Secret art places: Part II

Cetate Arts Danube, the other art-camp I visited in August, has been situated since 2008 on the same premises as the one in Tescani, but the methods of work are somewhat different. Initiated and supported by the Joana Grevers Foundation in Bucharest, the art-camp in Cetate is hosted in a mansion built between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century by a local landlord, Barbu Drugă. It is a beautiful Art Deco building, with Mediterranean influences.

Ştefan Creţu (RO), Simon Iurino (IT/ AT), Cristian Răduţă (RO), and Napoleon Tiron (RO) were the four artists invited to create new artworks in Cetate last summer. Over the years, all the invited artists have colonised the available spaces with their art: the old barn has taken the function of a Kunsthalle, while the vast area surrounding the buildings contains artistic interventions that surprise the viewer, especially in connection with the architecture of the place.

Napoleon Tiron, an iconic Romanian sculptor now in his eighties, placed a monumental sculpture of multiple spread wings in the garden of the mansion. For days, he cut and calculated dimensions, researching the area in order to find a position for his structure. At the time of the residence in Cetate, Napoleon had been reading about the history of landscape, van Gogh’s letters to his brother and various biographies of artists and musicians, and these writings inspired him to closely listen to nature and the sounds people were making.

Not far from Napoleon’s work, Cristian Răduţă placed a tree-shaped stand decorated with coloured plastic plates he had bought from the local market. He was calling this construction “a utility tree”, and it represented a major change in his practice, as Cristian had previously been oriented towards large-format sculptures, usually using different resins, which were bound to the studio, without exploring or interacting that much with the surroundings.

Ştefan Creţu, one of the artists that had been coming to the mansion for several years, sought inspiration for his kinetic sculptures in Darwinism. His main interest is following the evolution of humanity from amphibian to machine, stressing the limits of artificial intelligence.

Simon Iurino was focused on utilising materials from existing structures, working with the plan of the space, appropriating their context and analysing the function that these old objects had before. The series of cyanotypes he produced at Cetate were describing fragments of architectural details, combining the textile with the text and its form, in an attempt to test the expansion of linguistics.

While wondering about the local mythology in the remote village of Cetate, I unexpectedly met the British writer Selma Dabbagh who joined us for dinner one evening. She was writer-in-residence at Port Cultural Cetate, the old agricultural port by the Danube, once part of the Barbu Drugă’s estate and transformed in recent years into a cultural centre by the Romanian dissident poet Mircea Dinescu.

Selma had been talking to the local people, taking notes on mysterious situations and exploring stories told by the villagers while they were pursuing their daily errands. The night we met, during the time we were visiting the cellars of the mansion, Selma mentioned a very interesting story about a young woman turning old upon her death. The story somehow brought me closer to the intimate strata of the community, surrounded by borders – the first border being the Danube, from where one can spot the second and the third borders with Bulgaria and Serbia.

As I noted at the beginning of the text, the combination of the shock of the image, the human condition and the thin line between past, present and future define the spaces that assume a position outside the standardised art system.

And here is the story told by Selma:

The woman who serves us waves her hands around. I understand nothing of what she says. I am the only person in Port Cetate who does not speak fluent Romanian. There are many things I still don’t understand about Romania, but at least I have learnt not to mention Dracula. Port Cetate, on the Danube in the west of Romania, where I am writer-in-residence for a fortnight, has set up a sculpture park of angels to counter the Dracula park project being mooted for Transylvania, a region in the north of the country. There is indignation in the look of the woman serving us, possibly at not being deemed credible; that much I can comprehend from her challenging eyes. I like this serving woman. She bounds from table to table, talks in a flurry and has no time for anyone. She’s like an Almodovar woman without the legs, high-heels or subtitles.

What is she saying?

They’ll tell me. It’s a long story. A big story. It has been going on all week. But interpreters are fallible. If their curiosity does not match yours, you end up with holes in your tale, gaps that can only be sewn together by fictions.

First they tell me this:

There had been a death. A woman. A mother of six children in the local village, Cetate, where all the workers came from. This woman, a relative of many who worked in the kitchen, had fallen in the road, was taken to the hospital and died in childbirth. The baby was fine. 

I couldn’t get this at all.

Tragic? Yes.

Deserving of the facial expressions and daily updates? No.

Could someone explain further please?

The thing, they explained, was the body. The body of the woman had aged. When they went to bury this woman in her thirties, they found an old woman. She looked at least 70 in the open coffin. 

What else? Surely there was more.

They now felt she was haunting them. She had scared them. They could still see her. She never went to the hospital to give birth. She never would have been in the hospital if she had not collapsed. There had been many other children – that was the other thing – maybe as many as 22. The others were born and buried in the woods. Only a handful survived. That’s why they feared her. That’s why she couldn’t rest.

On my last Saturday I am taken to one of the workers’ houses in Cetate for a barbecue. We open the wine by pushing the cork in after banging its bottom against the rough stucco wall of the house. I eat a spicy sausage sitting on a blue plastic stool and am handed a litre of rosé in a tankard. A mobile phone is propped up in an empty beer glass to play us some music as we sit. There’s chat. Someone hands me a phone with a photograph displayed: a baby in a blue and white onesie lying on a towel. The child, it is explained, is the boy of the woman who died.

