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

Pirate – bug – museum

An unspectacular football match between Steaua Bucharest and the Norwegian team Rosenborg Ballklub which took place last week made me realise that ten years ago, almost to the day, these same two teams had met with the same result (Steaua losing to Rosenborg). The entire situation, together with the chronological coincidence, made me recall an exhibition with an unusual format, presented only for a day, on the 23rd of August 2005.

Liviana Dan is a curator whose work dates back to  the ‘80s, with ‘uncomfortable’ projects in various space-formats, from basements and streets to exhibition halls in a number of Romanian cities, with a particular focus on Sibiu – a medieval city situated in central Romania. Back in 2005, Dan initiated a curatorial direction in the museum where she was working: An Artist – A Day in the Brukenthal MuseumSituated in Sibiu, the Brukenthal Museum is one of the oldest museums in Europe, opened to the public as a private institution in 1817 (although there was notable public activity in the collection long prior to that date).

An Artist – A Day in the Brukenthal Museum had a genuine laboratory structure, testing whether young artists could wield the complex structure of an old art institution and discover its soft underbelly. It was not about assailing what the museum represents, but rather about unveiling its vulnerable or unseen sides. The invited artists were supposed to make a one-day intervention in one part of the museum, without disrupting the usual display, but still questioning the history of art as a “sequence of successful transgressions”, to quote Susan Sontag.

The exhibition that day was entitled Almost Censored and it featured a site-specific installation conceived by Sebastian Moldovan. Freshly out of art school, the artist was rejecting the academic system, and the museum-as-exhibition space was too much. In this state of in-betweenness, he chose to work with that standard silence each museum encompasses, and explored the condition of closed systems or circuits that can’t support any charge. These days, when asked about the exhibition, Sebastian recalls that he could feel the museum was a serious institution and he acted like a sort of ‘pirate’.

There was one video installation installed in a former chimney ( the space where he displayed his works had  functioned as a kitchen in the past) showing various animated bugs walking around the dust that had accumulated  at the bottom of the structure over  the years. The work was playful and earnest at  the same time, being supposedly about  the bugs that walk under the skin of the museum. The other elements featured in the installation were two conjoined vacuum cleaners wrapped around a pillar, two bulbs and two plugs connected to each other, and a popular metal hook destined to keep a door shut: simple statements about the state of things, without much mystification.

Teodor Graur, ‘Europia’, the basement of the Pharmacy Museum, Sibiu, 1986; a project organized by Liviana Dan. Courtesy Teodor Graur
Teodor Graur, ‘Europia’, the basement of the Pharmacy Museum, Sibiu, 1986; a project organized by Liviana Dan, image courtesy of Teodor Graur

Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for Almost Censored, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for ‘Almost Censored’, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for Almost Censored, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for ‘Almost Censored’, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for Almost Censored, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, preparatory drawing for ‘Almost Censored’, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Almost Censored, exhibition view, the Brukenthal Museum, 2005. Courtesy the artist
‘Almost Censored’, exhibition view, the Brukenthal Museum, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Vacuum Cleaner’, object, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Vacuum Cleaner’, object, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Light Bulbs’, object, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Light Bulbs’, object, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Plugs’, object, 2005. Courtesy the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Closed Systems – Plugs’, object, 2005, courtesy of the artist

Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Bugs’, animation, 59’’, loop, 2005. Courtesy of the artist
Sebastian Moldovan, ‘Bugs’, animation, 2005, courtesy of the artist


Orange around

Diaphanous fellow, marked by time, screening what I know so well.  Heavy head, overhead, spare and barely touching as we pass. I can see your seams and your seams see me. I could also hear you, what were you thinking? I was thinking about touching you, but your guard was nearby. I used to know every corner, and now bathed in orange light, I can’t recognise you at all. Always humming you, a reminder that you are not empty, or closed. But perhaps you are closed to me.

I was in my early twenties…and at the time, of course, being a young intellectual, I wanted desperately to get away, see something different, throw myself into something practical….One day, I was on a small boat with a few people from a family of fishermen….as we were waiting for the moment to pull in the nets, an individual known as Petit-Jean…pointed out to me something floating on the surface of the waves. It was a small can, a sardine can…It glittered in the sun. And Petit-Jean said to me – You see that can? Do you see it? Well it doesn’t see you.

(Lacan 1981,The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Jacques-Alain Miller (ed), Alan Sheridan (trans), New York: Norton)

Kate Newby, Always humming, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, 17 July – 29 August 2015.

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015


Scroll, scroll, double tap

This month I thought I was going to write a really long piece about art on Instagram and artists using Instagram and galleries using Instagram and Instagram #takeovers and how I personally use Instagram. I was also going to make some observations about the strange things that pop up in your ‘Discover’ page and how occasionally people notice if you haven’t liked their posts and then mention it when they see you out at an opening and you say ‘Ohhh, haven’t I? Sorry!”

But then I discovered that there’s a ‘Posts You’ve Liked’ folder that appears under your profile settings and I went looking through it and got distracted for a few hours. So instead, in no particular order, here’s twenty six chosen-at-random images (of hundreds) that I’ve double tapped during the last month.

A painting from 2010 by American artist @austinlee
A painting from 2010 by American artist @austinlee

Before and After, 4, 1962 by Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum. Posted by @vasilikaliman
Before and After, 4, 1962 by Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum. Posted by @vasilikaliman

My favourite (well, top three at the least) Linda Marrinon sculpture, from the artist’s show at MUMA, Melbourne. Photo by @legoflamb1
My favourite (well, top three at the least) Linda Marrinon sculpture, from the artist’s show at MUMA, Melbourne. Photo by @legoflamb1

Presented without comment. By one of my favourite accounts to follow, @contemporaryary
Presented without comment. By one of my favourite accounts to follow, @contemporaryary

A post by @kunstsammler of this painting by Torey Thornton, who has an upcoming solo exhibition at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
A post by @kunstsammler of this painting by Torey Thornton, who has an upcoming solo exhibition at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

Work by Andrew Kerr as part of The gallery is beside a church, apartments and a small park with a fountain at Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo. Post by @themoderninstitute
Work by Andrew Kerr as part of The gallery is beside a church, apartments and a small park with a fountain at Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo. Post by @themoderninstitute

@tcb_artinc's image of a work by Josey Kidd Crowe, part of their 2015 Fundraiser.
@tcb_artinc’s image of a work by Josey Kidd Crowe, part of their 2015 Fundraiser.

Rebecca Warren's Croccioni, 2000, by @maureen_paley which I saw at The Saatchi Gallery in 2011.
Rebecca Warren’s Croccioni, 2000, by @maureen_paley which I saw at The Saatchi Gallery in 2011.

Brown Council by @browncouncil
Brown Council by @browncouncil

From Robert Macpherson's exhibition The Painter's Reach at GOMA, Brisbane. Image posted by @artandaustralia
From Robert Macpherson’s exhibition The Painter’s Reach at GOMA, Brisbane. Image posted by @artandaustralia

Hahahahappy painting by @pjdoublediddy
Hahahahappy painting by @pjdoublediddy

Costume by Rivane Neuenschwander for her 2015 commission at Whitechapel Gallery. Photo by @jerkscully
Costume by Rivane Neuenschwander for her 2015 commission at Whitechapel Gallery. Photo by @jerkscully

Maybe she’s born with it by @n40m10
Maybe she’s born with it by @n40m10

Work by Ron Nagle, posted by @joseph_allen_shea
Work by Ron Nagle, posted by @joseph_allen_shea

Dad Drawing, 1995-96, by Ronnie van Hout. Posted by @darrenknightgallery
Dad Drawing, 1995-96, by Ronnie van Hout. Posted by @darrenknightgallery

This #bloodsugarchecksmagic update by @gisellestanborough
This #bloodsugarchecksmagic update by @gisellestanborough

Urs Fischer at @themoderninstitute
Urs Fischer at @themoderninstitute

Ceramics and hand by @emilyhuntrulesok
Ceramics and hand by @emilyhuntrulesok

The genius of #JeanDubuffet by @caseykaplangallery
The genius of #JeanDubuffet by @caseykaplangallery

A new work by Ugo Rondinone to be included in the artist's upcoming exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, London. (Also, I like that this reminds me of Bart Simpson.) Post by @lookingatpainting
A new work by Ugo Rondinone to be included in the artist’s upcoming exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, London. (Also, I like that this reminds me of Bart Simpson.) Post by @lookingatpainting

The happiest sculpture on Instagram by @rosiedeacon
The happiest sculpture on Instagram by @rosiedeacon

I first saw Tala Madani's work in 2011 in the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and have enjoyed following her practice since. This work, Untitled, 2015 was featured in her solo exhibition Smiley has no nose at @davidkordanskygallery earlier this month.
I first saw Tala Madani’s work in 2011 in the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and have enjoyed following her practice since. This work, Untitled, 2015 was featured in her solo exhibition Smiley has no nose at @davidkordanskygallery earlier this month.

A post by @masonkimber of Mary MacDougall's tile painting from the recent exhibition Casual Conversation, Verging on Harassment at Minerva, Sydney
A post by @masonkimber of Mary MacDougall’s tile painting from the recent exhibition Casual Conversation, Verging on Harassment at Minerva, Sydney

This painting by an artist who I'm really enjoying at the moment, @stefaniabatoeva.
This painting by an artist who I’m really enjoying at the moment, @stefaniabatoeva.

UK based artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd at the Edinburgh Art Festival. Photo by @Glasgow_International
UK based artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd at the Edinburgh Art Festival. Photo by @Glasgow_International

Jean Arp's Moustaches, 1925, posted by @adamtullie
Jean Arp’s Moustaches, 1925, posted by @adamtullie



Three thousand years of people being bastards to horses

MEDIA RELEASE: The National Gallery of Victoria is delighted to present the first exhibition on the relationship between man and horse. ‘People being bastards to horses’ assembles images of this magnificent animal put by man to work and war, and subjected to extreme exercise for his amusement. Panoramic in scope, the exhibition features works from classical antiquity, the 19th Century—The Golden Age of people being bastards to horses—right through to the contemporary. Please enjoy a selection of key works from this landmark exhibition.

Lucy Kemp-Welch, ‘Horses bathing in the sea’, 1890.
Lucy Kemp-Welch, ‘Horses bathing in the sea’, 1890

Nothing a horse appreciates more than being made to thrash about in the freezing cold English Channel of a morning.

Benjamin Robert Haydon, Marcus Curtius, 1842–43
Benjamin Robert Haydon, Marcus Curtius, 1842–43

Marcus Curtius: Self-sacrifice is a virtue that shall make Rome great. My horse! To that fire-eyed maiden war, and should the Gods desire it, to death.
Marcus Curtius’s horse: Um, can it wait? I’ve got physio at two for the gammy knee. You know how hard it is to get an appointment with this guy!

Gericault, The Flemish farrier, 1821
Gericault, The Flemish farrier, 1821

Child: Do all horses have red hot iron bars nailed into their feet?
Man: Only the lucky ones, kid.

Sydney Nolan, Kelly with horse, 1955
Sydney Nolan, Kelly with horse, 1955

Ned Kelly: I wish to acquaint you with the occurrences present, past and future …
Ned Kelly’s Horse: Sorry to interrupt your letter, mate, but something to drink would be awesome.
Ned Kelly: It will pay government to give those people who are suffering, innocence …
Ned Kelly’s Horse: Just a drop, mate, anything. I can’t feel my lips.
Ned Kelly: … justice and liberty
Ned Kelly’s Horse: My face feels like a roasted gumboot.

Schelte Bolswert, The lion hunt, c. 1628
Schelte Bolswert, The lion hunt, c. 1628

Soldier: Attack those lions at once! Attack! Attack!
Horse: I don’t mean to be a pain, but may I suggest the benefits of a qualitative risk assessment at this juncture?

