Archive for April, 2013

UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 4

Previous posts on or around this topic:
17-Mar-2013 An initial attempt at understanding the concept and considering the implications
13-Apr-2013 Finding evidence of the canonical orders in Sydney, and considering the message being given by the planners and builders.
26-Apr-2013 This post was ostensibly about a trip to some exhibitions in Canberra and reflections on being Australian. With further thought I think that in part I was working through the relevance of The Western Canon to a modern Australian.

This thought crystallized when I read a quote from Tony Abbott (current Leader of the Opposition in federal parliament). “There is a new version of the great Australian silence – this time about the Western canon, the literature, the poetry, the music, the history and above all the faith without which our culture and our civilisation are unimaginable.” (1) (Partial disclosure, not wanting to get distracted by Australian politics, I will not be voting for Mr Abbott’s party in the coming election). So are we ignoring a significant part of our heritage in attempts to be multi-cultural and politically correct?

Further internet searching led me to the information that “the great Australian silence” was originally used in 1968 in reference to the virtual absence of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Australian “history” at the time.(2) (crikey.com is a source of “Australian independent journalism”, seen by some as myth-busting and giving the true low-down, by others less positively.)

I hadn’t realised that the Western canon was so topical, so did some more internet surfing. In an article on the English school syllabus I found “The retreat from the canon, while appearing to have social equality at heart, has disempowered a generation by divorcing them from the mythic reference points of our culture”. Also “As a people, to understand the story we are in, we must understand the story of where we have been, and the great narratives of the literary canon are vital to this understanding.” (3) Apparently the new curriculum has achieved a good balance, with a greater diversity in “canonical” texts.

A simple search on “Western canon Australia” turned up a lot more. Both the articles I’ve cited refer to school curricula, one history the other english. The political element is very clear, also perhaps a battle for the minds and hearts of the young (sorry about the twee expression). It also reinforced for me the ongoing importance of the Western canon in Australian life and the stories we tell about ourselves. I don’t believe that a single true history is possible or desirable – nothing is that simple. So it seems a canon needs to be constantly questioned and tested, to evolve, to merge different histories and cultures.

(1) Abbott, T. (2013?) Sir Paul Hasluck Foundation lecture. Cited in Baird, J. (2013) Don’t dismiss nation’s blemishes. The Sydney Morning Herald 27 April 2013 [online] Available from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/dont-dismiss-nations-blemishes-20130426-2ijsd.html#ixzz2Rl36SXnI
[Accessed 28 April 2013]

(2) Knott, M. (2013) Tony Abbott talks God and Western values behind closed doors [Online] 5 April 2013 Crikey.com Available from http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/04/05/tony-abbott-talks-god-and-western-values-behind-closed-doors/?wpmp_switcher=mobile [Accessed 28 April 2013]

(3) Hastie, D. (2013) Why great narratives must be passed on. The Sydney Morning Herald 4 November 2011 [online] Available from: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/why-great-narratives-must-be-passed-on-20111103-1mxte.html#ixzz2RlBBjvkJ [Accessed 28 April 2013]
UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 4
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Topic: Canonical Orders.

Canberra, study and being Australian

A recent visit to Canberra, the capital of Australia, had me thinking about being Australian. It’s been front-of-mind a fair bit lately as I navigate Understanding Western Art – not just the course content, but the different perspective and the relevance to me personally, as an Australian with no Roman remains down the road and “Western” just one part of the cultural mix. It is important for me that study is personal, not a dry, objective, academic exercise, if I am to invest this much time and thought and energy.

There are lots of different versions of “Australian”. On dad’s side our earliest direct relative arrived in 1839 (Irish), at the request of his uncle who arrived less voluntarily in 1800. Mum arrived in 1952 (English). Apart from a few years traveling I’ve always lived in the suburbs of Sydney. So what I write is from a pretty narrow perspective, but one that’s as valid as anyone’s.

canberra2013_01I travelled to Canberra with my mother and our main purpose was the annual 2 day walk (www.aussiewalk.com.au) – see 9-Apr-2013 for last year’s trip. We also spent a day at the National Library, which had three exhibitions which particularly interested us.

