. decided to invite Rebecca Ann Hobbs, based in Auckland at the time, to curate a show at the gallery. We were keen to mix up the programming and eager to see things we might not otherwise see.

How to look
well, feel well:
First, you need
to find a

The exhibition One for the ‘other’ ended up being like a convoluted gift. Rebecca, herself invited, in turn invited fourteen of her favourite men to exhibit alongside her. Among them were Melbourne-based artists, friends and colleagues of ours and hers: Nick Selenitsch, Paul Knight, Christopher Koller, Brendan Lee and Kiron Robinson. The others were artists based elsewhere, mostly New Zealand, perhaps one in LA (1).

Three Nicks in one show.

Nick Selenitsch, whom I didn’t really know well at the time, assisted installing the works— quiet logic and confident ease.

I remember opening a homemade foam core box from Michael Lett as if it were a present, a gift. Upon opening I found a set of instructions, a woollen blanket and a $2 shop-esque thin plastic decorated tablecloth.

1. Rub blanket on wall
2. Spread tablecloth on wall.

Simple instructions, alongside a simple diagram, Untitled, by Simon Denny.

3. Fall in love with static electricity.

I lie. The third instruction does not exist. Perhaps saying it, overstates it.

If my memory serves me correctly, Nick Austin’s work arrived in a tube. Unrolling a carefully wrapped and painted tabloid double-page spread has a particular material quality to it: the newspaper and paint somehow merge to become another material—softer, more fragile, more plastic.

Note: Fall in love again.

The scumbled surface of Austin’s painting left only remnants of the daily dealings below its surface. Eliciting a kind of banal-melancholic humour, Austin’s painting A rhizome (2006) depicted a small piece of ginger (or was it tumeric?) contained by an almost-sloppy-peachily-painted round-edged-rectangle.

Quotidian beauty.

Jon Bywater might say, ‘As if to say: if that’s what you’re looking for, don’t look for it in the canvas. It highlights instead their simplifications, the analytical, human character of the act of painting’.

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me who my favorite artist was. A strange question to which I am usually hesitant to respond—the answer can seem to be transient and allusive to both the questioner and questionee. Deciding to commit. If only allowed one, the parameters were set, I would say Nick Austin.

I said, ‘Nick Austin’.

Across the Tasman Sea, aided by intermittent internet searches and the occasional exhibition in Melbourne, I can be a fan. Electing Austin as a favorite, not the Firefox kind, means I might get to share some of his historical friends—Morandi, Cezanne, Giotto, Piero della Francesca—and wonder, would he share mine? Tony Clark, Vermeer or Sophie Tauber-Arp. What of Bonnard? De Stael? John Brack? What does he think of wacky Magritte paintings such as The ellipsis (1948)? Does he like Patrick Lundberg’s shoelaces?

Funny formalism for lovers. Empty absurdity for wanna-be vagabonds.

Hey Lane! Hey Col! Hey Moo! Who was that Mannerist that lived in the tree?

About a month ago, after some brief email conversations with Helen from Parsons’ Library Supply, credit card numbers and expiry dates, I received in the mail The liquid dossier.

Handwritten 45/200.

No expectations.

A humble-but-eluding-to-order Eastlight. Slimpick. Wallet. Foolscap in fact, Manila folder yellow in colour. Contained within it, an unbound book. A package. Some loose thoughts. Some points to, some points from—trajectories. Personal paraphernalia. Personable.

A list of items contained within—a room-sheet for a folder. A poster, a laser print, a risograph, photographs printed and enveloped in the equivalent of an Officeworks envelope. A very short PowerPoint film called Dentists on holiday with an improvised-jazz–accompanied-by-an-engine soundtrack on a DVD in a crystal case. A small sachet of coffee the size of a photo depicting a coffee cup the size of a small car. A postcard of a painting of an envelope flying.

Envelopes inside envelopes. Unread … no … wait … cannot be opened mail.

The green notebook was a gift, Jon Bywater writes.

He goes on: I find ways to use it as well as the laptop on which I usually write; sometimes, of course, just because it’s easier to carry and the only thing to hand, but it also creates a loose genre of notes.

The package is im or I’m perfect. And quirky in its everyday-ness, in its dossier-ness, rather than its archive-ness. This is like Christopher LG Hill’s Endless lonely planet or Jon Nixon’s Mike Brown research volumes 1 and 2.

But also not.

A very short letter to Bonnard dated 13 August 1925 reads:

Long Live
In Friendship

Likened to what Patrick said, maybe our interest can lie in ‘a more social painting. A painting with a keener sense of duration. A painting which one day may no longer beg to be called by that name’.

A book with a keener sense of time, a book which one day may no longer beg to be called by that name.

(1) One for the ‘other’ was curated by Rebecca Hobbs. The artists included in the exhibition were: Rebecca Hobbs, Peter Volich, Phillip Maysels, Nick Selenitsch, Josh Stone, Dan Arps, Christopher Koller, Jon Bywater, Brendan Lee, Nick Austin, Paul Knight, Simon Denny, Kiron Robinson, Mario Garcia Torres and Nick Spratt.

(2) Jon Bywater, ‘Power nap’, in Nick Austin, The liquid dossier, designed by Nick Austin, Gilbert May & Duncan Munro, Lucky Stairs Studio, edn 45/200, published by Nick Austin & Hocken Collections, University of Otago, on the occasion of the exhibition The liquid dossier, Feb. 2013.

Simon Denny, ‘Untitled’, 2006, static electricity, woollen blanket, plastic sheet

Nick Austin, ‘A rhizome’, 2006, synthetic polymer paint on newspaper

Rene Magritte, ‘The ellipsis’, 1948, oil on canvas, Royal Museum of Fine Art Brussels

Nick Austin, ‘The liquid dossier’, 2013, at my house, on my coffee table with my new copy of Elizabeth Newman’s book, ‘More than what there is’ (published by 3-ply in 2013) underneath

Nick Austin, ‘The liquid dossier’, 2013

Nick Austin, ‘The liquid dossier’, 2013