Hugh Ramsay, An equestrian portrait, 1903
Hugh Ramsay, An equestrian portrait, 1903

Man: To aid its digestive health, one must lean on one’s horse as it eats.
Woman: Are you sure about that?
Man: Certain.
Woman: And what should horses feed on?
Man: Dirt, mainly.
Woman: That doesn’t sound exactly right.
Man: Dirt.

Emmannuel Frémiet, Saint George and the dragon, 1891
Emmannuel Frémiet, Saint George and the dragon, 1891

And St George did upon the ferocious Dragon look, and call out to it that he would strike it with a lance from high up on his steed. But to St George’s surprise, his steed did resist utterly the trampling of the Dragon, bucking and whinnying and saying ‘Not my problem’ and ‘Do it yourself, hotshot.’

H.K. Browne, plates 4 & 6 from How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds, 1863
H.K. Browne, plate 6 from ‘How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds’, 1863

H.K. Browne, plates 4 & 6 from How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds, 1863
H.K. Browne, plate 4 from ‘How Pippins enjoyed a day with the foxhounds’, 1863

Pippins: Come men, let’s enjoy a grand day on horseback, hunting furry animals and shooting them in the head.
Pippins’ horse: Wow let’s not instead.

Jenny Watson, Horse series No.8, grey with pink rug, 1974
Jenny Watson, Horse series No.8, grey with pink rug, 1974

Horse: How much longer?
Jenny Watson: 45 minutes max.
Horse: See you said that 45 minutes ago.
Jenny Watson: Well maybe if you didn’t move your mouth so much.

The Horse, NGV International, Melbourne, 14 August – 8 November 2015.


Examining some petrified Jurassic wood samples at the museum recently, the curator commented on how much they looked like little fossilised mushrooms. They seemed like rotten  but still cute versions of the foam mushroom sweets I loved as a child. The concept that they were  ‘petrified’ was also intriguing. I imagined them cowering and trembling, scared out of their wits at being buried within the museum store. It was easy to feel sorry for the little poppets. I considered slipping one in my pocket in rescue.

Image 1 - fossil mush
Petrified mushrooms

The petrified mushrooms have, rather tenuously, led me to think about being frightened. I am frightened of a lot of things, mostly to do with the sea and other watery situations and entities. Still bodies of water are even more sinister and unsettling – canals, for example, water tanks or even a bathtub left full overnight. Then there are the land-based things to be frightened of: nightgown-wearing Japanese girls with long black hair; the stiff legs of a BBQ-ed Tarantula poking from the mouth of a Cambodian child; as well as be-winged flying insects, cliff edges, caving, Alzheimer’s and a wealth of illnesses and diseases that I self-diagnose on WebMD.

Canals and diseases have, rather tenuously, led me to think about the last time art frightened me. Gregor Schneider’s strangely muted domestic environments complete with bodies and black, black spaces always have the capacity to jolt; Cathy Wilkes’ creepy sculpture folk are always given wide berth lest they reach out and grab my arm; Richard Wilson’s oil installations have the aforementioned Japanese teen lurking within, but perhaps also exist as a version of a Jonathan Glazer alien syrup world containing the bodies of desperate horny men lured back to a Glasgow flat by Scarlett Johannson.

Richard Wilson standing in 20:50. Image courtesy: Saatchi Gallery
Richard Wilson standing in ’20:50′. Image courtesy of Saatchi Gallery, London

A couple of works encountered during a recent visit to Dia Beacon provoked some shivers. The building itself has a grey mortuary feel. Michael Heizer’s North, South, East and West – giant black holes in the ground – have the feel of Woman in the Dunes. Once you fall in, a gallery attendant would probably come and fill the hole , burying you alive and thus completing the fly-trap artwork. This is nothing, however, compared to the giant Richard Serra spiral sheet metal mazes found on the basement floor. The mazes seemed tighter than I remembered from Guggenheim Bilbao, heavier and altogether more terrifying. This time I could only make it a few layers inside before shrinking back, careful not to touch the walls with even a fibre of clothing lest the steel decide to contract and crush my soft edible bones.

Torqued Ellipse, Richard Serra. Dia Art Foundation, Beacon. NY
Richard Serra, ‘Torqued Ellipse’, Dia Art Foundation, Dia: Beacon, New York

Food & Drink Notes: Peppermint tea, feta on crisp bread. Bulleen, Melbourne. 13.50

Prince screws

About a year ago I read the collection of essays, Pulphead, by the American magazine writer John Jeremiah Sullivan. I’d seen his work here and there, and knew he was good, but a collection presents the opportunity to see where the piecemeal work of a pen-for-hire might add up to something larger.

There are brilliant essays in Pulphead, and some not so brilliant, even one or two fillers. An essay on Bunny Wailer originally published in GQ is a standout. So too is Mr Lytle, Sullivan’s memoir of his eccentric early-career benefactor. Thinking about Sullivan’s writing now, and other writing like it, I realise a lot of it comes down to the treatment of character. Because he rarely takes the expected position, the people Sullivan profiles emerge as far more complicated than they otherwise might. The terms of engagement are reset, which seems especially meaningful for those figures who would elsewhere be easily pilloried.

The old adage goes that a certain kind of writer always betrays someone. They draw close to a subject, build something resembling trust, and then disclose as they see fit. But more than that, they map the narrative points and then argue the veracity of the lines they plot between them. This is, of course, a deeply subjective undertaking: if the points are interchangeable, shifting from every perspective, then the lines too can easily shift. But if the position a writer takes is fresh enough, and their argument compelling, then it just might change the way you think. One measure of good writing, then, might be that it never quite settles. There’s always the hazy uncertainty that what you are reading is still in play. There’s a risk to it.

What we do in the art world is usually a bit different. We don’t generally do character, for one. Plus the writer’s remit – whether they be curator, critic, or historian – too often cuts the grey ground between advocacy and advertorial, with neither form well suited to big risk, or unexpected disclosure. Read a catalogue essay and you usually get what you expect; same goes for a scholarly essay, even a review.

But this isn’t always the case. The other day a friend forwarded me a recent review by the British art historian Claire Bishop. At a glance it might not seem out of the ordinary, but it pushes back against the kind of collective non-thinking that can at times seem to thread through the writing that the art world generates. Bishop argues not only for a critical reappraisal of a widely celebrated artist, but also thinks harder than most about the proliferation of artist-as-curator projects.

Neither are fashionable positions, but on both accounts her argument is timely (rather than simply of its time). It’s an example of a writer shaping the discourse, rather than simply perpetuating it.

There’s something at stake in this approach. Whether you agree with the writer’s position or not, the sense of risk pulls the reader through. All of this sounds serious, but it can be revelatory too, playful even.

Sullivan, fascinated by the human scale story (even when writing on characters whose very existence seems to buck the whole notion of human scale), plays this position well. Take the following passage from the essay Michael. Not only does it deftly restage an overly familiar figure at a key moment, it shines new light on a prejudice about its subject that we pretty much all unthinkingly hold: that his was the special order of craziness reserved for extreme celebrity, and thus unbounded by history. In a few simple paragraphs, the conversation becomes about something else entirely:

Prince Screws was an Alabama cotton plantation slave who became a tenant farmer after the civil war, likely on his former master’s land. His son, Prince Screws, Jr., bought a small farm.  And that man’s son, Prince Screws III, left home for Indiana, where he found work as a Pullman porter, part of the exodus of southern blacks to the northern industrial cities.

There came a disruption in the line. This last Prince Screws, the one who went north, would have no sons. He had two daughters, Kattie and Hattie. Kattie gave birth to ten children, the eighth a boy, Michael – who would name his sons Prince, to honor his mother, whom he adored, and to signal a restoration. So the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king upon his pale-skinned sons and heirs.

We took the name for an affectation and mocked it.


Matt Hinkley bumps and sprained ankles

A few months ago I sprained my ankle. I kept checking it, to see how it was swelling and discolouring. As the day wore on, I saw it grow to the size of a separate appendage, bulging out from  the normal line of my ankle. The flesh became tighter, like a sausage about to burst, and as time passed the colour changed to a mottled darker pink, which then slowly flushed out a diseased looking yellow blush.

That day, I went to see my sister and her kids. They were bored and I said, “I have something to show you,” and peeled away my sock, not really expecting much, but giving it a try. My 3 year old niece, who really loves pink, peered at my sausage ankle and said, “I like it like that.” She seemed interested in the way my ankle had morphed into a recognizable but exaggerated version of its natural state. Both she and her brother kept circling around my ankle, wanting me to show it to them again and again. In its hyper state, it seemed to become bigger than life, magnetic.

In The Mechanic, at Neon Parc, Matt Hinkley was showing Untitled, a cast sculptural form. As a hanging sculpture closely attached to the wall, its bulbous expanded shape drew me in. The white surface blushed with the occasional discolouration, not of a bruise, but a topological flushing out. I kept peering closely, looking in and around it, drawn to the awkward curves and bumps. As I peered in, the surface breaks appeared low like a goose-bump, but possibly so small I downsized the scale to a freckle – so small that your fingertips might not be able to discern the raising in the flesh, so you would have to use the back of your hand to run over it for sensation, and pick up the way these indentations deckled the surface.

I feel like I sprained my ankle because I was flat-footed. My ankle didn’t hold me up: it collapsed and hugged the ground.

Maybe a collapsing ankle has greater and closer contact to another surface, and so has a friendlier relationship to its environment, like Matt Hinkley’s work. And I like it like that.

The Mechanic, Neon Parc, Melbourne, 29 April 2015 – 30 May 2015.




'The Mechanic', Neon Parc
‘The Mechanic’, Neon Parc

'The Mechanic', Neon Parc
‘The Mechanic’, Neon Parc

Alit on the flax

Someone posted a Colin McCahon painting on Facebook recently and I found myself feeling that familiar deep-seated response I get whenever I encounter his work, even as Facebook fodder on a phone screen. It’s a kind of nostalgia for a country you no longer live in but have unconditional love for, a feeling that is utterly lacking in critical thinking. It’s guided by the same part of my brain that makes me cry whenever I encounter tui in pohutukawa trees.

Aotearoa New Zealand is currently in the process of deciding whether to change the country’s flag. I’ve tried to think about this critically, without lurching immediately into the McCahon-response, but it’s hard. After an exciting and probably deeply misguided democratic call-out for designs, a shortlist of forty was chosen. Now it’s been whittled down to four.

Three of the four flags that will go to a referendum to then decide which will be put against the current flag are variations on a singular theme – silver ferns – with and without reference to the red and blue of the old flag, and the southern cross. But not the silver fern-on-black flag that has become a ubiquitous alternative seen on rooftops and out of the windows of utes every time we win the rugby, because too much black carries potentially unsavoury associations, apparently.

And the fourth?

Well it’s a black koru, which is a young fern, unfolding.

Suddenly that which is much loved has become politicised, branded and polemical in the most banal way. This touches my McCahon-response wellspring deeply in a way that I don’t like. What do I want from the flag? The kind of feeling I get when I read this excerpt from a poem by Toss Woollaston in McCahon’s Toss in Greymouth, 1959:

alit on the flax
a tui at dusk
and broke the late evening open with song.

Flag Consideration Project, Referendum One, 20 November – 11 December 2015; Referendum Two, 3 – 24 March 2016, New Zealand.

Official renderings of the final four options in the New Zealand flag referendum. Image: ONE News
Official renderings of the final four options in the New Zealand flag referendum. Image: ONE News

Free action

A figurine of Nelson Muntz, Simpsons class bully, stands primed with a baseball bat. This was the exhibition publicity.

The installation followed suit with a new monstrous 40-metre wall diagonally bisecting the entire gallery. At the very back, on the side hidden from the entrance, a baseball bat is chained to the wall. And sure enough, when you take a swing, the sound of the hit is amplified to boom through the gallery. The wall reacts like a drum, with the volume soaking up the violence, even making it seem less.