He’s being baptised the next day. Isn’t he cute? I consider the wriggling infant trapped in the tiny screen: a child known from birth as the progeny of an infanticidal witch.

Angelic, I reply, slipping the phone back into the glass for the music to continue.

The 20th century mansion in Cetate hosting artists each summer. Photo credit Ştefan Radu Creţu
The 20th century mansion at Cetate that hosts artists each summer. Photo: Ştefan Radu Creţu

Cristian Răduţă’s intervention in the shape of a tree decorated with colored plastic plates and located in the garden of the mansion. Photo credit Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation
Cristian Răduţă’s intervention in the shape of a tree decorated with colored plastic plates and located in the garden of the mansion. Photo: Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy of the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation

The angel with multiple wings created by Napoleon Tiron. Photo credit Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation
The angel with multiple wings created by Napoleon Tiron. Photo: Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy of the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation

Simon Iurino’s installation that questions space – emotional, physical, imagined and hidden. Photo credit Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation
Simon Iurino’s installation that questions space—emotional, physical, imagined and hidden. Photo: Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy of the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation

One of Ştefan Radu Creţu’s mythical creatures is crawling on an old wall. Photo credit Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation
One of Ştefan Radu Creţu’s mythical creatures is crawling on an old wall. Photo: Ştefan Radu Creţu. Courtesy of the artist and Joana Grevers Foundation

The group of artists in Cetate / upper row, from left to right, standing: Ecaterina Dinulescu (the coordinator of the project), and Napoleon Tiron; seating on the stairs, from left to right: Cristian Răduţă, Ştefan Radu Creţu and Jacques, Simon Iurino
The group of artists in Cetate. Standing L-R: Ecaterina Dinulescu (the coordinator of the project) and Napoleon Tiron; Seated L-R: Cristian Răduţă, Ştefan Radu Creţu and Jacques, Simon Iurino

The old smith’s shop was transformed in a chapel by architect Alexandra Afrasinei in 2013
The old smith’s shop was transformed in a chapel by architect Alexandra Afrasinei in 2013

Franti, out!

Careof is a not-for-profit space in Milan hosted in a public architectural complex called La Fabbrica del Vapore (The Steam Factory) which, at the beginning of the 1900s, was where trams were built. The site is next to the calm beauty of Cimitero Monumentale, a tidy layout of trees and tombs of various styles and sizes. On the opposite side is the lively Chinatown, always buzzing with people, plenty of shops and more recently trendy bars serving bubble tea.

A blasting sound can be heard outside the spaces entrance, darkened for Franti, Fuori!, Diego Marcons solo show. Upon entering, the eyes adjust to discover a strange statue, approximately 160 cm tall, charcoal grey. In the dark it is difficult to decipher the material it is made of. It could be concrete, but it is wooden and worn out, like it had to endure the weather outdoors for some time. It depicts  a bizarre creature with human features, a prominent belly and half-closed bulging eyes, somewhere between a Disney character, Paul McCarthys sculpture and a big garden dwarf, yet the pose of the hands with outstretched open palms, looks like Christ the Redeemer in Rio. The statue embodies a threshold, some kind of portal to other subjective dimensions, a clownish apparition like in Stephen Kings IT.

Four films play off 16mm loops sitting on metallic stands, projected directly onto the white walls at the same close focus distance. The sound of the analogue projectors is exceeded by two big speakers playing noises seemingly repeating at short intervals. After better scanning the space, the viewer becomes aware of a small screen fixed on the ground and animated through a retro-projection, showing the dwindling cartoon image of an owl on a rocking chair.

The films are studies on the recurring subject of a falling head, bending, almost collapsing. Marcon refers to them as direct animationsand chose four for the exhibition out of the series he had been working on for months, patiently drawing and applying by hand ink, colours and scratches directly onto the film rolls. After studying cinema techniques, Marcon has been employing both digital and analogue formats in his practice, exploring the memories or documentary potential embedded in video documents. Franti, Fuori! is a hypnotic and inspired reflection on the medium of film and constitutes a turning point in the artists work. Its the result of a long research in which Marcon was trying to counteract his weariness with the omnipresence of images, exhaustion with their representation and worry about their exploitation for ideological purposes, in particular as he had witnessed in Paris in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and when he arrived in Milan.

The partial view of a mans face, his abstracted eyebrows and eyes, are those of the artist. These portraits, rather than an act of vanity, are a genuine attempt to go back to the source, the closest material at hand, and function as a frank questioning of ones intentions before moving on to add further external layers. The title of the show references an old novel that used to be compulsory reading in Italian primary schools up until 60 years ago, called Cuore (Heart). Franti, the antihero, is a complex character who is first sent out of the classroom and eventually kicked out of school. In the preface to the book the writer De Amicis addresses his audience of children with the sentence: I hope it will make you happy and bring you some good. Within this show it is difficult to find a moral compass: on the one hand it hints at an overturning of reality, reminiscent of the dramaturgy of horror movies and introducing hidden symbols, whilst on the other it is imbued with a candor and honesty so rare to find these days. The celluloid surface is still the place where fiction thrives and a viewer can get out of oneself, and decide to follow Diego Marcon wherever he wants to go to next.

