Weekly roundup 12 June 2016

Lecture: Alison Inglis – The Felton Bequest and the transformation of the National Gallery of Victoria (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
I first heard about the Felton Bequest when I visited the NGV in 2013 during the Understanding Western Art course. A brief mention of the bequest is included 13-Sept-2013. In just over a century the bequest has purchased over 15,000 works for NGV, with current estimates of value in the $billions.

As well as the life of the man and some works donated by the Bequest, it was interesting to get more information on the politics – the impact of the specific terms and management structure. Then the wider impact on philanthropy – for example the Everard Studley Miller bequest, also to the NGV (link), with terms which appear a direct response to perceived deficiencies in the Felton.

1&20 sketching
Wednesday morning I still hadn’t done my sketching for 1&20. My bus ride to work is near enough to 20 minutes in standard traffic, so the tablet came out and surreptitious work began.

Gordon, B. “Cloth and consciousness: Our deep connections: On the social and spiritual significance of the textile” In Brüderlin, M (ed) (2013) Art & Textiles: Fabric as material and concept in modern art from Klimt to the present Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag

I read Gordon’s book Textiles: The Whole Story a few years ago (28-Jan-2012) and this essay was similar in providing a wide range of lenses with which to examine the impact and importance of textiles in history and our lives today. A couple of points that struck me: a comment on the universality of textiles – everyone has experience, history, with cloth. Also that the repetition and rhythm in textile making can be healing, meditative, and of course there’s the pleasure of handling the materials. I’ve certainly experienced that in weaving, including winding warps and dressing the loom. I’ve lost much – most? – of that while studying.

Tangentially related to this is Made in Los Angeles, conservation scientist Rachel Rivenc in conversation with art historian Lucy Bradnock In VoCA Journal http://journal.voca.network/made-in-los-angeles/. Rivenc has recently published a book, Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Processes, and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism (Getty Conservation Institute, 2016). I was particularly interested in some issues that came up when Rivenc responded to a question on the significance of craft as opposed to industrial manufacture. The subject artists often used complex processes to produce works that appear smooth and potentially industrially produced – but examined in detail show accident and touch. The artists valued craftsmanship and three of the four did their own work. One used fabricators because of the spread of skills he needed. The article talks about lengthy finicky rather than repetitive and rhythmic work, but it reinforces my developing view that debating about art versus craft is the wrong question.

There’s also some good content on conservation challenges, the impact of any patina of age on an object that depended on say reflective or transparent properties. (This took me back to research on Eva Hesse (7-Jun-2015) and a Tate paper by Michelle Barger on replicating Hesse’s work (link)). I also like the idea that detailed technical analysis of material and process can be a path to being seduced by an artwork.

Lucio Fontana
Last week (5-Jun-2016) I quoted Hartmut Böhme about a painting and “the tension between showing and revoking”. Lucio Fontana’s slit monochrome canvases were given as an example, and this week I found an example at the Tate http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fontana-spatial-concept-t03961 (Henry Tate was one of the philanthropists mentioned by Alison Inglis). The gesture, the decisive slash, is exciting. Even more so, Fontana’s claim that he had created an infinite dimension. “Fontana literally cut between the space occupied by the viewer, through the surface of the canvas, to the space that lies beyond.” I write about 3D and temporal. What could an indefinite, infinite space be?

And is there such a thing as coincidence? Later in the week a notice of the VoCA Journal spring 2016 issue came in the email box and included an article on the collaborative work art historian Marina Pugliese is doing to produce an exhibition of Fontana’s light environments – http://journal.voca.network/at-the-threshold-between-materiality-and-immateriality/. More lines in space. Fontana exploring or making apparent the threshold between materiality and immateriality.

Back to the Tate and a page on Fontana’s Spatial Light – Structure in Neon for the 9th Milan Triennial in 1951 (http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/it-not-lasso-arabesque-nor-piece-spaghetti). This time a connection to the conservation challenge above – a quote from Fontana’s Spatial Manifesto 1947: “Art is eternal, but it cannot be immortal, it may live for a year or for millennia, but the time of its material destruction will always come: it will remain eternal as gesture, but it will die as material.”

Hany Armanious

Hany Armanious Untitled work 1996

Hany Armanious
Untitled work 1996

Hany Armanious

Hany Armanious

Seen recently at MCA, this work began as a vinyl sheet wrapped around piping. Cut into discs or spools of tape with a band saw, the sequence of individual lengths was adhered to the wall to create this undulating mass of lines.

The effect is mesmerizing. The museum signage notes this transformation “reveals Hany Armanious’ deep interest in the alchemical potential of materials.”

A very ordinary material, a simple but unexpected process, an amazing result. The display of spool ends with the wall work makes its origins very apparent.

My own reactions to this work led me on a side exploration of definitions and origins of “ambivalent” and “multivalent”. Regaining focus, I note my response to the beauty of the stripes, the pleasure of tracing those slight deviations, the fit and the deviation from line to line. There is an admiration of the cleverness, wondering about the sequence of thought or experiment that led to such effective simplicity. The choice to display the process – is that curator’s or artist’s? Why? What does this say about “art”?

I’ve done just a little research, and realised that in the past I’ve spent some time with another work by Armanious – Turns in Arabba at AGNSW (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8.2006.a-xxx/). In that link AGNSW has a lengthy quote from the artist, including “undermining of the nature of the article”. I’d love to return to the work, but unfortunately it’s not on display currently. Nor is Snake Oil (link), where there are casts of quite ordinary objects and even “the interaction between the cooling water and hot matter.” It reminds me of the casting exercises, the exploration of materials, the work with sketching etc to really see what was happening in samples in the Mixed Media course. Armanious does all that then takes it further, gives it a depth of meaning, a real opening of eyes to another (or this) world – while still having a lightheartedness or humour or even taking the piss.

Julie’s blog post on Hilary Ellis, which also included Julie’s pinterest page on grids, has triggered some work and experimenting.

sketch 20160610

sketch 20160610

20160610 detail

20160610 detail

Liking Julie’s scratched sample and not being able to find any mountboard (bit of a roof leaking emergency last weekend, leading to even more disorder in the workroom than usual), I layered up red, orange and yellow oil pastels on a piece of green paper and tried scratching a grid using a fork. The fork just glided along – removed some colour, but not enough to show the green, and none of the stuttering irregularity I liked in Julie’s original.

20160610b reverseEfforts to remove more pastel with the other end of the fork and both ends of a cocktail stick remained unsatisfying. I could try using a less absorbent base material to get better separation of colour, but in any case this is too flat. The paper has distorted a bit, but it seems I’m looking for more interaction of layers. Or maybe just more complexity.

I’ve started building up a library of images loosely based on grids. While looking through old photos I came across corrugated cardboard. There’s already folding. How much more could I get in a piece of weaving? The grid of insect mesh attracted me for a combination to try.

I’ll ignore signs of the challenges of construction.

My initial reaction was the weave looked trapped, contained, tight. The heavy frame (see construction challenges) fixed the space.

Over a few days, seeing it at different angles and in different lights, I found more movement, more promise. Plain weave exploding?

I’d like to try it again using corrugated metal instead of cardboard. The reflection of light and of other parts of the construction could be interesting. I’d like to minimise the frame at the same time.

I recently saw an Instructable with string art and an infinity mirror (http://www.instructables.com/id/Infinity-Mirror-UV-String-Art-the-Gate/). Perhaps a clear corrugated plastic woven with the insect mesh could work in a similar structure…

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