The second Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore work was Spectral arrows, Marco Fusinato’s 8-hour noise-guitar-splatter-concrete performance, presented with his back to the audience. The Singapore label Ujikaji Records is to release a recording of the event.

Both these works buy into the tension Fusinato creates in monumentalising and aestheticizing political gestures of ‘action’ or ideological resistance, unnerving connections between action and effect. Fusinato’s works often propose one sense or type of thinking by amping up and intensifying another. Fusinato holds open an ambiguity between the physical realisation and another thing he introduces, which comes from a different world or thinking. He pushes politics into physical expression.

So at the ICA Singapore a potentially symbolic act of inviting visitors to literally tear into a gallery wall is set against the amped-up thunder and comedy of the chain and baseball bat, and an eight-hour intensive noise-Tsunami literally collides with the audience to weed out all but a few.

The attraction in recent sound and electronic artwork is in the potential for new anonymous forms, ‘anonymous’ in the sense that these new forms are shaped in part by conditions that are not contingent upon us, or the artist for instance. Disaffection and disillusionment lead a similar conversation in discourses around contemporary painting and painterly abstraction. Noise is physical and generally unaffected by social objects. But temporal conditions of practice, such as duration or something being done too long, do force through. Situations count as well, as much for the people involved: an underground music scene for the non-workers, get-up-lates and intense types, for instance. Social conditions agitate abstract loops and feedback.

Conditions of practice lead to another sense of thinking about ‘anonymous’ forms. To read Fusinato’s works as aesthetically unassailable, or for their immersive effect alone, would be to overstate, as though ‘aesthetic’ implies a totalising procedure. The poetic in Fusinato’s work has a background and special characterisation in music and with other artists. A particular example would be Gary Wilson, et. al., whose revitalisation of Suprematist structures evolved into something of a shared usage and thinking. Fusinato’s poetic and conceptual precedents give leverage to ‘conditions of practice’ so that it is not necessary to overstate or constantly seek to lock down radical conclusion in place of an expressive moment and action.

Marco Fusinato, Constellations, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, 14 August – 29 September 2015.

Marco Fusinato, Spectral arrows, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, 30 August 2015, 4:00 pm to 12:00 midnight.

Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo:
Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo: Olivia Kwok

Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo:
Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo: Olivia Kwok

Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo:
Marco Fusinato, Constellations, 2015, photo: Olivia Kwok

A tantrum in triplet

Jane Montgomery Griffiths wrote an article introducing her adaptation and its context prior to the opening night of Antigone, directed by Adena Jacobs at the Malthouse Theatre.  Perhaps too optimistically, she states that: “Creon’s 5th century misogyny has a very different meaning in the 21st century.” Whilst this may be true, it is apparent that critics are all too focused on upholding the authority and structure of the patriarchal male voice, through their defense of the original text and prescription of what an adaptation should be.

The perhaps unconscious attempt to continue the myth of ‘woman who should be feared and silenced’ is not limited to the critique of the play, but extends beyond the theatre to the female playwright who might meddle with a Sophocles.  The critics, namely The Age, Herald Sun and Daily Review, should act as mediators between the theatre and the audience, rather than committing such injustices to the performance and the text. It’s like reading an Amazon book review. For those wishing to read a review and not a rant, see Alison Croggon’s piece for the ABC.

Antigone, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, 21 August – 13 September 2015.

Antigone, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
Antigone, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne

Parks and roubles

Its my first day in Moscow and I need to get roubles. The hotel I am staying at instructs me on how to find a bank. The lobby is spacious and shiny and I am not sure which facility I have entered. I ask someone if I can exchange currency and they take me to another room with two women behind a desk, who introduce me to a third door. After passing through a small waiting room with a sofa, a sliding door with a button brings  me to a window counter. Two men in front of me take twenty minutes to finish: they carry suitcases and the counting machines are in constant motion. Two flat screens show me boats, luxury locations and offshore banking ads.

I am in Russia to contribute to a curatorial summer school and I am new to the country. I notice hammer and sickles everywhere: on the cuffs of the uniforms worn by flight attendants, the queue and security checks to get to Lenins cenotaph, Boris Nemtsovs spontaneous memorial on the bridge by the Kremlin where he was assassinated and the golden palaces of the tzars in Saint Petersburg, all representing fragments of a layered and bloody history.

Russia feels like being in a dream. I especially enjoy the Muscovite parks: maybe it has to do with reading Dostoyevskys White Nights on the plane, or the nice weather attracting many people to engage in various outdoors activities. In Gorky Park I visit Garage in its new Rem Koolhaas shell. The modest size and intuitive arrangement of the museum surprises me. The shows are varied. I spend time at one in particular on the American pavilion at the Moscow international exhibition of 1959 which repurposes literature, photographs and TV news from the time as an exercise in cultural diplomacy. It also contains reproductions of some of the original exhibits, as well as the photographic show known as The Family of Man.

On another day, making intuitive guesses about the cyrillic alphabet and paying attention to the announcements in the imposing metro stations, I make my way to VDNKh (вднх) – the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements – a huge park where signs and symbols of socialism and capitalism now coexist as public monuments: from pavilions, to Lenin statues, funfair spaceships and life-size planes.

Back home, I receive a phone call from my bank asking if I am expecting a payment. They need to verify what I have been doing, since the money has gone through the Virgin Islands and Switzerland before reaching my account. Teaching in Russia is adventurous.

Face-to-Face: The American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959/2015, Field Research Project, Garage, Gorky Park, Moscow, June 12 – August 23, 2015.

VDNKh – the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements, The All-Russian Exhibition Centre, Moscow.

Visitors stream into the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959
Visitors stream into the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959

Interior of the American National Exhibition in Moscow
Interior of the American National Exhibition in Moscow

Scaffolding with Lenin Statue at VDNKh. Photo: Caterina Riva
Scaffolding with Lenin Statue at VDNKh. Photo: Caterina Riva

Glimpse of VDNKh. Photo: Caterina Riva
Glimpse of VDNKh. Photo: Caterina Riva

What is read and what is real?

The joke is that you can’t find a television in Fitzroy. The joke is that the arts scene doesn’t know what Delta wore on The Voice last week, or who won the Masterchef finale. So it seems most amusing that we have Transmission, Ryan Trecartin and Tracey Moffat’s Art Calls showing at the moment, and that you can’t get through your pale ale without someone recounting the latest Amy Schumer interview or sketch they’ve seen. We are all watching films on our laptops, and there are laws against it.

In Olivier Assayas’ 2015 film, Clouds of Sils Maria, Juliette Binoche plays an ageing actress, and the narrative begins to fold in on itself when she is asked to play a corporate boss who has a disastrous affair with a manipulative young woman working for her. The crisis for Binoche’s character Maria is that, as a younger woman, she played the ingenue. Several stories are nested within the film, and the snakey clouds of the Maloja serve as a suffocating metaphor.

There are a series of scenes where Binoche’s character Maria reads lines with her assistant Valentine. Rehearsing  scenes of seduction force a stranglehold, and the result is that Binoche is either amazing or terrible. I can’t be sure.

“I am big; it’s the pictures that got small”. In Billie Wilder’s 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, silent film star Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson, herself a former Queen of the Screen) is an actress whose celebrity faded with the advent of talkies.  Joe Gillis, a washed-up screenwriter, rouses Desmond from reclusivity, and for a time lives in her gigantic LA mansion, becoming absorbed in her delusional comeback through their ‘young’ romance. The film is a collage of fact and fiction, and Swanson’s ability to play a self-knowing caricature feels incredibly contemporary. These types of mise-en-abyme ricochet around women and film, perhaps because it makes for the perfect tragedy.

Art calls is made for the smallest silver screen of all – the computer screen. Originally made for the ABC website, the black and white work plays well on the wall at CCP. Moffat is warm, witty and knowingly ‘fabulous’. Billed as her ‘homecoming’, the work has her skyping with established artist Destiny Deacon, emerging artist Adul Abdullah, filmmaker Janina Harding, and designer Jenny Kee to name a few. A tone is set with the opening Dadaist sequence, these too are nested narratives and faux-intimate interplay. The interview mimics the studio visit, but we are aware both interviewer and interviewee are playing to the gallery.

Tracey Moffatt, Art calls, CCP, Melbourne, 3 July – 6 September 2015.

artcalls 15 tracey talks Deborah Kass
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 15, Tracey calls Deborah Kass

Tracey Moffatt, 'Artcalls', chapter 19, Tracey calls Jenny Kee
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 19, Tracey calls Jenny Kee

artcalls 22 tracey talks with Abdul Abdullah
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 22, Tracey calls Abdul Abdullah

Important objects: A conversation with Lynda Draper

Tom: By any chance did you see that email I sent you at the horrendous hour of 1:30am?

Lynda: Yeah I saw it at 3am! I had a bit of a think about what you asked [laughs]. It’s quite strange having to speak about what I do, having to put it all into words. I get so uptight about it…

TP: Don’t worry, most of us do.

LD: Yeah but then you even wonder what it is you do and why… You know how sometimes people have a really specific thing they say about their work? You know, commenting on this or that, or I want to make the world a better place because I make this stuff.

TP: Yeah but I think it’s quite normal. How about we start with your process then. I really want to know how you think your process begins.

LD: I was thinking about it in relation to the Genie Bottle works [currently on show at the National Art School Gallery, Sydney]. Being invited to exhibit in TURN, TURN, TURN made me really think about working with clay over the past thirty years.

TP: In what way?

LD: Well, my work really has evolved and changed due to life circumstances and experiences. At one stage when I was undertaking my Masters, it went through a period where it became quite controlled and uptight and laboured. Thinking about that recently, I realised it was about a loss and change and a reflection of how Australia has changed during my lifetime. Lately as things have evolved, I’ve been looking back to some really early processes, to reintroduce colour and a sense of play and really push the tactile qualities of the clay.

TP: So when you talk about control, you’re speaking about the bodies of work using white porcelain [produced between 2007-2012]?

LD: Yes, the white porcelain works, with the found objects.

TP: I suppose you could attribute ideas of ‘control’ to the simplicity of the line and lack of colour in the work? Plus they’re meticulously made!

LD: Yeah, when I was making that work I was thinking about the power of them as simple objects and the way they embody all these memories and anxiety and a sense of loss and nostalgia. And even though those works look quite different to everything since, the ideas have carried through. I’ll always be interested in the relationship between the material and the spiritual world.

TP: What is it about turning an idea or a memory into an object that interests you?

LD: Well, to me, making these works is sort of just reinforcing the importance and power of inanimate objects around you, but questioning that too, questioning their value. But you know, I think as you go through your life you go through weird, changing relationships with objects and the way they track your life. They’re like markers of time and of the people around us. We’re always looking at them and we continue to absorb their qualities.

TP: Do you mind if we go back to what you said about the works reflecting what’s around you?

LD: I suppose the series of Genie Bottles are probably a good example of that, as I made those as a reaction to a friend who had concerns about their future and I wanted to find a way through with the work, even in a light-hearted way.

TP: And there’s so much symbolism of stored energy that can be associated with an object like this. So are the recent figurative works always referencing people you know? Like, if the work is called Jen, is it always based on a Jen around you?

LD: [Laughs] Kind of, because subconsciously it’ll be about who I’m thinking about at the time. But not always. I mean some of them are named after people I’ve known in the past, people who are no longer around.

TP: Finally, what do you think is next for your work?

LD: At the moment there’s quite a bit in the studio, so I want to explore some relationships between multiple works in bigger settings. For a long time I would go about making things as stand alone objects but now I’m thinking about how certain elements can be placed together in different ways, so we’ll see.

TURN TURN TURN: The Studio Ceramics Tradition at the National Art School, National Art School Gallery, Sydney, 5 June – 8 August 2015.