Diego Marcon, Franti, Fuori!, Careof, Milan, Italy, 22 September – 14 November 2016.

Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 01)’, 2015, Camera-less animation, fabric ink, permanent ink and scratches on 16mm clear film leader, colour, silent, 10'' looped. Frame from the film transfer. Courtesy of the artist
Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 01)’, 2015, camera-less animation, fabric ink, permanent ink and scratches on 16mm clear film leader, colour, silent, 10” looped. Frame from the film transfer. Courtesy of the artist

Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 01)’, 2015, Camera-less animation, fabric ink, permanent ink and scratches on 16mm clear film leader, colour, silent, 10'' looped. Frame from the film transfer. Courtesy of the artist
Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 02 & 05)’, 2015; ‘Untitled (All pigs must die)’, 2015 and ‘Untitled (Head falling 04)’, 2015. Photo: Edoardo Pasero. Courtesy of the artist

Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 02 & 05)’, 2015, exhibition view, camera-less animation, fabric ink, permanent ink and scratches on 16mm clear film leader, colour, silent, 10'' looped. Photo: Alessandro Nassiri. Courtesy of the artist
Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (Head falling 02 & 05)’, 2015, camera-less animation, fabric ink, permanent ink and scratches on 16mm clear film leader, colour, silent, 10” looped. Photo: Alessandro Nassiri. Courtesy of the artist

Diego Marcon, FRANTI, FUORI!, exhibition view, Untitled (All pigs must die) & Untitled (Head falling 01), 2015 Photo: Alessandro Nassiri. Courtesy the artist.
Diego Marcon, ‘Untitled (All pigs must die)’, 2015 and ‘Untitled (Head falling 01)’, 2015, Photo: Alessandro Nassiri. Courtesy of the artist

Secret art places: Part I

The exhibition Nouvelles histoires de fantômes, prepared by Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger and presented this year in the Palais de Tokyo, discussed the after-life of images, trying to explain how the visuality of the present is being formed after a century of art that had been politicized since WWI, and how our artistic memory is shaped by this panoply of visual information.

Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas stood at the core of this major installation of images and archive material, first displayed at Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2010. The beautiful publication produced for the occasion inspired me for a while in my writings and thinking about art, as it was articulate, coherent and had “a soul”. In the exhibition, apart from the strong imagery, like Harun Farocki’s videos, one could see Paul Klee’s herbarium, with his related writings and graphics, or Sol LeWitt’s photo collages.

It was exactly this relationship between contemporary visuality – the private life of an artwork operating like the mechanisms of the human condition – that has led me to explore several art-camps in Romania (tabara artistica in Romanian) this summer, with the purpose of tracking the different conditions of the artistic discourse, that are not always visible due to the accelerated rhythm of the art system. And I would like to talk about two of them: one in Tescani, a small village in the Eastern part of Romania and one in Cetate, another small village in the Southern part of the country, near the Danube. What is interesting about art-camps is that they have a structure different from that of a residency – they do have an organization behind them, but it is not that visible and it usually depends on a handful of dedicated people that make things work. In an art-camp, it is normal to have the same group of artists that meet there each year, spending from two to four weeks together, creating a connection between each other and a continuity that shapes the specific identity of the location. Even though they have interests in various media, the artists tend to explore the possibilities of traditional materials and practices, trying to stay away from the computer. The awe-inspiring landscape brings inspiration and character to the artistic process, and also a real environment for thinking and debate.

The art-camp in Tescani is housed in the mansion of an old Romanian noble family, Rosetti-Tescanu. Built at the end of the 19th century, in a pure classical style, the building is flooded by light and surrounded by a dendrologic park. The observer can easily distinguish here layers of history, stories and expectations. After the heir of the family, Maruca, married the renowned Romanian composer George Enescu, the house became the drawing-room of Enescu. In 1947, the year communism was established in Romania, the mansion was donated by the family to the Romanian state and became a cultural centre. In the 1980s it became a memorial house dedicated to the Rosetti-Enescu family.

Colonia 21 is an artistic group that was formed in 2003 around another art-camp, through the initiative of Romanian painter Teodor Moraru, and supported by The Concerts Society Bistrita. Since 2008, Colonia 21 has been convening each summer in Tescani. Apart from the main group, each year there are several invited artists, together with the recipient of the Teodor Moraru Scholarship. During my stay, there were eleven Romanian artists working in Tescani: Dan Badea, Dragos Badita, Dragos Burlacu, Claudiu Ciobanu, Marius Craita Mandra, Anca Irinciuc, Cristina Nedelea, Maria Pop Timaru, Justinian Scarlatescu, Alex Tomazatos and Zoltan Béla.

