Vogue-ing for the dictaphone: Alex Martinis Roe

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t undo a blurt or even a short rant. Perhaps because I speak to think, like most of us do … right?

On Friday February 17 from 2 to 4:30pm, formerly Melbourne, now Berlin-based artist Alex Martinis Roe facilitated a workshop she designed as part of her work for Post-planning, an upcoming group show for the Ian Potter Museum of Art, also including work by Damiano Bertoli, Julian Hooper, Andrew Hurle, Michelle Nikou.

A similar workshop had been staged by Martinis Roe in Dublin as part of her solo project at Pallas Projects and all the invited participants were briefed about this in the invitation. The workshop involved, as stated in the email invitation, ‘three main tasks, which are undertaken in pairs. Each of the tasks involves discussion of the specific relationships each participant has to the female authors that have been influential for her-him, and involves different ways of working together and listening to one another’. Upon reading this, all of a sudden can’t remember anything I’ve read … ever … total blank.

So I started to think about what a workshop was. A room or place where tools are available to repair other things. Was I going to be repaired? A place where things are produced. Was I going to take part in making someone else’s work? An activity which goes into effect in order to create or deliver something, ‘a deliverable’. Oh no.

Once inside the Ian Potter Museum, the spaces were cordoned-off, tables were set around a central node which included Martinis Roe and elaborate recording equipment. Part stage, part sound desk. The welcome by Martinis Roe was clear, faultlessly professional and friendly.

But then it became about us (not me, as I’d first agonized over) and as we filled out the first form, on which I had to write my name, it occurred to me that this workshop emulated my own paid work in many ways. These forms and instructions followed would potentially be used later or not at all.

What this workshop seemed to produce in humility, affirmation, sharing, it redacted in documentation, prop-making and chronicling, but I reflect now on how we hold onto our ideas, our starting points, what we return to and our false-starts.

Alex Martinis Roe, Frameworks for Exchange Workshop, Post-planning: Damiano Bertoli, Julian Hooper, Andrew Hurle, Alex Martinis Roe, Michelle Nikou, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 31 March – 22 July 2012.

Alex Martinis Roe, Frameworks for Exchange Workshop

Image of a workshop sourced from the internet

Image of a workshop sourced from the internet

The terror of n: Belle Bassin

In both style and content Belle Bassin’s recent solo exhibition, The terror of n, has a strong resonance with the work of 19th-century spiritualist artist Hilma af Klint. Both artists employ geometric abstraction, meticulous grid work and esoteric symbology that belie the formality, order and control implied by such approaches, instead quietly moving toward an unknown coda and potentiality that suggests a sort of transcendence.

Theosophy refers to systems of speculation or investigation seeking direct knowledge of the mysteries of being and nature. John Golding called theosophy ‘a world of vast, intangible and amorphous ideas’. In a sense, both artists attempt to portray enigmatic elements of parallel and invisible realms. Af Klint was considered a clairvoyant, claiming that her work was guided through a psychic connection on another plane. While Bassin’s work may not have been created in this way, it certainly speaks (albeit mutely) to interpretations and connections with and of multiple dimensions.

Nostalgia pervades Bassin’s work. There is a graphic sensibility that recalls the era of psychedelia and esotericism. In particular, The terror of n is reminiscent of a Luis Buñel film from the ’60s; the spectral O is a potential gateway to an elsewhere in which a gentleman appears as a sort of guide, cut from the books of another era. The work’s paradox implies a vacuum; the suspension of time and suggestion of movement.

Bassin’s work is an exploration of semiotics. The idea of mute language—a forever not quite narrative—is a central theme. Obscured movement and the frozen gesture reinforce the idea of semantic flux. The artist has created a world of limbo and potential where symbols are at once more than what they seem, yet not quite what they appear to be. Complicit font, an almost-alphabet of pictograms, seductively plays with this notion.