Lynda Draper, 'Self Portrait with Hair Down', 2015, earthenware, various glazes, 39 x 25 x 35 cm
Lynda Draper, ‘Self Portrait with Hair Down’, 2015, earthenware, various glazes, 39 x 25 x 35 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

Lynda Draper, 'Emerald Genie Bottle', 2014, earthenware, various glazes, 46 x 35 x 27 cm
Lynda Draper, ‘Emerald Genie Bottle’, 2014, earthenware, various glazes, 46 x 35 x 27 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

Lynda Draper, 'Home Altar' (detail), 2010, hand built porcelain, multiple glaze firings, 50 x 150 x 60 cm
Lynda Draper, ‘Home Altar’ (detail), 2010, hand built porcelain, multiple glaze firings, 50 x 150 x 60 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

Lynda Draper, 'Genie Bottle', 2014, earthenware, various glazes, 50 x 35 x 35cm
Lynda Draper, ‘Genie Bottle’, 2014, earthenware, various glazes, 50 x 35 x 35 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

Lynda Draper, 'Mel', 2014, ceramic, various glazes, 30 x 50 x 20 cm
Lynda Draper, ‘Mel’, 2014, ceramic, various glazes, 30 x 50 x 20 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith, Melbourne.






Art versus craft, the final word

Dear Stamm, 

I graduated from the VCA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2014 and I now work primarily in the field of ceramics. At the opening of my first group show, I was asked whether what I make is craft or art. I’m not sure I know what the difference is. Can you help? 



Dear Bethany,

Thanks for your enquiry.

Academics and curators agree that in this post-disciplinary age, with unprecedented lateral movement across all fields of creativity, the difference between art and craft is less clear than ever. They are, of course, wrong. The categories are distinct and immutable and determining which one your practice falls under is easy – just apply any of the following five tests.

Take your wedding ring off, tie it to a piece of string, and hang it over one of your works. If it swings in a circle, it is craft. If it swings back and forth, it’s art.

Did you draw on technical knowledge and a repertoire of skills to complete a work with a meticulous degree of aesthetic realisation? If you answered yes, you’re making craft. Or, does it resemble something on the reject pile at a Sophia Mundi humanities fundraiser? If so, it’s art.

To which of the following statements do you most relate?

a) I think people understand me most of the time.
b) I think people understand me some of the time.
c) Monkey monkey Paddledust is hiding in my scarves.

a or b = craftsperson
c = artist

In a reboot of the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, what would Viggo Mortensen do with one of your works if he found it in a shelter recently abandoned by cannibals?

a) Drink tea or cordial from it.
b) Burn it for fuel. There is literally no other purpose it would serve in an apocalypse.

a = craftsperson
b = artist

How do you feel after a session in your studio?

a) Happy.
b) As though I have unwittingly opened a wormhole to a universe of existential questioning. That flock of screaming lambs I wanted so much to leave behind stalk me at every turn. While I am heavy with the realisation that this path is a solitary one, I know it is the only one of any worth.

a = craftsperson
b = artist

There you go, Bethany, the difference between art and craft. Good luck with your career, whichever one it is.

Best wishes,

More love hours, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 21 July – 11 October 2015.

Rhys Lee, ‘Carpet clown’ 2014, glazed earthenware, 25 x 22 x 18 cm, © Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne
Rhys Lee, ‘Carpet clown’, 2014, glazed earthenware, 25 x 22 x 18 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne.

Hiromi Tango, Sea Tears (2014), mixed media, neon, Perspex, wool, donated fabric, paper, wire, Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
Hiromi Tango, ‘Sea Tears’, 2014, mixed media, neon, Perspex, wool, donated fabric, paper, wire. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.

Loompanics, Bik Van der Pol and how to fake an arts residency

Of course, the most important thing is to appear busy and active. Around midday, make it look like you have left the building already. Wear sunglasses to suggest you have been on a walk and not in bed watching Amy Schumer videos. Buy food and drink in advance and produce it at regular intervals to suggest you have just been to the shop rather than drinking a bottle of Chardonnay and eating instant noodles in the bath.

The artists Bik Van der Pol visited this week and spoke about their 2006 project Fly Me to the Moon in which they exhibited a moon rock in a small tower of the (then-closed) Rijksmuseum, allowing access by way of guided tours. The rock had been presented to the former Dutch prime minister during a visit by the three Apollo 11 astronauts after the 1969 moon mission. NASA had, by 1970, distributed over 100 moon rocks to countries all over the world. Three years later, in 2009, the lunar rock was subsequently exposed as a fake which was actually nothing more than a lump of petrified wood of unknown provenance. The wood is still kept in the collections, a bit of tree forever associated with the moon.

It was a treat to be reminded of Bik Van der Pol’s practice which I admire for its strong methodological research base, sense-making Dutch finish with a tabasco dash of quirk and wry smile. The first work I experienced was the 2007/9 Loompanics library at Van Abbe Museum which exhibited 140 books by the now defunct subversive US publisher: How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found, Surviving On The Streets, How to Make Driver’s Licenses/ID on Your Home Computer, How to Hide Things in Public Places

Bik Van der Pol, Loompanics library, Plug In #28 Pay Attention, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 2 June 2007 – 1 November 2009.

Loompanics book covers
Bik van der Pol, ‘Loompanics’, book covers

Apollo 11 Lunar Module. By NASA / Apollo 11 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Photo: NASA / Apollo 11 [Public Domain], Wikimedia Commons

Fake Moon Rock at Rijksmuseum
Fake moon rock at Rijksmuseum. Inscription on plaque: ‘With the compliments of the Ambassador of the United States of America J. Williams Middendorf II, to commemorate the visit to the Netherlands of the Apollo-11 Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin jr. RAI International Exhibition and Congress Centre Amsterdam, 9 October, 1969.’

Bik van der Pol, 'Loompanics', 2001/2008, installation view. Courtesy of Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven
Bik van der Pol, ‘Loompanics’, 2001/2008, installation view. Courtesy of Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Food & Drink Notes: Virgin Mary, Tortillas. Arbroath, Scotland. 13.51.



Earlier in the year I traveled to Los Angeles. Nothing major, just two weeks in and out of the city, a little bit of time in Desert Hot Springs, on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park.

Probably the most commonplace thing you can say about the city is that you spend a lot of time in a car. Even noticing this pegs you as an interloper.

It’s true though: much of what you see scrolls past your car window, lit up at night or bleached out by bright light during the day. It’s a strange feeling made more so by the cumulative effect of the thousands of LA-based films and TV shows – the fantasies that put the city centre stage.

Experience at one remove. Familiar unfamiliarity.

I spent much of my visit wondering what it would be like to live in a city mediated back to you in real time.

Even the ‘real’ aspect of the place has always struck me as heightened, familiar only in its distance. I recall OJ Simpson standing trial for murdering his wife, the roadside beating of Rodney King and the riots that followed. That city was a videotape of a hate crime. It was news footage of urban looting, of endlessly un-spooling freeways traced by spotlight. It too bled into the movies, and vice versa.

Mike Davis, the historian that people like to say LA had to have, sees the city as a vision of hell on earth. He writes like someone who loves the place, but this only means he sees it more clearly. In the brilliant coda to his otherwise unrelated essay White People Are Only a Bad Dream, he goes pretty much as far as you can, positioning it as the embodiment of a pending apocalypse.

For him LA is emblematic of an “already visible future when sprawl, garbage, addiction, violence and simulation (has) overwhelmed every vital life-space west of the Rockies”.

This too is now a commonplace observation, banal almost. The real place claims it without pause, swallows it whole and spits it out as entertainment. (See for example the ongoing spate of LA-set apocalypse movies). But surely there’s truth to it nonetheless. If I knew LA better I’d fall in line with Davis. I’d argue that somewhere within its civic borders the simultaneous horror and promise of the American frontier finds its logical contemporary expression: that part of the city’s appeal is surely the sense that even its most beautiful, ascendant moments are cut through by an undercurrent of latent disaster.

William Pope.L, Trinket, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, 20 March – 28 June 2015.

William Pope. L, 'Trinket' exhibition view, 2008, Mixed media, Dimensions variable (approx. 12 x 5m) Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY
William Pope. L, ‘Trinket’, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, USA.

Sarah Aiken ‘Set’: Prestidigitation or so I like to imagine

An effective architectural plan can realise through floor plans and elevations a solid three-dimensional building. We imagine it forming in our minds and in that moment qualities of abstraction occur. Once initiated in this trickery, we can carry it with us anywhere. Might we become trained in our capacity to imagine more, to handle more?

Extended limbs
Sarah Aiken, ‘Set’, 2015. Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti

I like to imagine that Sarah Aiken’s Set, performed at Dancehouse, built space using the tropes of Romanticism, through the use of her newly extended limbs, vignettes and spatial illusions. The performance consisted of Aiken attaching tubular limbs to her arms and legs, which not only moved with her, but also became set props within the space. In Romanticism, the introduction of the the pointe shoe as appendage led to the lifting of the length of tutus to reveal the foot, as well as an emerging focus on female dancers and the extended line of the body. In Set, Aiken extended the length and scale of the exterior limbs to new dimensions. Through these appendages the body was scaled up to set proportions, which then threw out the scale of the theatre. Too big? Too small? Not sure? Look again.

Sarah Aiken, ‘Set’, 2015. Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti

I like to imagine these extended limbs were a bit like her hair: blunt, sharp bangs. When coupled with her red lipstick, and her languid timing as she moved into various vignettes, she threw out a kind of 1980’s Helmut Newton posturing. Strong sharp women who maybe wear blunt sharp shoulder pads for fun (or maybe a little power). Initially I found the vignettes a little trite, but actually they worked well as accents to lead us through the performance. Through their laconic timing in the piece they created a pause, drawing attention to the design and conceptual propositions of the work.

Spatial Illusion, Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti
Sarah Aiken, ‘Set’, 2015. Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti

I like to imagine the spatial illusions or trickery came through with the construction of three spaces existing simultaneously. It felt like stepping into a Frances Stark work, whilst  simultaneously still being in the audience, and so challenged my sense of embodiment, but in the best way possible. Singular and multiple at the same time, moving through tenses. Could I be stretched? Could I handle more? The prestidigitation of Aiken walking between these objects, was constructed with enough material clunkiness and glitching that it revealed the illusion and effectively honed our focus between real and perception.

At times it was dense (maybe a little heavy), but like Ntone Edjabe says in the House of Truth, “Good. Sometimes this is better.” Or so I like to imagine.

Sarah Aiken, Set, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 22 – 26 July 2015.

Bec J and Sarah J, Rebecca Jensen and Sarah Aiken Tumblr.

The suffocating genre-blue: On being wrong

I feel compelled to write about science fiction, which is something I really don’t know much about. Whilst recently bedridden with the flu I watched more episodes of Battlestar Galactica than I care to relate. Suffice to say that by the time wellness again washed through me, my mind was a loop of Bear McCreary and Richard Gibbs’ musical themes from the series – all taiko drums, mantras and the piercing, single note repeated in the theme for Cylon Number Six.

The reason I don’t know much about science fiction is because, despite my curiosity for most things, I used to ignorantly reject it on artistic grounds. I dismissed it as the ‘blue’ genre, just as fantasy was the ‘brown’ genre. These pervading colour-ways were indicative of limiting, banal and recurring narratives I did not want to subject myself to inhabiting, I thought.

Battlestar was indeed blue, but I pressed on and on, further into its operatic scope; its faster-than-light jumps and bleak, AI dystopia filled with flawed characters. Yet Battlestar ended very badly, in an overblown, mawkish, simplistic way. In its worst moments, it was filled with bright, life-affirming green that made me actually pine for the return of the suffocating blue genre I had always scorned.

I also realised I was quite wrong about the colour genre assignations when I finally read Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is overwhelmingly white: a swirling, overwhelming, devastating blizzard of a book which encases you in a deep, white blanket of sorrow. These misconceptions prove to me in a very humbling way that you can construct a deeply ignorant critique of complex things via visually trained excuses.