Under a pavilion, hidden behind the mansion, one would discover Zoltan Bela, Anca Irinciunc, Justinian Scarlatescu and Cristina Nedelea working on several canvases at the same time.

I have been familiar with Zoltan Bela’s practice for several years, and this July, I met him at a moment when he wanted to change his style of painting radically. Focused on the process and on the daily experience, Bela was taking notes and observing the small details of the space, staying away from photography, while positioning himself closer to nature.

In her paintings, Anca Irinciunc was combining elements she kept seeing in her walks around Tescani, like the same horse, or a plate with the message “House for Sale”, with the way light was falling on the pavilion and on the grass in certain moments of the day. Hybrid pictures, sometimes visually uncomfortable, were resulting from decomposing the real images.

Working with a large collection of original photographs that he collected from flea markets in Bucharest, Justinian Scarlatescu was transferring the images onto canvas and intervening in them, often using rudimentary equipment and expired films, without controlling the result. His purpose was to address memory and to break the chain of reproducing visual information.

Cristina Nedelea mentioned that the artists in Tescani form a nucleus, with a specific interest in landscape, drawing and the figurative. Selections of art movies and the stereotypical imagery used lucidly by film directors to express certain states of mind represented an important part of the documentary material and a basis for their discussions.

Marius Craita Mandra analyzed through his paintings the relation between the rhythm of everyday life and the standardization of the daily through the use of computers. His human models resembled cases that had been emptied of their private contents, and re-filled with information that didn’t belong to them.

Dragos Badita, the recipient of this year’s Teodor Moraru Scholarship, used his observations of the surroundings and of the people working the fields to draw with Indian ink on paper flamboyant landscapes communicating the intensity of the wind through the trees and the valleys.

A good dose of humor, mythology and contemporary living are coordinates that Maria Pop Timaru combined in her drawings and objects. The comments she was making on paper, in the form of writing or futurist drawings, would be later transformed into wooden objects that talked about childhood memories and disruptive political situations.

Dragos Burlacu was tracing the spaces of experiment, that for instance included eating together with all the artists at the same table, and introducing the presence of an invisible character or a fictitious situation that would bring criticality in the form of humorous postures or comments. I mention here the painting displaying the aerial view of a friendly dinner among artists, as if God was the beholder, but in the same time the part-taker to a conspiracy.

Studying the various eating habits of people was also one of Dan Badea’s preoccupations. Concerned with how space in general generally evolved around him – at the private, as well as the professional level – Dan Badea filled the role of commentator for the group, often using moments in the past to justify a present day situation.

After approaching local topics in his paintings, Claudiu Ciobanu chose to work on an idea he had developed before coming to Tescani. Because the mansion has many places where the guests can sleep or hide, and was meant to shelter creative minds since the beginning of the 20th century, Claudiu commented in his works upon different stances of sleep or of covering someone’s identity.

Active as a biologist specialising in the discovery of viruses, Alex Tomazatos transformed his photographic camera into a strong and pragmatic eye documenting reality (but not necessarily the truth) about a situation. Exploring areas around Tescani that were hard to access, the photographer preferred to see what was hiding underneath the bed, or in the depth of the forest, or in the ditches on the sides of the road, a method of research that resembled his study of viruses.

In my opinion, these spaces of synthesis, where several worlds collide, define a fourth temporal dimension, a transversal and innocent time, untouched by expectation or alterity.

To be continued…

'Tescani', Photo: Dragoş Bădiţă
‘Tescani’, Photo: Dragos Badita

The resident artists in the art-camp in Tescani. Photo credit Dragoş Bădiţă
The resident artists in the art-camp in Tescani. Photo: Dragos Badita

Rosetti-Tescanu mansion in Tescani. Photo credit Dragoş Bădiţă
Rosetti-Tescanu mansion, Tescani. Photo: Dragos Badita

The wood-workshop of Maria Pop Timaru. Photo credit Dragoş Bădiţă
The wood-workshop of Maria Pop Timaru. Photo: Dragos Badita

Zoltán Béla paiting in plein-air. Photo credit Justinian Scărlătescu
Zoltan Bela paiting in plein-air. Photo: Justinian Scarlatescu

Anca Irinciuc and Justinian Scărlătescu working in the studio. Photo credit Dragoş Bădiţă
Anca Irinciuc and Justinian Scarlatescu working in the studio. Photo: Dragos Badita

The group of artists in Tescani / upper row, from left to right: Anca Irinciuc, Justinian Scărlătescu, Dan Badea, Dragoș Burlacu, Dragoș Bădiţă, Anca Verona Mihuleţ, Zoltán Béla, Alex Tomazatos, Cristina Nedelea; lower row, from left to right: Claudiu Ciobanu, Marius Crăiţă Mândră, Maria Pop Timaru
The group of artists in Tescani. Upper row, from left to right: Anca Irinciuc, Justinian Scarlatescu, Dan Badea, Dragos Burlacu, Dragos Badita, Anca Verona Mihuleţ, Zoltan Bela, Alex Tomazatos and Cristina Nedelea. Lower row, from left to right: Claudiu Ciobanu, Marius Craita Mandra and Maria Pop Timaru