canberra2013_02The first was Beyond the furthest fences: the Australian Inland Mission collection. Mum and I visited the Australian Inland Mission hospital in Lake Grace when we visited Western Australia in 2011 (blog post 17-Oct-2011). The library exhibition consisted of a display of photographs, most taken by John Flynn whose work led to the foundation of the Inland Mission hospitals and the Flying Doctor Service. I took the photo on the right at Lake Grace AIM hospital and the reference to communication is significant. Flynn encouraged and used the inventions of Alfred Traeger, in particular a pedal-powered radio that was used to create a network of communication across inland Australia. In the Library exhibition a photograph from 1930 that really caught my interest shows an elderly woman sitting just outside a house surrounded by three young girls. The incongruity in the photo is that the woman is wearing headphones and pedalling to provide power to the radio she is using. The photo can be seen in the Library digital collection at http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24681856.

canberra2013_03The nurses at the AIM hospitals did more than provide medical care. They taught Sunday school and sewing classes (the sewing machine photo is from Lake Grace), they provided reading material and organised social events. They helped to create communities, as did the network of communication provided by the two-way radios (which later were also used for the School of the Air). Flynn constantly promoted the work of AIM, and all these achievements had a huge impact on the national self-image – community, mateship, ingenuity, innovation, self reliance, resilience, toughness, practical, achieving against the odds, living in remote, inhospitable places (I’d add laconic and self-deprecating, but I’m not sure if that came from Flynn). There was another photo I loved (see http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24522410). It shows a group of people sitting around the dining table, eating Christmas dinner and drinking tea. I didn’t notice the oddity until reading a caption with a diary entry by Sister Grace Francis: [during the dust storms] “we have a table cloth on top of the dishes, not underneath”.

canberra2013_04The second exhibition at the Library was The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s National Capital. The photo on the left is captioned “Andrew Fisher, Lord and Lady Denman and King O’Malley acknowledge the crowd from the foundation stone at the naming of Canberra ceremony, 12 March 1913”, available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn4503893 and also, excitingly, copyright free at The National Library of Australia Commons on Flickr. Canberra is an artificial city, created from some perfectly good sheep-grazing land. A competition was held to design the new city, won by Walter Burley Griffin working with Marion Mahony Griffin.

Some designs that didn’t win were shown in the exhibition as well as the Griffins’. In terms of being proudly Australian, the thing that impressed me was that the chosen design started with the land – the hills, valleys and water of the site. Two hills, Mount Ainslie and Mount Bimberi, provided one axis. The Molonglo River and its valley crossed at right angles. The existing geometry of the land was recognised, enhanced and celebrated. This approach contrasted to that of other designs, where the city was imposed on the land, something that could have been built anywhere given a bulldozer and a bit of time.

Treasures Gallery was the third exhibition at the Library. It included things like Captain Cook’s Journal of H.M.S. Endeavour, 1768-1771 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms1). It felt extraordinary to be surrounded by so much of our history – in fact too much for me to take in and process. A positive of the whole day was finding out about all the resources and material that are available to view in Canberra, and also available on the internet. One that I will explore further is the manuscript of John Olsen when working on his painting Five Bells (a painting that I return to often in the NSW Art Gallery – I’ll take a photo to insert next time I go). The manuscript in the National Library is available digitally at http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms8015-2. The painting in the NSW Art Gallery is featured at http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/galleries/australian/featured-works/olsen/.

canberra2013_05canberra2013_06While in Canberra we also visited The National Arboretum (www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au) which opened earlier this year. An interesting place, but for this post I’m particularly interested in the sculpture sitting right along the crest of the hill. When taking the photo I was more interested in the patterning of the terracing and planting, and the detail doesn’t really help. There are some really interesting shots at http://www.futago.com.au/public_art/public_wbl_1.html (and on seeing them now I wish we’d had the time to go right up). The work is Wide Brown Land by Marcus Tatton, Chris Viney and Futago (2010). The words come from a poem by Dorothea Mackellar, My Country, first published in 1908. When I was at school pretty much everyone learned the second verse at least, which begins “I love a sunburnt country” and ends “The wide brown land for me!”. At the time of writing Mackellar was living in England and homesick for Australia – a momentous idea for a country of immigrants who are always talking about “home”. The full text of the poem is available at www.dorotheamackellar.com.au/archive/mycountry.htm. I don’t recall ever reading the first verse before today. It refers to “the love of field and coppice … running in your veins”, which she understands but cannot share. That’s part of what I feel about the Western Art course. I’ve visited Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight and seen the mosaics, I’ve stayed in a chilly farmhouse just below Hadrian’s Wall – but I don’t feel that link to it.

canberra2013_07canberra2013_08The Arboretum centre, designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects responds to the landform just as the Griffin’s design for Canberra did. (I’ll not mention the harsh triangular function centre going up nearby, other than that it exists and I have carefully cropped it from my photographs).