Science fiction blue

Taking notes

A little while back, Terry Smith (Discipline, no. 3, 2013) described the ‘comedy of disciplines’ that is the contemporary art scene. His hierarchy went like this:

cultural studies
art theory


art history
art criticism
art dealing
studio talk
art making

What’s interesting is how Smith draws a line these days between the theorising of the top two and those further down. He was actually in the process of dissing Nikos Papastergiadis for what he read as an arrogant and too-simplistic review of Smith’s own recently published books. He was saying that theory has less veracity in the art world than it once did, and that at best it communicates from the edges of the scene.

A series of seven video recordings of a symposium titled Speculations on Anonymous Materials at the Fridericianum, Kassel, in 2014 is available on YouTube. The videos introduce five speakers, mainly contemporary philosophers, discussing the trend of ‘new materialism’ thinking and the argument along the lines that the existence or non-existence of natural objects is not contingent upon us. The ‘anonymous materials’ of the title is meant as well to catch something of the way contemporary artists are more and more using strangely tangential materials in artwork.

These videos are a beautiful six hours where each speaker attempts to describe their very complex thinking to an audience comprised largely of artists and art professionals. Terry Smith writes about the potential of artists being contingent upon the worlds around them, meaning I think that there is an obvious dependency, but the stretching to connect that happens can be madly entertaining.

One of the speakers at the Kassel symposium, Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani, proposed that artists are essentially ‘inference jumpers’, necessarily and inexplicably jumping from one inference to another. And for him the problem lies in artists ‘over-extending conceptual resources’ to the point where, he argues, artworks need objects. Conceptual practices were too often simply art by contract. For Negarestani, art is heuristic, and has nothing to do with rote learning.

In Going Public (2010), art theorist and historian Boris Groys jumps one step further to shift the politics of art by moving past ‘the spectator’s attitude’, and its associated aesthetic privileging of the audience and viewer. Groys instead proposes the viewpoint of production and writes of the necessity to build a poetics of the producer.

Groys sees the aesthetic attitude (i.e. the spectator’s) as culminating in a sociological understanding of art. He makes clear the subordinate position that the art scene allocates to production vis-à-vis consumption. Almost everyone’s interests in contemporary art tend towards collaborative, participatory practices and tactics of project-making.

Groys suggests that we are all invariably producers nowadays. The internet makes nonsense of twentieth-century aesthetic constructs to do with the demands of contemplative viewers. There are no idle viewers any more in any real sense. ‘The politics of art,’ he argues, ‘has less to do with its impact on the spectator than with the decisions that lead to its emergence in the first place.’ It is not a conversation about where art comes from and what it looks like, and art installations are not site-specific.

Terry Smith, ‘Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity: Reflections on Method, Review of Reviews (Part 1)’, Discipline, 2013, no. 3, pp. 191–200.

Speculations on Anonymous Materials, introduction by Susanne Pfeffer & Armen Avanessian, participants Maurizio Ferraris, Markus Gabriel, Iain Hamilton Grant, Robin Mackay & Reza Negarestani, Fridericianum, Kassel, January 2014, YouTube, nos 1–7, viewed June 2015.

Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press, Berlin & New York, 2010.

Mernet Larsen, 'Taking Notes', 2004, acrylic, tracing paper and oil on canvas, 122cm x 127cm
Mernet Larsen, ‘Taking Notes’, 2004, acrylic, tracing paper and oil on canvas, 122 x 127 cm

The impossibility of describing Trisha Brown’s ‘Scallops’ (1973) without moving the body

Five bodies stand in a large room.

Standing on blue-grey-speckled linoleum, toe, ball, heels, skin stretched not too tight, weighted.

The toe that rests next to the big toe is longer than the latter.

Equal pressure in, up, out and down

Arms hang

The smallest toe on the right foot is cuddled under its neighbour.
Standing in a line, soft pressure connects bodies along the outer arm from the shoulders to the fingers.

Arms held off the body.

Large curtains conceal most of the east-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Perhaps canvas, a sort of rubbery or waxed canvas that I could wipe down?




Heavy in the sense that if a figure stood behind it, the form of the figure would be without detail, without nuanced character; would not mould to the body like silk glides onto and over.

The focus is open and soft.

Along the north-facing wall, the figure on the far right of the line up steps right-leg-right. The left steps right across the body, pivoting on the right foot, spinning the figure around 180 degrees.
Like the inner point of a fan or the elbow of a wave, the axis shifts, and the figure on the end moves slightly, slowly.

Maintaining contact along the arm, the group move in unison, semi-circling at different speeds and variable distances to maintain the overall form.

The success of the simplest scallop is the outward awareness of the group. If the leading axis moves too quickly without taking into account the distance travelled by the flanking figures, excess energy is expended to keep up.

The scallop waves, ripples and settles. Still
Rippling, the right leg steps behind into the space, the memory of the right foot of the figure beside. Turning on the left foot, then step left-foot-right.

The scallop waves, ripples and stills.

The room exists, somewhat like a fishbowl.

Trisha Brown, Scallops, 1973. Performers: Trisha Brown, Carmen Beuchat, Caroline Goodden, Sylvia Palacios. Duration: 10 minutes.

Blue grey linoleum floor
Blue-grey linoleum floor


There is an Inside Amy Schumer sketch that I have been watching over and over: a woman bumps into a friend on a New York sidewalk, and compliments her on her looks, but in the ensuing moments the friend subverts the quality that was praised by firing off a list of negative aspects she sees in herself.

New female acquaintances pass by and join in the routine of annulling the compliment just paid by describing all the freakish faults in their own appearance. The dynamic is broken to disastrous effect when someone accepts the praise at face value.

When I receive a compliment I also can’t help but say something to my detriment. It’s almost like an out of body experience, where you observe your mouth snappily issuing either a sarcastic comeback or changing topic altogether.

What is wrong? It’s like saying sorry to someone that has elbowed you on public transport by mistake: you should not be the one apologising. It’s like when you write job applications and are rejected, the paranoia creeps in and you start thinking something must be wrong with you. I was talking to a female friend, who is also in the arts, and we were comparing notes on how undervalued we feel, in comparison to male colleagues, even after ten years of professional experience. I see women doing things at their best, with total dedication, for less money than their male counterparts, and this is exactly what the system is not only exploiting but often counting on. It’s becoming like Greece with the Troika – pretty unsustainable. Maybe we should call a referendum in the arts, too? But please let it not be run by e-flux – the EU for criticality – which ends up creating hegemony and homogeneity.

Alexis Blake’s “Conditions of an Ideal” winning piece for Cross Performance Award, Villa San Remigio, Verbania, Italy 2015 Photo: Caterina Riva
Alexis Blake, ‘Conditions of an Ideal’, Cross Performance Award (winner), Villa San Remigio, Verbania, Italy 2015

Outdoor arena, Garbatella, Rome, Italy 2015 Photo: Caterina Riva
Outdoor arena, Garbatella, Rome, Italy 2015

Michelangelo Antonioni’s photos from Sicily around the filming of L’Avventura with Monica Vitti, Italy 1960
Michelangelo Antonioni’s photos from Sicily around the filming of L’Avventura with Monica Vitti, Italy 1960


A tale of two cities

The tenderness of the Korean summer, with typhoon traces on top of a “viral” atmosphere imposed a different rhythm to the city of Seoul and its surroundings. It almost looked like it was ordained to re-discuss the paradigm of the big city, with stories that go back almost a hundred years.

The astute observer would be delighted to discover the layers that are hiding in the creation of Seoul as we know it today: utopia, visionary planning, the battle with modernity, the heaviness of the past, the spirit of the community. These states of mind transgress everyday living and impose an augmented reality where the position of the individual is constantly being evaluated.

It was in the exhibition Experiment of Architopia, organized by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea at the headquarters in Gwacheon that I discovered extraordinary documents about four utopian projects: Sewoon Sangga, Heyri Art Village, Paju Bookcity and Pangyo village. These controversial urban narratives were intended to launch a unique modernist view of Korean architecture, based on notions like the connecting shopping arcade, community and arts, and a symbolic social space for culture – all forming, respectively, a “landscape of desire”.

Sewoon Sangga, a 50m-wide and 1 km-long mega-structure, was supposed to connect two neighbourhoods in the central part of Seoul, rendering a totally new way of seeing and fragmenting space. It was the visionary and idealist forty-something mayor of the city, Kim Hyun Ok together with the courageous architect Kim Soo Geun, aged only 35, who had made the plan for this complex which would shelter private commercial initiatives. Unfortunately, the objectives of the space were not made clear from the beginning and the theory behind the construction was too vague to gel with Seoul’s urban planning demand. The misuse of the space affected its identity and by 2008, many of its buildings had been demolished. The recent talks and presentations around this unfinished project prompted the government to restart the discussion around Sewoon Sangga, with the clear wish to revitalize the area.

The confessions of an architect recorded on a video that was presented in the exhibition made me think more about the idea of community. The architect was talking about Paju Bookcity and how he and his collaborators were imagining it: when you walk on the street and you notice that your neighbors have left their shoes at the entrance and they are inside the house, whispering, it means that you must be silent and walk on by without disturbing them because they are making love and they shouldn’t be interrupted. As I see it now, to have an industrial city dedicated to the production of books of such sensitivity shows that the discourse around it was stronger than the real capacity of the place.

In The Unfamiliar Boundaries of Paju Bookcity (2010), architect Hyungmin Pai states: “Paju Bookcity emerges upon both the Western tradition of architecture as a symbolic art and the idea of landscape as a political and artistic instrument … As the site of such multiple intersections, it is a worthy experiment for investigating the possibility of how architecture may function in the creation and continuous transformation of identity and community in contemporary urban formation. From the inception of the idea of the book city in the late 1980s to the completion of the first phase in 2007, Paju Bookcity has been part of the changing political economy of Korea. Its particularity as a planned urban area can only be understood in the context of Korea’s recent culture of city building.”

Nowadays, many book companies once located in the centre of Seoul have moved to Paju Bookcity, although the construction has never been finished according to the masterplans and ideas of the architects that hoped to validate Korean Modernism.

Photography is one of the most valid instruments for documenting the changes around us, allowing a critical distance for the viewer to evaluate the past, present and future of a certain segment of life. City We Have Known, another exhibition produced by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea and featuring the works of two renowned Korean photographers, Kang Hong Goo and Area Park, thematises the city of Seoul by focusing on the remnants and memories of the old city. While Goo (b. 1956) examines the ways in which residential landscapes are transformed by processes of urban development, Park (b. 1972) is interested in the relation between the city and the individual as social system.

In his research on cities and living, Henri Lefebvre, like Bachelard before him, theoretised the relation between people and the houses they built. He wrote about the disappearance of the “house of yore”, which served as a means of integrating thought, memory and dreams. It is through creative actions that cities attain specifity; by inventing and sculpting space, the individuals render it with rhythm and consistency, appropriating the real structure of the city.

In an attempt to appropriate the past of the port city of Incheon, Korea’s third most populous city after Seoul and Busan and also a location that has experienced many historical transformations since the Stone Age, not to mention the Japanese occupation and the strategic position it held during the Korean War, a group of ten artists (Garam & NewNew Kim, Soo Hwan Kim, Gemini Kim, Hyemin Park, Suk Kuhn Oh, Su Hyeon Woo, Oops Yang, Saem Lee, Mita Jeong and Ji Hyun Jeong ) researched and occupied abandoned houses, where they intervened in various ways, in order to raise awareness about areas that are slowly disappearing. As the broken window theory says, one empty house in a region leads to another empty house.