Dragoş Burlacu, “Cena”, oil on stainless steel sheet, selectively sanded,2013. Courtesy the artist
Dragos Burlacu, ‘Cena’, 2013, oil on stainless steel sheet, selectively sanded. Courtesy of the artist


Play your cards right (or how we never talk about money)

In the Melbourne art world, that ‘homeless’ look of a few years ago has seemingly been replaced by the gym-going-drunk-Mum and the Lumberjacktivist (part lumberjack, part Occupy bystander). I think the living-out-of-a-cardboard-box style was a bit more reflective of where artists are at – not homeless, but just surviving. Perhaps I’m wrong to look to fashion for clues of an attitudinal shift, but I’m reminded of that old adage: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Unlike any other corporatised system, you never want to look too coiffed or too tailored or expensively branded, and there is a curious silence about how to live. And by ‘how to live’, I mean how to pay for how you live.

Lots of volunteering or working for beer; lots of awkward ‘swaps’ for artwork you still aren’t sure about; lots of writing for ‘experience’, documenting shows for a pat on the back, or editing grant applications for an emoji. We are all good at not talking about money all the time. And there is a funny parity of excess – big ideas, big projects, big openings, big names, big font on big posters. We are play-acting at high-flying party mode a lot. And so when artists and curators come to visit, or when we make the move overseas, is it jealousy or plain old curiosity that makes us ask “How do you live over there?” Perhaps it’s both.

In a little known podcast well known writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote this much read Atlantic piece is interviewed by his oldest (and not at all famous) friend Neil Drumming. They talk about the difference between being a snob and being boushie. Touchingly they also discuss how Coates’ money has changed the way he experiences the world, but not necessarily how he relates to it.

Mark Hilton, Half Flush, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 14 November – 12 December 2015.

Mark Hilton, website.

Jerry Saltz, ‘Reject the Market. Embrace the Market. How I’ve found new magic amid all that money‘, New Yorker, 22 April 2012, 42.

Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards double-sided, Edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5cm
Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm

Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, Edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm
Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm


The holiday d’art

I recently returned from a few weeks in London and Venice. Was it fun? It was okay. Did you see lots of stuff? Yes. Was the art good? Yeah. Did you buy me anything? No. Did you take many pictures? HEAPS.

My intention for getting away was split evenly between some research Ive been meaning to do for a while, and to secondly take a long overdue break.

Of course, being in London during Frieze and Venice for the Biennale meant that art significantly shaped my time away. As youd expect with a trip filled with lots of looking, since getting back Ive been using the photos on my phone as a  reminder of what I saw and what my holiday self wanted to remember.

There was a lot of art, and like I said a lot of it was good, but nestled within these cultural spectacles were some other unintentional gems. My three favourites are below:

1. Walking around a crowded art fair like Frieze and observing gallery staff who were in clear need of a break, including  a smartly dressed gallerist who, when I walked past his booth was watching a video on the Huffington Post called Koko the gorilla falls in love with a box of kittens.

TP image 1

2. People at the fair who coincidentally are dressed to match the artworks around them, my favourite being this visitor standing next to a Sam Gilliam work at David Kordansky Gallery. A further example was spotted near a Sol Calero pattern painting.

TP image 2.jpg

3. Placed ever so casually in Mika Rottenberg’s installation was this small hand-written note, asking visitors not to touch the artwork. Professional signage has never looked so good! I think I spotted five throughout the exhibition. Simply great.

TP image 3

56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2015, Italy, 9 May – 22 November 2015.

Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park, London, 5 – 8 October 2015.

Things I learned from ‘The Diplomat, the Artist and the Suit’, a documentary about architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall


In the competitive field of architecture, three things are essential to success: The first is a level of diplomacy, required in the courtship and management of clients. The second is a high degree of artistry or design skill, indispensable for obvious reasons. The third is a suit. Many budding architects, in their hubris, neglect to acquire a suit. This is a mistake, for no level of artistic talent or interpersonal and management skills will compensate for deficiency of suit. The more ambitious will invest in a second suit, so as not to be without when the first is being dry-cleaned. However, when starting out, it isn’t necessary to purchase more than one suit. Seven is excessive. 


Barrie Marshall is the artist of the documentary’s title, a self-effacing, wiry-framed recluse with glassy brown eyes. I want to make love to him.


Marshall lives in a concrete bunker resembling the HQ of a horribly disfigured cartoon villain with chainsaws for hands, sunk into a dune on the rugged Phillip Island coast. Its entrance is marked with a galvanized metal screen, its interior ruthlessly austere and as cold as the Bass Strait winds. There is a large enclosed courtyard, covered in dune grass. There are no penguins.


In the history of vox pops (and probably since Neolithic times), no member of the pubic quizzed on the subject of new architecture in their city has had a single positive word to say.


I bet he goes walking alone on Woolamai Beach in the driving rain, his mind harboring melancholic designs and secrets and a longing for the freedom of a sea bird.