I don’t have a nice, neat wrapup for these musings. I would love to find a way to express some of this in my work – without it being too obvious, sugary, nostalgic or non-urban. Mackellar wrote a poem “Colour”, and it might be interesting to create a palette from that. As for the OCA course, I’ll continue enjoying it, learning, and gleefully jumping on any Australian links I can find or manufacture.

Additional information

AIM Hospital Lake Grace: http://www.lakegrace.wa.gov.au/images/AIM%20Hospital%20Brochure.pdf

AIM collection at the National Library:
– list of photographs included in the exhibition, with links to the images: http://www.nla.gov.au/sites/default/files/exhibition_checklist_180712.pdf
– even more photos: http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Search/Home?lookfor=my_parent%3A%22%28AKIN%2911408153%22&iknowwhatimean=1

UA1-WA:P1-p1-Ex Annotation of a Greek vase painting

My chosen vase is in the Alexander The Great: 2000 years of treasures exhibition currently on at the Australian Museum in Sydney. I posted about my first visit to the exhibition on 8-Feb-2013.

The catalogue entry:
Red-figure volute-krater: warrior with a horse in a heroon
Southern Italy, Apulia, 330-320 BC
Master of the Seated Woman Group
Clay; h 72.2, 0 rim 37.8, 0 base 11.4 cm
(1)

The photos in the post are my sketches. I can’t find an image on the web, but for something similar click here to go to a page on the British Museum website showing The Hamilton Vase. (Edited to add: a copy of the image is available in a password restricted area here).

Reason for choice
sketch20130208bOn the left of this photo is the sketch I did of the chosen vase back in February, when I was still working through the final assignment for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. I found it refreshing to look at a woman, resplendent in jewels and leaning languidly on a pillar, after all the heroic, idealized male statues busy doing something important.

I chose this vase for the annotation because I already had a connection to it, could do my initial work based on the photograph in the exhibition catalogue, and would have the opportunity to see the vase itself again before the exhibition closed. The OCA course notes include a reminder that looking at an image – a reproduction – can give you a sense for the original, but is not the same as experiencing the item directly. Choosing this vase would allow me to experience the impact of the original when my work from the image was still fresh in my mind.