The project, addressed to cultural agents that have an interest in locality, individuality and site-specific work, had three parts: Punk Detective Agency, where the agency workers were detectives chasing traces of local history, memories or incidents and archiving them; Temporary Property Manager, a mobile bureau that introduced empty houses to artists for a short occupation, allowing anybody who had an interest to use them; and Temporary Tenants (11 Empty Houses Project), a title given to the artists who exhibited their art works in each of the empty houses. The houses belonged to old people who had no heirs or whose heirs lost interest in the “tired” houses. After the owners had disappeared, the houses remained empty, with vestiges of the former owner standing as inspiration for the creative minds. The local market, Yongil Jayu, played an important part in their demonstration as it was the meeting point for artists, curators, merchants and their customers, allowing art and exchange to co-exist in a natural and often unexpected way.

The micro-management of any city requires different types of economies that can’t be reduced to building or conquering space in a strategic manner. The dwellers have always kept their eyes open for possibilities, refining their condition and inscribing new behaviors for those who know how to communicate with the cities.

City We Have Known: Photographs by Kang Hong Goo and Area Park, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea, 19 May – 11 October, 2015

Experiment of Architopia, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea, 30 June – 27 September, 2015.

Experimental project in the empty houses of Incheon City, (Garam & NewNew Kim, Soo Hwan Kim, Gemini Kim, Hyemin Park, Suk Kuhn Oh, Su Hyeon Woo, Woops Yang, Saem Lee, Mita Jeong and Ji Hyun Jeong)139 Yonghyun-dong, Nam-gu, Incheon, Korea, 17 June – 28 June, 2015.

Experiment of Architopia, exhibition view, Architecture Gallery, MMCA Korea, 2015. Courtesy MMCA Korea
‘Experiment of Architopia’, 2015, Architecture Gallery, MMCA, Korea. Courtesy of MMCA Korea.

Experiment of Architopia, exhibition view, Architecture Gallery, MMCA Korea, 2015. Courtesy MMCA Korea
‘Experiment of Architopia’, 2015, Architecture Gallery, MMCA, Korea. Courtesy of MMCA Korea.

City We Have Known, exhibition view, MMCA Korea, 2015. Courtesy MMCA Korea
‘City We Have Known’, 2015, MMCA, Korea. Courtesy of MMCA Korea.

Kang Hong Goo, ‘Mickey's House - Iron Rods’, 2005-6. Courtesy the artist and MMCA Korea
Kang Hong Goo, ‘Mickey’s House–Iron Rods’, 2005-06. Courtesy of the artist and MMCA Korea.

Temporary Tenants, intervention by Woops Yang, 2015. Courtesy the artist
‘Temporary Tenants’, intervention by Woops Yang, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Temporary Tenants, intervention by Soo Hwan Kim, 2015. Courtesy the artist
‘Temporary Tenants’, intervention by Soo Hwan Kim, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Temporary Tenants, intervention by Gemini Kim, 2015. Courtesy the artist
‘Temporary Tenants’, intervention by Gemini Kim, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Punk Detective Agency, 2015. Courtesy the artists
Punk Detective Agency, 2015. Courtesy of the artists.

Doing it right: Recorded responses to ‘Art as a Verb’

On June 11, 2015 I visited Artspace in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo for the exhibition Art as a Verb. Whilst there I decide to make ‘voice notes’ on my iPhone, perhaps as a live commentary on the experience of seeing. Playing them back, I realise that I’m yet to master this technique, but in addition to a lot of heavy breathing they include:

“Ryan Gander’s The Medium [pause]. Works in prominent and unexpected points in the gallery speak to me of good ways to think about exhibition making and audiences looking.”

“Artworks are stand-ins for people … there’s real humanness on display … These works remind me of myself, people I know. Works sharing something familiar are bound to do that. [There’s] something profound about the repeated process… ”

“There’s a grouping of seminal works by artists such as Marina Abramovic and Vito Acconci … sit[ting] in the back of the gallery, displayed on monitors in a circle … it’s like a central nervous system … like a historical backbone to the show. [This grouping]makes these works feel stronger, more important, like ‘going home’ to visit your parents. Wait, what does that mean? Note to self, be nicer to Mum and Dad.”

“I should make a list of all the verbs within the show … looking, smiling, eating, learning, clapping, [pause] singing [trails off]”

“Being surrounded by so much ‘doing’ … makes me question what I’m doing, what I SHOULD be doing. [pause] Keep going.”

“This show is like a maze, a guided tour and a labyrinth. I like it.”

“It’s like I am the final work in the show; it’s like I am a verb!” (Embarrassingly, I am not alone in the gallery when I say this out loud.)

At the end of my visit and when I feel like I’m done, I linger in the foyer to enjoy Ceal Floyer’s Til I get it right, a sound work that’s followed me around my whole visit. It’s on repeat both in the gallery and, happily, in my head long after I leave.

So I’ll just keep on/ ‘til I get it right…
So I’ll just keep on/ ‘til I get it right…
So I’ll just keep on/ ‘til I get it right…

Art as a Verb, Artspace, Sydney, 4 June – 26 July 2015.

Art as a Verb, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberle
‘Art as a Verb’, Artspace. Photo: Zan Wimberley

'Art as a Verb', Artspace. Photo: Zan Wimberle
‘Art as a Verb’, Artspace. Photo: Zan Wimberley

Art as a Verb, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberle
‘Art as a Verb’, Artspace. Photo: Zan Wimberley

Art as a Verb, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberle
‘Art as a Verb’, Artspace. Photo: Zan Wimberley

If I was curator: An imagined conversation

Fiona Hall: Suzette.

Suzette: Ms Hall?

F: Sorry to call late.

S: What time is it?

F: It’s Wrong Way Time. Hahaha!

S: …

F: It’s 3am.

S: Jesus. Don’t you sleep?

F: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Hey. Just finished another sculpture for the Biennale. Shall I text you a pic?

S: Oh. Sure.

F: K. It’s called All the King’s men.

S: I just got it.

F: It articulates the inexorable currents of capitalism, neo-colonialism and civil war with reference to the concentration of media ownership, deforestation and corporate greed.

S: It’s a khaki skull with a glass eye and a bullock mandible for teeth.

F: Don’t you like it?

S: It’s very nightmares—I mean interesting. It’s very interesting.

F: Great. When the exhibition closes, I’d like you to keep it.

S: No no, that’s okay, I couldn’t possibly—

F: I insist.

S: Oh. Thanks. I’ll, um, put it in a prominent place and look at it often.

F: There are 20 more of them for the show.

S: 20?! There are 783 works already.

F: I know right. It will be as though Denton Corker Marshall and Kurtz from Apocalypse now opened a canal-front wunderkammer.

S: What’s that noise? Is that an electric knife?

F: I’m working on a new sculpture: A 1:30 scale replica of an AK-47. Guess what it’s made of.

S: Soap?

F: Cold.

S: Sardine tins?

F: Colder.

S: American currency?

F: Colder.

S: I feel like you’ve asked me to guess the medium as though it’s a normal medium when in fact it is really unconventional which no-one would ever guess—

F: Bread!

S: Okay.

F: I think I’ll make a baker’s dozen. What do you think?

S: I think that’s a lot.

F: Do you think any of the other pavilions will be doing bread?

S: I don’t know. Guns maybe, but probably not in wheat. I think the other pavilions are going paleo. And minimal.

F: You’re anxious about the quantity of works, Boss. I feel you. Relax. Every sculpture is an integral part of the glorious, nihilistic whole. Including each cuckoo clock.

S: Each what?

F: I’ve knocked up a few dozen grandfather and cuckoo clocks for the show.

S: A few dozen.

F: To balance out the 40-odd sculptures from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers collab.

S: I think I’ll start a new spread sheet.

F: Don’t forget to add the bank-note nests from GOMA—

S: Wow.

F: —a heap of new sardine tins, and a tapa cloth. Maybe two.

S: I’m going back to sleep. Can we talk about this tomorrow?

F: Tomorrow’s tight. I’m packing a shipping container of Whanganui River driftwood for freight to Venice.

S: Amazing.

F: Great. Nighty night.

S: Night.

Fiona Hall, Wrong Way Time, 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2015, Italy, 9 May – 22 November 2015.

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘All the King’s Men’, 2014–15 (detail), knitted military uniforms, wire, animal bone, horns and teeth, dice, glass, leather boxing gloves, pool ball, dimensions variable (20 parts), image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, 'Wrong Way Time', installation view, image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery.
Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Fiona Hall, ‘Wrong Way Time’, image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery


Certain objects in museum collections can never be taken out of storage and exhibited. Buried in the mineralogical stores of the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, is a collection that poses a particular risk – Asbestos. The numerous samples are either in solid rock form or the more interesting and dangerous fibrous types which look like beautiful lush hair or candy floss.

Crocidolite, blue in colour, is the most dangerous form of asbestos. Most Crocidolite mines have now been closed and, as is the case with Western Australia’s Wittenoom, have also been erased from maps and road signs. There was an abc news story a couple of years ago about a love affair between two of the last eight residents: an Austrian who moved there to herd cattle and the lady that ran the gift shop that sold bumper stickers reading ‘I survived Wittenoom’. You can get these sometimes on eBay. The mineralogical curator told me that extended exposure to Asbestos, like radioactivity, can sometimes be better than a shorter exposure, followed by withdrawal.

You can just about handle the Hunterian Museum asbestos samples as they are sealed in plastic bags, but their packaging poses another unexpected risk: mice are very partial to nibbling the bags. Mice will not live long enough to die from asbestosis, but the more the fibrous sample bags are compromised and handled, the more likely they are to shed their fibres and ‘puff up’, meaning potential inhalation by staff.

There are several towns and cities called Asbestos (none in Australia) – towns that are named after or celebrate certain industries or products: Port Sulphur, Louisiana;  Sodium, Wyoming; Neon, Colorado; Toyota City, Japan; Bournville, UK; and Woodfibre, British Columbia.

Former Wittenoom Road Sign. Photo: Five Years at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (sa/3.0], Wikimedia Commons
Former Wittenoom Road Sign. Photo: Five Years at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (sa/3.0], Wikimedia Commons

Hunterian Asbestos Collections. Photo: Sacha Waldron and John Faithfull
Hunterian Asbestos Collections. Photo: Sacha Waldron and John Faithfull

Port Sulphur. Photo: Dr Warner (Flickr: IMG_4276.JPG) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Port Sulphur. Photo: Dr Warner (Flickr: IMG_4276.JPG) [CC BY 2.0], Wikimedia Commons
Food & Drink Notes: Left over cold crispy chicken from bedside drawer/Tea cup of Cointreau/S.Water. Wirral, North West England. 12.44.

A short line between three points

“Exhibitions are texts that make their private intentions public.”

This quote is loosely paraphrased from Paul O’Neill, the English curator-artist-theorist. I won’t pretend I’m up on his work because I’m not, at least not to any great extent.

But this idea caught me. I now realise why: it’s that word, private.

The idea that an exhibition, as opposed to an artwork or practice, might have ‘private’ intentions is not something we usually think about. How we might articulate this without falling back on didacticism (as in, ‘this is what the exhibition is about’) is surely a key question.

It’s an open one, as is this, which surely follows: How is it that an exhibition might constitute something other than an idea?

That word, ‘private’, also makes sense here in another way, now I think about it.

Small works are more intimate. When I curated this exhibition, ‘A Short Line Between Three Points’, I’d wanted for some time to do something that focused solely on small objects.

There were certain artists I was interested in, of course, and practices that traced certain lines of thought or, in the instance of Aubrey Tigan’s Honest Man Rigi, patterns of exchange.

But if I’m honest about it, it came down to intimacy: what you can hold in your hand, or thereabouts.

Small works draw you in; they limit the surrounding space. In this, you become enclosed in a fashion totally at odds with the expansiveness of large-scale practices. The bodily relation is different. It’s a very specific feeling, a kind of intensity that feels totally contingent upon size.

Process is part of this too. The three artists here – Karl Weibke and Matt Hinkley, alongside Tigan – enact processes that are intensely theirs; as different from (and similar to) each other as they are from others. This too draws you in.