Jeff Kennett is the Lleyton Hewitt of Victorian public life. Now that our white-hot hatred has waned, the former premier’s/tennis champion’s comments are sought on the immaturity of community attitudes to public space development/Nick Kyrigos. Since retiring from office, Kennett may have done much to raise awareness of depression and anxiety but there is still  a cactus where his heart should be and he still thinks we’re a bunch of lowlifes.


Anyone who doesn’t like the DCM-designed cheese stick on Citylink is an idiot and should aspire to a higher level of architectural intelligence.


Anna Schwartz lives in a DCM-designed home in Carlton with her husband Morry and a world-class collection of contemporary trip hazards. Also, she has retired the reflective hat that made her look like a Parisian gumnut baby.


Across a range of factors—environmental sustainability, structural complexity, number and accessibility of public toilets—the DCM-designed Stonehenge visitor centre is, compared to the Stonehenge itself, the superior achievement.


I doubt I’d actually make love to him if given the chance. His bed is probably made of zinc. What would we talk about afterwards? I‘d have to pretend to like the cheese stick.

John Denton, Barrie Marshall and Bill Corker. Photo by John Gollings. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
John Denton, Barrie Marshall and Bill Corker. Photo: John Gollings. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Denton Corker Marshall, 'Phillip Island House'. Photo: Richard Powers
Denton Corker Marshall, ‘Phillip Island House’. Photo: Richard Powers

The Phillip Island House, by Denton Corker Marshall. Photo by Richard Powers
Denton Corker Marshall, ‘Phillip Island House’. Photo: Richard Powers

‘I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we don't really exist if you don't.’ Vladimir Nabokov
‘I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we don’t really exist if you don’t’. Vladimir Nabokov

Township Museum and Creepy Long Fingers

Getting down to writing this text has been a struggle. Battling a recent and obsessive addiction to the game Township has meant that moments between paid drone-work are filled harvesting digi-corn and carrots, feeding cattle and trying to level up to the point where I can buy a museum and a ship to sail to the other islands and collect ethnographic digi-objects for it.

That’s the dream. It will be like Pitt Rivers without the politics. I hope I can get a shrunken head.

Image 1 - Township Screenshot

However, on a completely different subject…

Having just completed an article on Rebecca Horn’s photograph Scratching Both Walls At Once (1974-5), in which the artist fabricated a pair of grossly elongated finger gloves to be able to reach, and scratch, both walls at once from the centre of a room, and also discovering the Salad Finger cartoons on YouTube, I have been mulling over the idea of creepy long fingers, and have designed the bones of an intensive seven week course involving a series of seminars, lectures and workshops on the subject of creepy long fingers. It might go something like this:


Creepy Long Fingers 1.0


Week 1.

Morning: General introduction to course

Afternoon: Lecture ‘The Mythology of the Creepy Long Finger’

We look at long-fingered figures from mythology and storytelling through history, from Tartaran half-peasant/half-monster Şüräle who tickles to death those lost into the forest, to the ape-like Moehau and the vampiric Nosferatu. How do these characters influence the monsters of popular culture today?

Evening Screening: Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau. 1922).

Shurale Ballet. Image credit: Production still from ‘Shurale’ ballet. 1950 Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad, USSR.
‘Shurale’, 1950, Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad, USSR. Image:


Week 2.

Morning: Lecture ‘Filmic Fingers’

We examine creepy and non-creepy long fingers in film and television. Starting with Edison Studios’ Frankenstein (1910) we examine the filmic timeline of long fingers, both animated and otherwise, from extra-terrestrial long fingers within the Alien films  to animated long fingers such as Jack’s Skellington’s from The Nightmare Before Christmas, the witch and  bedlam from 2009’s Coraline and the horror-fied long fingers found in The Thing, The Babadook and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Afternoon: Visit/talk/Q+A with actor and contortionist Doug Jones who portrays both the pale man and faun from Pan’s Labyrinth.

Evening Screening: (opening short: Frankenstein, 1910. 10 mins). Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro. 2006).

Pans Labyrinth. Image credit: Still from Pans Labyrinth
Still from ‘Pans Labyrinth’


Week 3.

Morning: Lecture ‘Lord of the Creepy Long Fingers’

This lecture will delve into the world of creepy long fingers in contemporary literature and fiction. Referring back to our mythology class we will refocus on the modern through the Gollum of Lord of the Rings, Voldemort and elves of Harry Potter and the foot long spider fingers of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We will also look at a selection of short stories including Stephen King’s The Moving Finger.

Afternoon: Reading group and fiction writing workshop.

Evening Screening: The Witches (Nicolas Roeg. 1990).


Week 4.

Morning: Lecture ‘The Longest Finger on Earth’

We look at the life stories of those who have been, are renowned for or who hold world records for their long fingers and fingernails. Covering genetic long fingered-ness such as Robert Wadlow, who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest hands (and longest fingers) in the world, and long fingers that come about due to a disorder or disease such as Marfan Syndrome, which is sometimes characterised by very long thin fingers, or macrodactyly, a rare condition that caused Shanghai man Lui Hua’s thumb to swell to over 10.2 inches. We will also look at those who grow their fingernails to extreme lengths such as Chris Walton, who owns the current world record with combined fingernails over 20ft.