After working on this for some time I realised (a) the vase is from Italy and a Greek item was specified for the exercise, and (b) the date of the vase put it slightly later than covered in the course textbook section for this project, which stops with the death of Philip of Macedon, Alexander’s father, in 336 BC. I continued with the vase because the catalogue notes associate it with Greek colonies in Italy, the timing issue is marginal, and as detailed above I had solid reasons for the selection.
annotation_greekvase
Observations
Shape
The vase is large – over 72 cm high. Handles on each side connect the rim to the shoulders. The tops of the handles form a coil or medallion shape above the main part of the vase. In my eyes the base seems almost disproportionally small making the vase appear top-heavy and possibly unstable.
Arrangement of painting
The vase has patterned bands – waves, tongues, geometric shapes – contained between plain lines at the areas of greatest shaping (the rim shaping to the neck, the shoulders, and towards the base of the vase). This leaves two relatively large and unshaped areas for more complex painting, around the neck and the belly of the vase. There is a centered scene painted on the belly of the vase. To either side, underneath the handles, areas of large curved and fanned shapes can be seen.
In addition to the background painted in black slip and the red figures there is yellow and white painting.
The painting
Each of the medallion or volute shapes of the handles has a head painted in white with yellow hair.
In the centre of the neck of the vase is a painted bust (head and shoulders). It is surrounded by a symmetrical design which includes birds, ribbon-like swirls, foliage, what could be ears of wheat, and bell-shaped flowers.
The main painted panel shows a structure with ionic columns – a heroon. Within it is a warrior wearing armour (a cuirass), and what could be a chalmys draped around his shoulders. He holds a spear in his left hand and what is possibly a whip in his right hand. Behind the warrior is his horse.
On the left hand side is a woman holding a fan and carrying a basket. She wears a chiton and a cloak (a himation?). Her hair is dressed up and tied with a band, she wears earrings, bracelets and a necklace. The draping of her clothing is fluid and graceful.
On the right hand side a woman leans her elbow on a waist-high column, one leg crossed in front on the other with just the toes on the ground. She holds a mirror, her hair is dressed up, she seems to have a beaded headdress and is wearing earrings, bracelets and a necklace.
There are three inverted hook shapes which I think might be ribbons, a lozenge shape on the left which suggests a shield and a triangular shape suspended from the ceiling of the heroon.
Second viewing
Last week I visited the exhibition again to see the vase.
I was surprised by its size – I had forgotten how big it is.
Working from the catalogue photograph I hadn’t realised the depth of the handles. What looks like just a flat medallion at the top is actually the front face of a deeper grip, shaped like a cotton reel. The head of the medallion is in relief – a molded three dimensional element not just flat painting. The loop shapes at the base of the handle are in the form of swan heads.
It was during this visit that I was able to see the detail of the fallen shield and what looks like tassels on the whip. Working from the photo I thought the white columns at the front had yellow sides, but in life the yellow areas seem to be the columns at the back of the structure.
Additional information
The catalogue states “The vase was intended for a warrior’s burial” and I wondered what indicated that. A krater was used for mixing water and wine (2) and the size would seem to be unwieldy (unless one ladled rather than poured the liquid). This could suggest a more ceremonial than functional purpose.
It was customary to visit the graves of the dead and wind ribbons or sashes around the stele (commemorative slabs) (3), and that would fit with the three shapes that I think are ribbons.
The wife of Pluto, ruler of the underworld, was Persephone. Her mother Ceres, the corn goddess, searched for Persephone after her abduction by Pluto. (4) The ears of wheat might reference this myth.
For a long time I thought the triangular hanging shape was a bell, and after much searching a found a mention of bells used in the temples of Persephone (5) which seemed an exciting fit. However I’ve since seen a photograph on the British Museum website with a very similar object identified as a pilos (a helmet) (6). This would work with the shield and other accoutrements of the warrior.
I thought the “fallen shield” might be imagery referring to a fallen warrior, but have not found any information to support this.

Other remarks
I have completely mismanaged my time on this annotation and put far too much work into it. I got more and more interested, and every time I sat at the computer to type it up would find myself exploring the internet for more relevant information. I will need to be more disciplined in future.

(1) Australian Museum (2012) Alexander the Great: 2000 years of treasures.. Sydney: Australian Museum. Page 96.
(2) Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King. Page 143.
(3) Wilson, N. (ed.) (2006) Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge. Page 207.
(4) Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (Second Edition). Boulder: Westview Press.
(5) Pylyaev, M.I. [n.d.] Historial Bells [online] The Link of Times Foundation. Available from: http://www.danilovbells.com/bellsonrussia/publications_about_bells/historical_bells/ [Accessed 17 April 2013]
(6) The Trustees of the British Museum [n.d.] Volute Krater (Registration number: 1836,0224.164) [online] The Trustees of the British Museum. Available from: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=399551&partid=1&searchText=volute+krater&fromADBC=ad&toADBC=ad&numpages=10&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&currentPage=5 [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Additional Information
Heuer, K. [n.d.] Funerary Vases in Southern Italy and Sicily [online] The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/fune/hd_fune.htm [Accessed 17 April 2013]

UA1-WA:P1-p1-Ex Annotation of a Greek vase painting
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Exercise: Annotation of a Greek vase painting.

Archaeology in Sydney

In my post of 13-April-2013 I made a comment about the dearth of Roman remains here in Sydney. Aboriginal archaeology goes back much further – 50,000 years or so according to the Australian Museum website (1). At the other end of the scale, European settlement began in 1788. There’s lots from early settlement to be seen in museum settings, but I was surprised last week when I passed an archaeological site in situ.

The Big Dig site is underneath a youth hostel in The Rocks area of Sydney, and guests walk through part of it to get to Reception upstairs. There are also a couple of display cases containing some of the objects found in the area. Wonderful!