The exhibition itself is a tableau that simultaneously diverges and digresses to create a multitude of possibilities. In this way Bassin inspires the need for an interpretation but then disables one. It is precisely this disruption of flow that enables the viewer to search for a new one.

Belle Bassin, The terror of n, Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne, 9 February – 3 March 2012.

Belle Bassin, ‘The terror of n’, type-C print, 55 x 73 cm, 2012

Belle Bassin, ‘O’, collage and pencil on paper, 55 x 73 cm, 2012

Belle Bassin, ‘Complicit font’, pencil on paper, 73 x 55 cm, 2012

Doom and gloom: Ronnie van Hout

Through Hany Armanious’s Venice exhibition you can find your way around the back to MUMA’s latest collection rehang.

Into the middle of the room you look straight at two mini-figures dressed in pyjamas. Attached to both heads is an identical Ronnie van Hout painted skin face. They look a bit like Olaf Nicolai’s Oedipus (c. 2002) or a Charles Ray mannequin or any other of all those weirdly proliferating mannequin-type sculptures.

Ronnie van Hout and Hany Armanious were both part of the early grunge set in Australia. They share the humour.

Doom and gloom (from 2009) is a little chewed up and slightly coarse but I like work that can be seemingly irresolute or ill-mandated. It has the feel of two little male siblings sharing the same familiar smelly bedroom.

But there is another feeling there too about Van Hout begetting another Van Hout, about repeating himself. I get this as a deeper down type of unease, not just about a child’s physical health, but what else they’re carrying along.

At the opening Ronnie said, ‘you can’t do things too well cause otherwise they think it’s about craft’.

I don’t think he really cares who ‘they’ are.

Self-conscious—contemporary portraiture, MUMA, Melbourne, 1 February – 7 April 2012.

Ronnie van Hout, ‘Doom and gloom’, 2009

Ronnie van Hout, ‘Doom and gloom’ (detail), 2009

Ronnie van Hout, ‘Doom and gloom’ (detail), 2009

Small giants

The earliest paintings of the Western Desert art movement sparked a shift that would become a game-changer for Aboriginal art in Australia. Their appearance in the early 1970s prompted a re-evaluation of existing art world discourse; the Papunya boards, as they became known, made a convincing case for their reception as contemporary art, rather than ethnography. This shift opened the door for the many regional movements and artists that form a broad picture of Indigenous art today.

The fact that the paintings surveyed in Tjukurrtjanu represent such a watershed moment in the history of Australian art can initially be hard to imagine. They are, for the most part, strikingly humble when compared to the vast canvases which would come after them. But the scavenged offcuts of board and chalky student-grade poster paint the artists used manage to add up to far more than the sum of these parts, revealing countless possible directions for a then fledgling art movement.

Tjukurrtjanu brings the individual achievements of the founding artists—a small group of traditional senior men who came together in the tiny community of Papunya—into sharp relief. Walls displaying an artist’s approach to specific themes, and more generally to a new medium, frame engaging moments of studio-based invention. An example of this lies in Timmy Payungka Tjapangati’s 1972 work, Sandhill country west of Wilkinkarra, Lake Mackay, where underpainted bands of hot pink and ochre yellow, all but obscured by a densely dotted overlay, add an almost imperceptible shimmer to the work’s surface. This succinct visual effect, achieved with so little, makes the innovation of the boards in general clear—they arrived at a time, and within a context, where anything was possible and the appearance of Western Desert art was essentially undefined. Despite having been painted some forty years ago, many of the boards still stand among the best of Western Desert art. Put simply: there’s nothing like them.

Tjukurrtjanu: origins of Western Desert art, Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 30 September 2011 – 12 February 2012.