Visit: We will be visited by Lee Redmond who, with each measuring over 3ft long, previously held the record for the world’s longest fingernails, but unfortunately lost all ten in a car accident in 2009.

Evening Screening: My Strange Addiction: Rampant Rats/Extreme Fingernails (TV Episode. 2011)/At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (José Mojica Marins. 1963).

Lee Redmond. Image credit: Lee Redmond.
Lee Redmond. Image:


Week 5.

Morning: Lecture ‘Creepy Creatures’

The aye-aye lives in the forests of Madagascar and uses its exceptionally long fingers to poke around in small holes searching for grubs. Legend has it that if the aye-aye points at you with its middle finger you are marked for impending death. This lecture will explore the creepy long fingers of the natural world from bats to tarsiers and through to the consideration of legs and tentacles as fingers in spiders, lobsters and jellyfish.

Afternoon: Visit to Bristol Zoo to see the world’s first aye-aye twins born in captivity.

aye aye. Image credit: Aye-aye at Bristol Zoo. Image courtesy Bristol Zoo Gardens
Aye-aye at Bristol Zoo. Image: Bristol Zoo Gardens, UK


Week 6.

Morning: Lecture ‘Depressingly long fingers’

In this session we will explore how long fingers can be read and interpreted through the field of palmistry or hand analysis. Some people believe that having long fingers means you are more likely to be depressed, others that your finger length can predict how well you will do academically. There is a belief that the temporary elongation of your fingers can result in a rapid hypnosis effect. We will work through the different theories and research and also look at  those who try to lengthen their own fingers by exercise or even surgery – why do they do this?

Afternoon: Visit to British Library where curator will give presentation on palmistry charts and finger philosophy within the print and book collections.

Evening: Optional session with palmist Gary Marwick who will give individual readings to group.


Week 7.

Afternoon: Lecture ‘Creepy Long Finger … Painting’

Looking at the use of creepy long fingers in art from the last century. Using Rebecca Horn’s performative work Scratching Both Walls at Once as a starting point, we travel through the strange gestural contemporary hand work of Nico Baixas, the paintings of Samuel Manggudja and the large-scale public works of Jose Revelino amongst many more.

Evening screening: N/A.
Closing colloquium with invited speakers TBC.

Rebecca Horn. Image credit: Rebecca Horn, Scratching Both Walls at Once (1974-5). Image courtesy Tate Liverpool
Rebecca Horn, ‘Scratching Both Walls at Once’, 1974-5. Image: Tate Liverpool

Performing relative states

“As for going along and watching people perform … There’s nobody in my experience … EVER … (who) you’d have gone to a game and could identify more rapidly than you could Buddy on the field …”  1

Buddy Franklin
Buddy Franklin

The Wheeler Centre held Relative States, a series of interviews between creative couples, such as father-daughter duo, sports journalists Tim and Sam Lane. The basis of producer Amita Kirpalani’s design was to explore the intersection between the creative, professional and personal lives of these couples. Father Tim Lane and daughter Sam Lane spoke to football and care. When Tim was asked to discuss notable footballers, he spoke of Buddy Franklin and Sam Lane’s head nodded in agreement. He spoke of the physically identifying presence and swagger of a player. On a large green field I doubt I could identify Buddy’s face, but to recognize his body, movement and other player responses from such an abstract distance really struck a chord about the potential utility of every body in performance. Tim Lane’s comment appears to broach what it means to identify the micro qualities of an individual’s impact and unique movement, through the macro perspective of a field or the game.

Lawrence Weiner, That which is brought to bear reducing the mass as it was & hindering passage as it is first move second move third move, 2007
Lawrence Weiner, ‘That which is brought to bear reducing the mass as it was & hindering passage as it is first move second move third move’, 2007

Sometimes it feels like all you may own is your movement. You may not own your body, but you often own the autonomy to cultivate how you move for best expression. When a performance artist uses their body, often they employ the rhetoric of governmentality. Does the body change when others participate? The performance I attended, as part of ACCA in the City, Public Movement’s Training Ground, consisted of combat training through a monument walk and a final dualist performance-game-combat on a diagrammatic field in the city square. Here audience participants were invited to step into the constructed field and asked a series of polarizing in-or-out questions. Depending on what choice was made from the selection of questions, you were cordoned off and rounded into your marginalized group.

Public Movement, Training Ground, 2015
Public Movement: Training Ground, ACCA in the City, Melbourne, 2015

We know there is nothing like an injury to remind us of the material consequences of a game, combat or marginalization, but how are these principles or beliefs impacted when the audience become participants or performers in public? Do the audience’s bodies become symbolic? Are they camouflaged by the artist’s politic? Is the artist’s methodology all-enveloping as a skin for the audience to try on? How much movement can skin generate and is it resilient enough to hold the participants’ ghosts? Is there any autonomy for the body of the participatory audience?

weinerxyz (1)
Lawrence Weiner, ‘X Y & Z’, 2006

Like the relationships between father and daughter, it is very easy for ghosts to slip in and haunt these conversations. 