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(1) Australian Museum (2011) The Aboriginal Archaeological Collection [online] Available from: http://australianmuseum.net.au/The-Aboriginal-Archaeological-Collection. [Accessed 13 April 2013]

More information

The Big Dig: http://www.thebigdig.com.au/

The architects – Tzannes Associates: http://tzannes.com.au/portfolio/sydney-harbour-yha/

13 Rooms exhibition

On Thursday I went to the first publicly open day of this exhibition – see lots of information and videos at http://kaldorartprojects.org.au/13rooms/. It’s described as “performance art” and before going I didn’t understand that in almost all cases the artists have trained or sent training instructions for the work to be presented / interpreted by re-performers. There’s a video of one of the curators in which he describes it as “living sculpture”, which at first I found helpful but later made me very uncomfortable about the objectification of the people we stared at. If I think of it as theatre it suddenly switches to “acceptable”. Clearly I’m still sorting through impressions, and I’m in no particular hurry to find any kind of resolution. In this post I just want a brief record of some of what I saw.

biennale_19_do

Air and Inner, by Honore d’O

The exhibition is at Pier 2/3 – a wharf built in the early 1900s and in the short term operated as a cultural facility while redevelopment (still arts / creative purposes) is considered. Rather annoyingly I didn’t take a photo of the overall setup. The first photo is Air and Inner by Honore d’O, part of last year’s Biennale (see my post 8-Sept-2013), to give just a hint of the interior space.

13rooms_01In the foreground here is one of the twelve purpose built rooms in the current exhibition. This particular one didn’t have a door. It is Man=flesh/Woman=flesh – FLAT (1997) by Laura Lima.

As you can see, people crouched or lay on the floor to peer inside (there was an angled mirror on a pole for anyone who couldn’t).

13rooms_limaInside lay a person – silent, looking at a lamp. We were informed that they had a physical disability of some kind.

Years ago I started a degree in Social Work and had a work placement at a rehabilitation centre. As an experiment a small group of us went to a local shopping centre and took turns being pushed around shops in a wheelchair. Around half the time, if the person in the wheelchair asked a question the sales assistant would direct their response to the one pushing the chair. Is Lima’s work in some way about seeing the person in front of us, about the constraints we put on someone with a disability, about experiencing a limitation in our own movement…?

13rooms_hirst0213rooms_hirst01
Above are two photographs of Damien Hirst’s work Hans, Georg (1992). This was the first room you come to after entering the exhibition space, and I think it must be a deliberate choice to start people with something so engaging and non-confrontational. All the twins were chatty, open and friendly. Each pair had been given a clothing allowance plus a choice of reading material. The boys here, musicians in their “real” lives, had chosen Moby Dick (both were on page 45 at the time, although they got a bit confused when during the conversation they wanted to check if they were on the same line). The two girls had gone to different schools, were studying different subjects at different universities. The dots of colour at the back are the same colours, but arranged differently. It seems to be a simple comment about not judging too quickly or making assumptions on the basis of appearances. I’m trying not to get too side-tracked from my main line of study for OCA, so haven’t researched further so far.

13rooms_xuzhen13rooms_clarkbeaumont
On the left above is In Just a Blink of an Eye by Xu Zhen (2005). On the right is Coexisting by Clark Beaumont (Nicole Beaumont and Sarah Clark) (2013). These are two of the real physical endurance performances, together with Marina Abramović’s Luminosity (1997).

Clark and Beaumont are the two artists actually performing their own work. They occupy a plinth together – eight hours a day for the eleven days of the exhibition. They were frequently communicating with each other as they shifted around to relieve pressure on their bodies, sometimes twined around each other, at one point a rather perilous sequence for one to stand up on the plinth. The work was about the process of their collaboration and negotiation – but it was their collaboration, their experience. I was an on-looker, and the intensity of their relationship heightened the feeling of exclusion. This could be part of their intent, but that wasn’t my impression.

No photography was permitted in Abramović’s room. The performance was a naked woman, sitting on a bicycle seat that was mounted a couple of metres up on the wall, lit by two strong spotlights. There were some posts protruding from the wall on which the re-performer could partially support her feet and arms if she wished. For much of the time I watched the performer’s body formed an X, her unsupported arms held up, her heels just touching the supports. For periods she would look straight ahead. Then she would look directly into the eyes of a viewer for minutes at a time. There was no expression, no acknowledgement. Was she even paying attention to me, other than just as a predetermined place on which to focus? It was interesting to watch the other viewers, all standing intensely focused but uncommunicative. I have read about Abramović before, on the OCA blog (http://www.weareoca.com/fine_art/the-artist-is-present/ posted 19 March 2013 – read the comments too, some interesting discussion and information).