Timmy Payungka Tjapangati, Pintupi, ‘Sandhill country west of Wilkinkarra, Lake Mackay’, 1972, synthetic polymer paint on composition board, 76 x 52 cm

Nosepeg Tjupurrula, Pintupi, ‘Three ceremonial poles’, 1971, synthetic polymer paint on composition board, 56.2 x 70 cm

Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Anmatyerr, ‘Yala (Wild Potato) Dreaming’, 1971, synthetic polymer paint on composition board, 54.5 x 46 cm

Jenny Watson: here, there and everywhere

As someone who keeps hopping cities, states and (most recently) countries myself I can identify with the ‘Home and Away’ theme of this exhibition. It’s been a while since I’ve seen recent work by Jenny Watson and I know she was a bit unfashionable for a while in Australia. This exhibition cleverly addresses this tall poppy experience to give a more experiential aside to the provincialism problem and the disadvantage of living far away from most major art centres and markets.

As an artist who made the switch to an international career by the 1990s, Watson’s figurative project cast in terms of biography but not reduced to it has always been a central aspect of her work. You don’t have to be an international art star to get the common ground here. Like the characters in Sophia Coppola’s film Lost in translation, the experience of being somewhere else provided a suitable sense of dislocation and estrangement, and of living in the moment that doubles the creative process, informing not only the passage but the content of the work.

As a survey show, there is a big leap from her early house portraits of Australian suburbia and views of Paris and London (like drawings for a fashion magazine) to the more casual, self-reflective recent works like A beautiful day in Delhi (2008–09) with its accompanying narrative about social dress codes and criminality. Similarly, there is an apparent change of heart from Alice in Tokyo (1984) and Australian artist in a bar in New York in 2016 (1986) to examples like Transitions: Tucson, New York, Italy, Belgium, Düsseldorf, London (2011) and 36 hours (2012), the latter starting out in Tokyo and ending up in Werribee Hospital with a dying horse. Endurance has proved Watson’s point and made many of the more academic narratives of the 1980s about the cultural cringe seem curiously sterile.

Jenny Watson: here, there and everywhere, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 18 January – 18 April 2012.

Jenny Watson, ‘Alice in Tokyo’, 1984, synthetic polymer paint, ink and horse hair on hessian, 224 x 174 cm

Jenny Watson, ‘Transitions: Tucson, New York, Italy, Belgium, Düsseldorf, London’ (detail), 2011, watercolour on paper, dimensions variable

A morning with Julian Martin

I haven’t seen a solo show of Julian Martin’s work but at the many group shows of Arts Project artists, I find myself gravitating toward his drawings. They offer clarity among the talking and wine sipping. The thick pastel colour on paper creates a velvety surface that absorbs and softens my intense art gaze the way a Rothko painting might. It appears so clear, everyday objects reduced and flattened, their shapes bent or warped to become signs and symbols revealing the mystery of man-made forms seen through the eyes of a very sincere artist.

Julian has worked at Arts Project over twenty years and exhibited extensively here and abroad. Early work was easily recognisable for the recurring smiling cartoon man with the triangle shaped nose who stares so excitedly from the page. Arts Project kindly let me sift through the drawers of Julian’s work in the stockroom, while Penelope Hunt revealed a little about his working process. Before starting a new series of work, Julian will reduce his palette to just black and white before introducing his refined choice of colour. A mound of pastel dust forms around the table and floor as Julian rubs the colour into the paper. Finished pieces are carefully stored as the pastel dust can move and smudge easily.

The last year has been a particularly productive year, producing a drawer full of A3-size works that steer away from human forms toward everyday objects: coffee cups, high-heeled shoes, headphones and hair brushes. The simplicity of the work quietens my mind but a thought did come that this is the place Matisse was arriving at toward the end of his life. I felt truly energised spending a morning with the pure colour and shape of Julian’s world.

Julian Martin, Arts Project Australia, Melbourne, March 2012.

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (tree)’, 2011, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (high heel)’, 2011, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm

Julian Martin, drawings, 2011

Julian Martin, drawers at Arts Project

Julian Martin, ‘Untitled (assortment)’, pastel on paper, 42 x 29 cm, 2011