Sam and Tim Lane, Relative States, The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, 15 September 2015.

Public Movement: Training Ground, ACCA in the City, Melbourne, 21– 27 September 2015.

1.  Tim Lane, ‘Relative States’, The Wheeler Centre, 15 September 2015.

How to quieten the mind

Lately my brain has been full of the effects of change and heat and nervous anticipation, and even in the quiet moments it is hard to find even a minute or two of contemplation from which an original thought or opinion might form itself into something worth spinning into the outside world. The last thing anyone needs is yet another mediocre observation from a brain full of scattered and racing thoughts.

When the present becomes too close to bear like this, the past comes into sharper focus. From this swirling mire of idea-less exhaustion came a memory of a first encounter with a work that really struck me as remarkable and true. Anne Noble’s The white veil of a novice “Our habit signifies complete detachment from the things of this world” is a black and white photograph from a series taken while in residence with Benedictine nuns in a London convent from 1988-90. It’s a portrait of a young nun, but also a mysterious study of light and form. The veil and its folds sit at the centre of this small work, which is barely 20 centimetres wide; a tiny  sliver of the side of a face can also be seen. The drape of the folds is determined by the curve of the novice’s head, as still as marble. A dark shadow and an equally dark habit are voids against which the white veil sits. The wall is blank; a shadow settles across its left side. Its subject is thoroughly self-contained.

My memory is that I first saw this photo in a gallery in an old house on a hill in Auckland that is no longer there, but I can find no record of that now. Maybe we make memories to comfort ourselves. Either way, I would love to be sitting in front of it in that real or imagined place now.

Anne Noble, ‘White Veil of a Novice’, 1988, edition 22/30, Selenium toned silver print. Image courtesy of Two Rooms
Anne Noble, The white veil of a novice “Our habit signifies complete detachment from the things of this world”, 1992, black and white photograph, 131 x 196 mm

Against nature—Charles Lim and ‘Sea State’

We have a personal bomb shelter in our flat in Singapore; most homes do here. It’s a hard thing to reconcile. In my mind household bomb shelters are something that Hollywood invented via nuclear disaster movies such as The Road. Sure bomb shelters seem a long way from Charles Lim’s Sea State Singapore Pavilion exhibition, but then again it’s possibly a straight line.

Charles Lim’s artworks in Venice are in the main film and documentary material displaying Singapore’s endless land-reclamation activities and island geo-engineering. Singapore is highly engineered in the same way many newly emergent global cities are. Like other national pavilions though, it’s hard to get at exactly what is at stake.

The last artist I remember who confronted the triumphalism of national pavilions at Venice was Hans Haake in 1993, where he smashed up the Nazi-era German Pavilion. He lifted and broke all the stone flooring leaving it a place of disorder and latent violence, and adorned a photo of Hitler in the portico in remembrance of the visit to the building in 1938 and in the main pavilion wrote ‘GERMANIA’ over the top of it all.

So what about Sea State? Well it’s not smashing anything up. And it’s not anything like a Hans Ulrich Obrist-style ‘post-planning’ zone that is applied to other globalising Asian cities. Sea State by contrast is coherent and shaped. Its ideal is a fluid but dissipated sense of subjectivity. It is not declarative or demonstrative, quite the opposite.

It is a fact that wherever you might dig a hole in Singapore you will invariably come upon broken concrete and tiles, or kampong detritus and what was once foreign dirt. In a slightly double-schizoid way Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, the curator of Sea State, goes quite a way to dissuade intuitions that land-reclamation practices are in some way an unnatural act. In this he is aware of regional sensitivities where land possession arguments are involved but in my mind there is nothing particularly spooky about Sea State, even where Charles Lim twirls the stick a little in drawing attention to Pulau Sajahat translating as ‘Evil Island’.

The Sea State aesthetic is in large part cinematic and monumental. It is mesmerising and technologically intoxicating. Charles Lim has an intriguing knack with presentation where he strips away the black cover plastics from commercial screen equipment to leave sheer naked glass and metal.

From an international perspective what stands out with Sea State is the geo-political parallels in the South China Sea. China’s historic sea claims do in fact reach down just north of Singapore and the familial connections and social pathways and trade movement via the seas up and down these coastlines are arguably ageless in the scheme of things. Sea State entwines itself within these broader political and cultural relations. Lim’s is not however the only contemporary geographic conception of place for Singapore. Another contrast for example is Singaporean/Malaysian film-maker Sherman Ong’s recent projects, where he imagines the possibility that some day Singapore and Malaysia will become one again. Many would see this though as a rather forlorn possibility.

Charles Lim, Sea State, Singapore Pavilion, 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2015, Italy, 9 May – 22 November 2015.

Charles Lim, 'Sea State', Singapore Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015
Charles Lim, ‘Sea State’, Singapore Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015

Regulation Singapore bomb shelter, circa 2005
Regulation Singapore bomb shelter, circa 2005