There is a series of videos about the exhibition, and in one – http://vimeo.com/63799220 two of the re-performers who are presenting Luminosity speak. One, Kathryn, talks about “sharing the experience with the audience” and being “open and engaging”. The second, Nadia, has the view that while the work is about light, she will have to do a lot of work on grounding and sees herself testing her limits. Nadia quotes Abramović – “art is like a war and you have to conquer yourself” – and that is more what I felt from the work. I did not feel engaged or sharing. I felt I was watching a woman focused on her chosen task of pushing her body and mind further than she had gone, determined to conquer this personal everest. I had the image of an ascetic nun, pushing herself through self-discipline and mortification of the flesh to find enlightenment – an image strengthened by a body position so crucifixion-like.

Since visiting the exhibition the thing I’ve been puzzling over most, the thing I find strange about many of the works is the relationship between the artist and the viewer. In some works the viewer became an active participant – conversing, swapping, perhaps by meeting a gaze. In Marina Abramović’s work in particular a communication may be intended – but the artist herself isn’t there, isn’t listening, and the re-performer didn’t seem to really see me. If the idea is to pay attention it’s odd to be absent. I suppose the answer could be in my assumptions. In most artforms something is created and presented, the viewer or listener perceives or interprets, often at a different time and place – there is no feedback loop. I thought performance art was more intimate – but why, given it is a “performance”?

There were other works, but I’ll finish with one where I did experience a connection, where I felt like a person and not an audience. This was Xavier Le Roy’s Untitled (2012). Again no photo, but this time because in a sense there was very little to see. The door was fixed partly open. The room was unlit. Walking in I was aware of the carpet underfoot, just a sense of the sound of movement, other visitors standing and looking into the darkness on the other side of the room. As my eyes adjusted I began to see a something, a form moving on the ground. There was a woman sitting near a wall, occasionally warning people that they were close to something, and I sat in the dark beside her. We sat in the darkness watching, sometimes chatting quietly. The world slowed down. I could see, or almost see, two bodies wrapped around each other, slowly rolling and moving around on the floor. A toddler ran up and patted the shape. A group of young school children came in for a while. The woman asked what they thought it was – “an elephant” one said. We chatted about the work – the woman was a friend of Xavier Le Roy, was one of the performers but acting then as their watcher. She didn’t want to answer directly my question about the meaning of the work, but drew me out, helped me to explore my own reaction. It was a warm, peaceful, engaged experience. I’m sure it was physically demanding on the performers, but that seemed to be more something they accepted as necessary to achieve their objectives rather than the whole point of the thing. There’s a photo at http://kaldorartprojects.org.au/13rooms/xavier-le-roy, but it looks quite artificial, which feels odd since this work was the one that felt to me most genuine.

The exhibition closes 21 April, so if you’re in Sydney you’d better hurry up.

More information
13 rooms, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach: http://kaldorartprojects.org.au/13rooms/
Pier 2/3: http://www.arts.nsw.gov.au/index.php/creative-spaces/arts-properties/pier-23/

UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 2

In a previous post (17-Mar-2013) I tried to figure out what “The Canon” is – not surprisingly a confusing post, given my own confusion.

I’ve since found the term used in a slightly different way, in John Summerson’s The Classical Language of Architecture (1). To quote (p. 10): “It was Sebastiano Serlio … who really started the orders … on their long career of canonical, symbolic, almost legendary, authority”. Excellent – a chance to see the concept used in action and thereby perhaps make better sense of it.

orders_townhall

Sydney Town Hall, by JH Willson (~1889)
Composite columns at main entry, corinthian upstairs.
(French Second Empire architecture)

“The orders” are types of columns – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. I used to think of these as decorative, just a matter of how fancy the carving at the top was, and except where standing clear and holding up a porch many columns seemed more like moulding on the walls than actually structural or integral to the building.

orders_nswlibrary

State Library NSW (1910).
Ionic columns driving the plane of relief

However when used The Orders (I feel a need for the capitalisation) define a “plane of relief”. They support an entablature – architrave, frieze and cornice – which moves with the columns. If the columns are changed from free standing to half embedded in the wall, the entire face of the building changes. The Orders control the structure (page 20). The spaces between the columns can completely change the impact.

The Orders started with the Greeks. The Romans used and extended them, and added arches. In the Renaissance this architectural grammar was re-established, then in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Orders again became the major discipline in architecture.