We can also point to more pragmatic things when we talk about making exhibitions: that curators are bound to certain administrative, financial, and logistical realities, and that these also shape what it is they do.

It’s worth mentioning, in closing, that such parameters are almost endlessly variable. This is why there is never only one version of an exhibition, just as there isn’t a definitive edit of a text.

In this, an exhibition comes down to what’s possible in the moment. Or in this case, what you can fit in carry-on.

A short line between three points, (Matt Hinkley, Aubrey Tigan, Karl Weibke), Laurel Doody, Los Angeles, April 25 – May 21, 2015.

Exhibition text: A short line between three points.

Installation view, Laurel Doody, 2015
‘A Short Line Between Three Points’, Laurel Doody

Installation view, Laurel Doody, 2015
‘A Short Line Between Three Points’, Laurel Doody

Matt Hinkley
, 'Untitled', 2014
, polymer clay, 
3.5 x 2.3 cm
Matt Hinkley
, ‘Untitled’, 2014
, polymer clay, 
3.5 x 2.3 cm

Aubrey Tigan
, 'Honest Man Rigi', 2010
, incised pearl shell and ochre, 
16.5 x 14.0 cm
Aubrey Tigan
, ‘Honest Man Rigi’, 2010
, incised pearl shell and ochre, 
16.5 x 14.0 cm

Karl Weibke
, ‘Buildings B/8’, 2004-06
, synthetic polymer paint on wood, 34.0 x 28.0 cm

Sergio Rodrigues, 'Sheriff's chair', 1957, leather and wood
Sergio Rodrigues, ‘Sheriff’s chair’, 1957, leather and wood

NOTE: I am indebted, of course, to the brilliant and indefatigable Fiona Connor. Laurel Doody is her (ongoing) brainchild: she invited me to take part in the program, provided the chairs and made the space beautiful, among many other things. Thanks also to Emily Anne Kuriyama, who wrote a closing text for the exhibition and to whose phrasing I owe something, particularly this line: ‘Each artwork is relatively small — no bigger than the sum of my two hands, palms up, held side-by-side’

Athens ‘House of Truth’ and ‘Hang ‘Em High #1’

At Documenta 12, 2007 as part of the living newspaper Chimurenga (Cape Town), editor Ntone Edjabe created DJ sets as performances called a House of Truth. Borrowed from a drinking pit in the old Kofifi, where the makers of the infamous Drum magazine gathered nightly for informal seminars with Can Themba as resident deconstructor, at the House of Truth, fluids, bodies and burning minds mix freely.

Whereas Edjabe’s first German House of Truth was free-wheeling and body pumping, the second was pretty hostile. All groups standing on the periphery of the dance floor, biding time, but present and waiting, radiating an awkward intensity. Edjabe looked around and said, ‘Good. Sometimes this is better.’

Edjabe has spoken of the Chimurenga Chronicle as a newspaper which looks at everything from an analytical place, an ideological place and a philosophical place – not a physical place. This is in itself contradictory, because newspapers are in their foundation made to mark time, whilst being material in their logic to the street. They are an access point. They make contact. In Chimurenga, they have embraced complexity in a logic of emergency. He discusses how they have embraced opacity, to liberate them from this shut hole of relevance.

Hang ‘Em High #1 was a show and performance at the Velvet Room, in January 2015, Athens, Greece. Like a reverse-install, it consisted of a series of artworks hung high in the space, and a level stage for the performers. It was packed, like a scene out of the Seaview Ballroom circa 1970’s. Lakis Ionas of The Callas spoke of how ‘we are trying to combine the excitement and the physical impact of music…with art. So…in this way (of having all artworks as high as we can in the Velvet Room), we are able to have a packed room full of sweating bodies dancing and drinking… We believe that our main point of curating these shows is to create a big installation including artworks, bands, lights, smoke, booze, chit chat, lust….

Both Edjabe’s House of Truth and the Velvet Room’s Hang ‘Em High #1 have a physicality to them. You feel things, you touch things, and bodies touch you. Within these instances they generate a kind of timeliness that seems to be highly designed to purpose a heightened firstness, as a here and now with talons to the past and opacity for the future.

In Hang ‘Em High #1, through the high install, people could lean against the walls and lean into each other. Through the high works, you looked up, noticed the smoke-laden air, the abstracted tapestries and the perspective of a higher view. The physical curation ideologically directed a sideline sensation of noticing you were looking, a bit like being reminded that a painting is constructed on a two dimensional surface, when you can see the untreated linen coming through. And through this opacity, what comes? Look hard, feel well. In truth, not something I always do.

Hang ‘Em High #1 (Antonakis Christodoulou, Dora Economou, Extra- Conjugale, Lakis & Aris Ionas / The Callas, Andreas Kasapis, Eleni Bagaki, Leonidas Papadopoulos, Panos Papadopoulos), Velvet Room, 17 January 2015, Athens, Greece.

Image 1
‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, Velvet Room

‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, installation view, Velvet Room, Athens, 17 January 2015
‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, Velvet Room

‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, installation view, Velvet Room, Athens, 17 January 2015
‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, Velvet Room

‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, installation view, Velvet Room, Athens, 17 January 2015
‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, Velvet Room

‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, installation view, Velvet Room, Athens, 17 January 2015
‘Hang ‘Em High #1’, Velvet Room

Bright light wakes you early in the tropics, which may reduce anxiety

I escaped a tropical downpour into Hito Steyerl’s Too Much World. The rain came straight down like a wide curtain, heavy and loud. Inside, the overriding mood was Scepticism Inc., a meta-melange of corporate training video, hotel room cable TV, real estate fly-through, political message, financial collapse, weather report, biography and probably even more than this.

Until the last room, where I sat in a grey-walled space, watching conservators picking and scratching at a wall in a room in a Frankfurt university, in search of the myth or reality of Adorno’s Grey. Their slow, white-coated labour of incremental excavation half a world away was projected onto a screen split into four vertical boards propped against the wall, as if ready for removal at any time. A provisional idea expressed in material form.

A few weeks later, Ross Manning’s mechanical mobile, Memory Matrix and Antiquity (for synchronized multichannel video) 2015 reached down into the same gallery space from the ceiling, projecting colour calibration screens on the floor from decommissioned projectors. These slowly colliding and intersecting readymade test-patterns of light were without subject matter, beyond themselves.

Melbourne in late autumn was all of its clichés: crisp, cool and dark and full of everything. In the final room of Kaleidoscopic Turn at NGVA, the magnetic video tape floating between two whirring fans in Zilvinas Kempinas’s Double O 2008 drew a hovering frame around Elizabeth Newman’s Untitled 2013 on an adjacent wall. Newman’s minimal work featured a section of slumped and sagging fabric – the result of a simple, three-sided, rectangular cut – which seemed to resist the tenuous optimism of this constantly suspended drawing in space. The gesture delivered a material scepticism, quietly yet insistently spoken.

Hito Steyerl, Too Much World, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 13 December 2014 – 22 March 2015.

Imaginary Accord (Agency, Vernon Ah Kee, Gerry Bibby with Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley, Zach Blas, Ruth Buchanan, Céline Condorelli, Peter Cripps, Sean Dockray, Goldin+Senneby, Raqs Media Collective, Ross Manning, Marysia Lewandowska and Hito Steyerl), Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 11 April – 11 July 2015.

The Kaleidoscopic Turn, National Gallery of Victoria (Australia), Melbourne, 20 March – 23 August 2015.

'Too Much World', IMA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram
‘Too Much World’, IMA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram

'Imaginary Accord', IMA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram
‘Imaginary Accord’, IMA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram

'The Kaleidoscopic Turn', NGVA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram
‘The Kaleidoscopic Turn’, NGVA. Image: Kyla McFarlane, Instagram

Modern zombies

What is it about zombie paint? Or this show at Arndt in particular? Sure, it’s the cool, distanced abstraction that has come to epitomise New York influences, especially the way they’ve revived the big 9’x6’ format canvas. Most artists’ work, too, hones down a single, sometimes beautiful, line of thinking.

There is a temporal necessity I respond to. These zombie painters feel like they waste plenty of time, or have plenty of time on their hands. Or maybe it’s that they spend more time talking and thinking about what they might be doing than actually doing what they do. I don’t mind this. There is something healthy and satisfying in environments where there is always a lot of talk.

Zombies are thankfully not team productions either it seems, and by working alone at the end this adds something ‘felt’ and affirming and implies something existent and in the world with you. These artists propose material physical weight, even as this accentuates the thinner repetitive history of what they are doing, so the double effect carries a sense of pointedness and willingness but is still actually an open breath.

Yet some of the propositions (paintings) were so slim as to be simply daft. It kills me they can get away with it.

Needless this revival of ‘the big 9’x6’format’ has another correlation of sorts in an exhibition down the road at the NTU CCA Singapore.

Simryn Gill’s installation of grids of square photographs along monolithic walls draws a straight line with conceptual/minimal tactics of the 60s and 70s. There are no interferences, or spatial slang or wandering at all. Photographs of Malaysian living-room interiors, decaying unfinished building sites and dissected tropical leaves are presented in serried mono-pattern.

It’s a strange installation: a confluence of authority and critique that comes across as slightly acerbic, or astringent. The actual spaces and experience that Gill reads colloquially via the photographs are attenuated up against the ambivalent effect of hard grid formations and monumental walls — possibly here is a point, I can’t be sure.

The sense of existent emptiness and distance comes with an awareness of the contemporary art gallery. Gill’s practice looks to a certain feasibility in this. The exhibition is a collision of place and space. Gill fends off any suggestion of seeking solace or further clarity in specific pictures, or thinking one might inevitably ‘get closer’. Like she says, it might be a matter of hugging the shoreline.

Simryn Gill, Hugging the Shore, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, 27 March – 21 June.

I Know You Got Soul (Phoebe Collins-James, Liam Everett, Amy Feldman, JPW3, Kika Karadi, Hugo McCloud, Joshua Nathanson, Alex Ruthner, Diego Singh, Marianne Vitale and Jeff Zilm), Arndt, Singapore, 19 April — 21 June.

‘I Know You Got Soul’(installation view, foreground Amy Feldman), 2015. Courtesy Arndt Singapore.
‘I Know You Got Soul’ (foreground Amy Feldman). Image courtesy of Arndt Singapore

‘I Know You Got Soul’(installation view, foreground Kika Karadi), 2015. Courtesy Arndt Singapore.
‘I Know You Got Soul’ (foreground Kika Karadi). Image courtesy of Arndt Singapore.

‘I Know You Got Soul’(installation view, middle-ground Jeff Zilm), 2015. Courtesy Arndt Singapore.
‘I Know You Got Soul’ (middle-ground Jeff Zilm). Image courtesy of Arndt Singapore

Simryn Gill, ‘Dalam’, 2001 installation view. Courtesy of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore
Simryn Gill, ‘Dalam’, 2001. Image courtesy of NTU CCA, Singapore

JN_Image5_SG_Dalam 4
Simryn Gill, ‘Dalam’ (detail), 2001. Image courtesy of NTU CCA, Singapore

Simryn Gill, ‘Jambu Sea, Jambu Air, 2013, offset printed publication, Roygbiv editions, Sydney. Courtesy of the artist. (Reference to Like Leaves, 2015)
Simryn Gill, ‘Jambu Sea, Jambu Air, 2013, offset printed publication, Roygbiv Editions, Sydney. Image courtesy of the artist. (Reference to ‘Like Leaves’, 2015)

A conversation with Kalinda Vary

The handstand!

Can we talk about that?

We both had a very different approach to that

To the hand stand?


I credit you with getting me to do one
You were strategic about it
I wasn’t I was just trying to do it all at once and failing because of that
Usual practice

Ha! Yes but you would have figured it out at some point
Or gone to some training facility

Eventually hopefully
I was at the stage filming myself standing upright but pretending I was upside down

That’s incredible

I was trying to invent some sort of clothes pulley system that would flip my skirt over my head at the right moment

How did you go?