Queen Victoria Building (QVB), by G McRae (1893 - 1898) Is that a temple up there? Federation Romanesque style

Queen Victoria Building (QVB), by G McRae (1893 – 1898)
Is that a round temple up there?
Federation Romanesque style

orders_qvb

Inside the QVB

One thing I was troubled by when writing earlier about the Western Canon was the prospect of an inflexible and suffocating set of rules. In practice the canonical orders have evolved over time. Summerson shows the progression of a circular temple – from the Temple of Vesta, to Bramante’s Tempietto (1502), to Wren’s St Paul’s (1696 – 1708), and (my addition) a variation in McRae’s Queen Victoria Building (1893-1898). New ideas and extensions are added, appropriate to contemporary needs.

This developmental arc is not just refinements and extensions. There can be boredom and revolt, although it seems to me that Summerson’s example of Giulio Romano is more an extreme exaggeration, not turning to a new path. It seems the arc can also be traveled in reverse – for a long period Greece, as part of the Ottoman Empire, was basically off-limits to Western travelers. Ancient Greek architecture was known from old, inaccurate drawings and through Roman buildings. In 1762 Stewart and Revett published a volume of new and accurate drawings, feeding a Greek Revival in architecture.

A light-hearted, more decorative approach on this circa 1881/1882 building

A light-hearted, more decorative approach on this circa 1881/1882 building

The Greek Revival extended into the early twentieth century – and walking around Sydney, I think rather longer here… and I pause briefly to savor the moment. When family and friends ask what I’m up to I’ve been making a bit of a joke of the course notes research point which begins “Find out as much as you can about the Roman occupation in your area”. Not a lot to find here in Sydney (although it has been claimed that Melbourne has the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world (2)), but when you get to the Greek Revival and to classic influences of the Modern Movement suddenly we’re at least in the game. Something that seemed purely academic has become more directly relevant.

National Library (1968)

National Library of Australia, by W Bunning (1968)

orders_natlib_01

Leonard French, Stained glass window. (1967)

Leonard French, Stained glass window. (1967)

These photos show the National Library in Canberra. Opened in 1968 the stated aim of the chief architect was “to design a building that was a contemporary derivation in the spirit of Classical Design”, while the refurbishment completed in 1999 “succeeds in expressing the design language of the building with a fresh interpretation, achieving a contemporary derivation of classical design” (3). I’m directly quoting my source with such abandon because in a sense I didn’t need it. I was in Canberra last weekend, visited three different exhibitions at the National Library, and given my recent reading couldn’t have missed that it’s a modern Greek temple.

All of the photographs in this post were taken in Sydney and Canberra. In fact Sydney’s enthusiasm for this western world classical style building has me wondering. Was it simply a matter of the architectural vogue at the time that much of Sydney was built (ignoring earlier more temporary wooden buildings)? Going back to John Summerson I find “… the shop-filled arches and arrogantly bedizened Doric columns of Australia House – Bramante again, in the age of British Imperialism: date, 1911” (p. 43). Arrogant. Imperialism. With Australian federation as a nation in 1901, were our leaders and planners a little over-keen to show that we had made it – no longer a colony but ready to take our place among the great nations as cultured citizens of the world. Could there be a whiff of cultural cringe?

Lands Dept (1876, 1888)

Lands Dept, by J Barnet (1876, 1888)

orders_lands_02This particularly extravagant and arrogant building is the Lands Department office built in Sydney in two stages in 1876 and 1888. The department was responsible for the administration, selling and leasing of Crown lands, including resolving disputes between settlers, speculators and pastorialists (4). Notice who are missing from that brief? Non-Australians might not know of “terra nullis”, the extremely convenient theory used by the British Government of the time to treat Australia as uninhabited and thereby take the land from the Aboriginal people – a nasty piece of work with consequences that are still very much felt today (see for example http://treatyrepublic.net/content/terra-nullius-0). I don’t know which would be worse – that the planners of this building with its statues of heroic explorers of the “empty” land were sending a message of power and control to the traditional owners of the land, or if those planners were absolutely unaware or unconcerned about them.

The canonical Orders have retained their strength and influence over more than 2,000 years. They have been able to survive adaptation, refinement, enhancement and perhaps the occasional debasement. They also have been used to project or assert power, prestige and authority.

(1) Summerson, J. (2002) The Classical Language of Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.

(2) http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/ABOUTMELBOURNE/HISTORY/Pages/multiculturalhistory.aspx [Accessed 12 April 2013]

(3) http://www.bvn.com.au/projects/national_library_of_australia_executive_offices_and_foyer_and_mezzanine_refurbishment.html?OpenDocument&idx=&pcat=&tpl=ext [Accessed 12 April 2013]

(4) NSW Land & Property Information (2013) History of Land and Property Information. [online] State of New South Wales through NSW Land and Property Information. Available from: http://www.lpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/169035/Brief_history_LPI.pdf [Accessed 12 April 2013]

Additional information
Lands Department Building: http://www.sydneyarchitecture.com/cbd/cbd1-005.htm [Accessed 13 April 2013]
National Library of Australia: http://www.bvn.com.au/projects/national_library_of_australia_executive_offices_and_foyer_and_mezzanine_refurbishment.html?OpenDocument&idx=&pcat=&tpl=ext [Accessed 12 April 2013]
Queen Victoria Building: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5053525 [Accessed 12 April 2013]
Stained glass by Leonard French: Fuller, J. (2010) Leonard French’s stained glass windows at the National Library of Australia. The National Library Magazine 2010 (March) pp. 12- 15. [online] Available from: http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2010/mar10/Leonard-Frenchs-Windows.pdf [Accessed 12 April 2013]

Sydney Town Hall: http://www.sydneytownhall.com.au/building-history.asp [Accessed 12 April 2013]

UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 2
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Topic: Canonical Orders.

Lectures

As well as a large amount of reading, I’ve been doing some listening recently. Nothing that directly relates to either my college or textile work – but if you wait a while most things end up being connected one way or another.

qstation_02Also not directly related are the photos I’m including today, but there is a connection of sorts.

First were two lectures in a series at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented by Susannah Fullerton (susannahfullerton.com.au/). The series is “Favourite British novels of the 20th century”. Susannah began each lecture with quite lengthy readings from the novels. She is an excellent reader, very expressive and using her voice well without falling into dramatics. The lectures covered both the lives of the authors and discussion of the books. I’ll only pick up on a couple of thoughts here.

qstation_01We started with John Galsworthy and The Forsyte Saga. I hadn’t read these before and don’t recall seeing any of the TV and movie adaptations, but really enjoyed the books when I settled down with them earlier this year. The broad ideas of Property – of land, artworks, wife – could be an interesting theme to explore in a future assignment. I’m interested to see how significant “art as property” will be in the art history course.

qstation_07In the books the heroine, Irene, never speaks for herself. She is always seen through the eyes of others. This was a deliberate technique introduced by Galsworthy, but as a woman today I found that passivity enormously frustrating and annoying. However I have a very un-formed idea of trying to do the same thing visually in a series of works. I don’t really know what that means yet… but somehow the focus of attention is never quite visible.

The second lecture was on Nancy Mitford and in particular her two novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. These are old favourites and it was a pleasure to re-read them – often very funny, but with a slightly distant and cold edge.

A few days later I went to a lecture by John Gascoigne, Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales (humanities.arts.unsw.edu.au/staff/john-gascoigne-39.html. The topic was “Cook, Banks, Kew Gardens and Enlightenment Voyaging”, and it was part of the Q Station lecture series (www.qstation.com.au/events/lecture-series/). qstation_04In the period of The Enlightenment there was focus on the application of reason and interest in combining voyaging with science. Knowledge was liberating, challenging ancient certainties, but “knowledge is power” was quite literal, with men such as Francis Bacon alert to the political possibilities of science. The voyages of exploration had a very pragmatic quality – they were looking for things to bring back, to improve and use for the benefit of the empire. For example breadfruit from east asia could be introduced to the west indies as cheap food for slaves. Not a pretty example, I agree.

qstation_05qstation_06The talk was well illustrated with slides, including quite a bit of artwork. The background information on the period I now have will I hope be useful further on in Art History.

Now an explanation of the photos. The “Qstation” where John Gascoigne spoke is the site of the former Quarantine Station. For around 150 years boats where there was suspicion of contagious disease were not permitted to enter the main part of Sydney harbour. Passengers and crew were taken into the Quarantine Station, put through rigorous decontamination processes, and housed in various segregated sections until there was no further fear of infection. This could take weeks or longer. Many would have died of smallpox, typhus or other diseases. There are more than 1,500 carvings on the site, made by those detained and waiting for disease and death, or release. I’m trying to squirrel away possible theme ideas for future courses. As well as standing alone the quarantine station could link into immigration generally. There could also be parallels with some current political and human issues here in Australia. As always, More Thought Required.


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