There’s some pretty ridiculous footage
I don’t think its clear WHAT I was trying to do

That’s amazing

But it’s a good example of my desire to improv with the immediate rather than solve the problems

Problem-solving as inefficiency is something I often fall into
Oh right!

It is? Tell me more
Tell me I’m not alone

Definitely – this kind of circumnavigating, working with what you’ve got. I often make the problem bigger than is necessary
You’re not alone and it’s fun

And do you think the solution to chasing your tail down a rabbit hole is conversation and sharing with others to break the ever-expanding problem?
It’s so fun
I think it’s an act of defiance

I think both are important, knowing when to have a conversation

Yes and free will

Exercising free will in a probably ineffective way
So liberating
A quiet fuck you

It’s a really great exercise or practice. I often feel hopeless though when I feel like I’ve failed
I just did a pivot

And then your boss asks “What sort of art do you make?” and quietly under your breath you say “Fuck you.”

Kalinda Vary, NOW GO OVER THERE AND STAND ON THAT CHAIR, TCB, Melbourne, 6 May – 23 May 2015.

Kalinda Vary, TCB

Kalinda Vary, TCB

We swim in unknown unknowns

We have entered a period of barbarism, she says. (S. Sontag)

Did I tell you I have been in living in Rome since the beginning of the year? Rome is beautiful but full of tourists, and shits. I mean real dog poo on the pavement. It’s really dirty, as my parents kept saying when they came to visit. They live in the North of the Country, you see, close to Switzerland.

Here, despite the fact it is Italy’s capital, as the black cars of MPs and foreign ambassadors constantly remind us, the Public is a woolly notion. Tourists in their improbable outfits eat gelato and pizza from improbable places and play with their recently acquired selfie sticks. Here is my two cents: the selfie stick will become a thing in post post-internet art.

I recently watched on YouTube a 1987 Marcello Mastroianni interview on Letterman, and I thought the Italian actor was great at making the presenter uncomfortable and mastering the duplicitous game of pretending his English wasn’t that good. He was talking about cities and shit, too.

I have been doing production work for different artists within an institutional context lately and have been thinking quite a bit about the profession I am in, and how art making is changing, which, I know, is so art historian of me, but maybe worth casting some thought upon.

I have been struggling with given formats and the difficulty of breaking the mould on how accustomed we are to them, and is proven perhaps by the failure of communicating to other people the possibility of other ways. And this isn’t about the shaky English we employ in the art world…

“Is there a dinner?” was what was asked of me a few times at the opening of the last exhibition I have organised. I am increasingly shocked by the rudeness of some “professionals” of the art world, their ruthlessness and utilitarianism. I was also debating in my head about the lack of material awareness: this constant outsourcing of work that makes them forget the dynamics, complexities and ultimately the real consequences of their requests, or their last minute changes of heart. “Pressing enter is not all it takes!” I feel like shouting at times.

I am more and more wary of the tendency in the arts to debate about immaterial labour, while exploiting the goodwill of people with no remuneration, or justify through theoretical means what often comes from pretty mercenary considerations about how to progress a work, or parasite an institution to get to the next. Is this way of thinking sustainable? Is there a day when someone will muster the guts to say: “Hey wait a minute. NO. I am not behind this. I am not doing it.” Can we stop employing double standards? And preach one thing only to then deny it with actions and the conditions in which the work occurs?

I speak from the perspective of someone that chose willingly to be a curator, with all the implications of the definition and considering I do a different job (or more than one) every day, depending who I am working with. It also means thinking beyond any selfish goals (again speaking for myself) and creating a context for the audience, but also with the artist, and building up something that hopefully doesn’t start and end with an exhibition or an event but whose effects (no I am not talking about money) continue to be in the world.

But the goal of great art is the same whether one approaches it seriously or dubiously. To make something new, to transcend, one must have an honest relationship with what is: history, context, form, tradition, oneself. Dishonesty is the biggest obstacle to making original, great art. Dishonesty undermines a works internal integrity the only standard by which a work can succeed. If the work becomes a vehicle for ones ego, personal or political agenda, self-image, desire for fame, adulation, fortune human as these inclinations may be the work will be limited accordingly.”

Rehearsal, ‘Performance Proletarians’, 2015, TV streaming marathon (15 hours) with live performance and dedicated internet channel, Rome. Image: ‎Galaxïa Roijade Konungur

Rehearsal, ‘Performance Proletarians’, 2015

Moving images

In a busy and eclectic area of Hong Kong, on the 17th floor of a commercial building, a not-for-profit space for art and performance was opened in 2014: Midtown Pop. For the conservative mind, the association of different forms of business or living with art can seem uncanny. But within the expanding space production in Hong Kong, such a place punctuates the provisions for the future.

Just a few days before the commencement of Art Basel Hong Kong, M+ Museum opened an exhibition that translates an important principle of how our society functions today – MOVING – acknowledging key aspects of borders, mobility, migration and transition. The mobile aspect of this conceptual enterprise is immediate, as the building of M+ Museum is under construction, and a series of nomadic projects have been developed in the last four years, aiming to test and slowly introduce the museum into the daily economy of Hong Kong. It all comes together in a logical association regarding the functionality of the institution and its scope – the mobile museum and the moving image. Cinematography played an important part in the curatorial demonstration, referencing the highly acclaimed film production set in Hong Kong and its special aesthetics. It was a vulnerable opening scene taking place in and outside a noodle shop from the film Floating Life, directed by Clara Law and released in 1996, that the curator had used as a “Madeleine” to discuss the mixture of feelings in a migrant’s life: nostalgia, fear of displacement and the uncontrolled switch between public and private.

By connecting all these elements, the exhibition Moving Images transposed the beholder in a complex visual experience. The setting of the video works was molecular – not too many extra walls, not too much darkness or unwanted headphones – and each art work had a well-defined position in the space, building the context for the next work the viewer would discover. Because of this rhythm, that was almost like a musical score, the visitor was naturally moving in the space of the exhibition. It is quite hard to find an exhibition where one can freely move and compose a specific relation with the space. Maximum attention was given to the labels, which were actually tiny light-boxes generating small doses of light.

Several of the works in the exhibition were discussing “the right to the city” (concept introduced by Henri Lefevre in his book Le Droit à la ville (1968), meaning the initiative of the individual to change and improve urban life, and shape it in a way that it serves the common welfare) together with the transformations Hong Kong has experienced in its modern history. The relationship with the water and the transient population was accurately constructed in Dominique Gonzales-Foerster’s video piece, Central (2001), filmed on super 8 and 35 mm film. Central is a melancholic filmic portrait of Hong Kong, focused on the people passing by Victoria Harbour, carrying their memories and expectations in a silent tour. The narrator mediated the sensitive actions in the film, inviting the observer to compare Hong Kong in 2001 with Hong Kong in 2015.

The photographs depicting spectacular botanical formations, part of a series realized by Simryn Gill and entitled Forest (1996 – 1998) pointed out the colonial history of South East Asia, bringing out questions of memory and oblivion, of seeing and not being seen. The quality of the silver gelatin print was deepened by the artist through the use of strips of text that were attached to the photograph, codifying the image.

The intensity of a re-imagined dancing scene from a night on the streets of Cairo re-edited by the artist Hassan Khan in the video Jewel (2010) combined with the placid movement in Chen Chieh-jen’s piece Empire’s Borders I (2008 – 2009), which discussed the discriminatory treatment encountered by Taiwanese and Chinese migrants triggered various visual diagrams revolving around the critical phenomenology of migration and identitary transformation.

The project unfolded as a room in a room in a room, in a way celebrating the infinite possibilities of video art and film, and on the other side creating a blueprint of an exhibition that has kept on creating itself and becoming independent. Starry Starry Room (2012), the painting of the young Hong Kong artist Firenze Lai, can serve as a synthesis of this “moving visuality”.

Mobile M+: Moving Images(CAMPPaul ChanChen Chieh-jen, David DiaoEstudio Teddy CruzSimryn GillDominique Gonzalez-FoersterIsaac JulienKan XuanWilliam KentridgeHassan KhanFirenze LaiLi RanCharles LimAnson MakEllen PauKoki TanakaWang Gongxin, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Chai Siris, Wong PingYoung-Hae Chang Heavy IndustriesYuan Goang-MingZhang Peili and Zhu Jia). Curated by Yung Ma, M+ Museum at Midtown Pop, Hong Kong, 13 March – 26 April 2015.

Chen Chieh-jen, ‘Empire’s Borders I’, 2008 – 2009, 35mm transferred to DVD, colour & black and white, sound, single-channel video, 26 min 50 sec
Chen Chieh-jen, ‘Empire’s Borders I’, 2008 – 2009, 35mm transferred to DVD, colour & black and white, sound, single-channel video, 26 min 50 sec

Simryn Gill, ‘Forest #6’, 1996 – 1998, silver gelatin print, 147 x 121 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York.
Simryn Gill, ‘Forest #6’, 1996 – 1998, silver gelatin print, 147 x 121 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Tracy Williams Ltd, New York

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, ‘Central’, 2001, super 8 and 35mm on DVD, 10 min 30 sec. Photo courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery, New York.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, ‘Central’, 2001, super 8 and 35mm on DVD, 10 min 30 sec. Photo courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery, New York

Hassan Khan, ‘Jewel’, 2010, 35mm film transferred to full HD video, 6 min 30 sec. Photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.
Hassan Khan, ‘Jewel’, 2010, 35mm film transferred to full HD video, 6 min 30 sec. Photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

Firenze Lai, ‘Starry Starry Room’, 2012, acrylic on paper 40.5 x 30.5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Firenze Lai, ‘Starry Starry Room’, 2012, acrylic on paper, 40.5 x 30.5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist

Ryan Gander looks like Karl Pilkington and they are both misanthropic northerners

“What move?” “Which restaurant?” “Whose bunion?”

Perhaps it is inadvertent rudeness via inattention until the conversation hits a note I want to hear. Or maybe I’m undertaking less than expert multi-tasking (trolling and hand-washing or sauteeing and waxing). But lately, I’m in the habit of asking the wrong questions at the wrong time.

Picking up the thread mid-conversation when the chat is in full swing, and where those in the circle are with heads thrown back, all pre-big-laugh laughs. The storyteller is stalking attention and why would they stop to answer me?

Like his 2011 site-specific Artangel commission, Locked Room Scenario, (a ‘para-possible’ group show of invented artists the visitor was denied access to), Read Only lets you in, but only a little bit. No emotional shapes but apparent connective tissue, like a father who finds it difficult to say he loves you Gander doesn’t do feelings.  Soooo needy, but I’m left wanting. Conceptualism doesn’t deal in hugs though, never has.

I’m not convinced it’s compelling storytelling, is it? Reaching towards so many Modernist signifiers in his work, we are denied the transformative. But this is prankstraction, and I can’t help thinking about the video interview I saw where it’s possible to see him working on hundreds of groups of index cards, containing images, jokes, scenarios, propositions, patterns, all lined up, just so, ready to be executed with a virtuosic command of materiality.

Most reviewers, critics and curators refute the title of ‘Conceptual artist’. Gander jokes about it, and all prefer ‘ideas artist’ or ‘inspiration-from-everything artist’. I prefer Ideas Man-boy. He comes from a long art historical genealogy of Ideas Men, each following the leader. And here in Melbourne, where public lectures, visiting artists and touring exhibitions can set off flurries of investigations into spirituality, choreography, the economy etc,  will this set us off back into the bad old days of tricksy sk8er Unmonumental-ism? And while I’m asking, why is everyone wearing these? Are they really that comfortable?

Ryan Gander, Read Only, ACCA, Melbourne, 4 June – 2 August 2015.

Nike Flex Run
Nike Flex Run

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA