Archive for December, 2019

Words of Guidance

A friend chooses a word each year as kind of touchstone. It’s quite an open/generative thing, a guide or perhaps a reminder – I think a positive way to approach the new year rather than specific resolutions.

Mine is “exploring”. I wanted a verb, active, with flavours of curiosity, openness, movement, learning, paying attention to what is around me.

We were at the MCA, and while exploring (!) I found a wonderful avatar, one figure in Guan Wei’s huge Feng Shui:

Guan Wei
Feng Shui (detail)

That’s me exploring – chin up, eye alert, the hair used to have some ginger (the first to go grey), happily dog-paddling.

Other choices among the group were lightheartedness, joy, delight, dare and active.

Want to play along?

Gallery tours, talks, and wanderings

Today a quick memory jogger, rather than a gentle meander.

Rizzeria in the Kaldor Studio at AGNSW. The Rizzeria is “a Sydney based collective of self-publishers and printmakers with a Risograph stencil press that they make available for public use through open-print sessions”. Kaldor Studio is “a dynamic artist-led learning space, providing opportunities to interact and explore contemporary art practice through 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects”. Making art public: 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects is on at AGNSW until mid February. It’s a survey of “the rich history of Kaldor Public Art Projects using artworks, archival materials and reconstructions of past projects”.

Documentation of Tatzu Nishi War and Peace and in between project

To me the vitality of the Studio is a very clever inclusion to an exhibition which otherwise I find static and unappealing. Each past project is isolated in its own private white cubicle. I experienced some of the actual projects (see for example 13-Apr-2013 when I posted about my experience of the 13 Rooms exhibition). I remember walking into Tatzu Nishi’s project with my mother in 2009 or 2010 – in fact we quite often remind each other of it when walking up to AGNSW. The archival remnants now on exhibit felt sad and dusty – almost inevitable given the comparison to both the original event and our shared memories of the experience.

I booked into a demonstration of the Riso machine in the Studio. Good to know of the possibilities and availability of the Riso machine, for potential future projects. Also rather nice that I arrived early and had some unexpected time to wander, leading to…

Japan Supernatural. This is on until early March. I’d already been on a formal members only tour of the exhibition. I tend to avoid tours, wanting to go at my own pace, thinking my own thoughts, spending time with the works that particularly attract me. Time for a rethink, assuming I have time for both tour and solo. Having some extra context and familiarity allowed a more thoughtful second visit.

Tsukioka Yashitoshi

Above is a woodblock print from 1859, part of a triptych now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. (side-note – no such thing as a quick post. I just spent more than a few happy moments searching for more information on their website. For this work click here).

Every culture has its stories, its demons. More wandering that day led to the survey exhibition Quilty.

Ben Quilty
The Last Supper 2017

This dark dream is a response to the election of Donald Trump. I struggle with this exhibition. One enormous canvas after another, full of emotion and outrage, visceral in subject matter and materiality… Turning away doesn’t seem an option, nor does simply standing witness, nor shouting into the wind. Escaping into a world of ideas and aesthetics, focusing on the minutia of living daily life “well” seems woefully inadequate to the times. And yet in one sense more real.

A different day, a different gallery tour, this time at the MCA, again with time to wander before the main event.

Primavera 2019: Young Australian Artists. This is the 28th edition of the Primavera series, which showcases young Australian artists.

Coen Young
mirror painting

An addition to my collection of non-selfie photos. This is me, reflected in one of Coen Young’s mirror paintings, which aim to dissolve the space between the artwork and the audience, shifting between abstraction and representation. The signage included “As reflective surfaces, Young’s paintings are both dependent upon, and a negation of the image. They refer to the history of the ‘monochrome’: a moment within the history of painting in which all pictorial content was reduced to a single field of colour.” Given my tendency to take things literally, the poor framing resulted from my determination to include the bright orange of my bag.

Aodhan Madden
Soluble Rectangles series

More puzzles for me. There are elements of comic books, of instructions, of a very conscious use of words and language in Aodhan Madden’s work – a series of drawings, plus an audio installation. The audio was a series of exercises and like learning a language. Plain english text was altered according to a series of rules, shifting vowel sounds, changing emphasis on syllables – all apparently intended to enhance communication on an emotional plane. For example “To express fright in the confusion between the transparent and the lucid”, one can “shift all long vowels to short vowels, and move all short vowels one higher position towards the front.” Even with printed instructions including “before” and “after” text, plus the carefully enunciated audio, I had no idea what was going on. Is that the point? A break down of language and communication?

Guan Wei: MCA Collection Two finger exercise includes 48 pictures – all with plump figures using the two fingered V sign associated with the pro-democracy movement. Apparently on the back of each is a short poetic text in Mandarin. A leaflet of english translations was available – so in this instance, language enhancing communication. Plus a link to earlier in this post, as a response to contemporary politics.

Guan Wei
Two-finger exercise no 21

Why are they hiding in there?
I’m not afraid. Giving the V-sign,
I’m prepared to face wind
and rain.

Guan Wei
Two-finger exercise no 23

How am I doing? How’s my
technique? I want to get this
position perfect!

And finally it was time for the most exciting of the recent tours – a Behind-the-scenes installer tour of the Cornelia Parker exhibition.
This was fascinating. Mark Brown, Installation & AV Manager at the MCA, took us through the exhibition, focusing on the four major multi-element installations. Many months of detailed discussion and planning including the use of 3D software to meticulously check spacing funneled into the controlled frenzy of a three-week installation period. For Subconscious of a Monument, thousands of lumps of excavated earth were carefully taken from trays, threaded one by one onto wires, and hung. Teams rotated frequently, and needed every minute of the available time. The silverware in Thirty Pieces of Silver had to be polished before it was hung. The team working on that piece used the original templates but developed new techniques to make the hanging process more efficient – all of course with ongoing dialogue with the artist and her team during both planning and installation. Some of the smaller elements of Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View were pre-threaded, but more had to be done on-site. Once she was satisfied with the process and approach of the installation team, Parker allowed them a lot of freedom in the detail of placement of elements.

There was discussion of lighting – very specific to the needs of each work, and often quite different to previous iterations of hanging the works given the windowless gallery spaces. Wires varied by work – for example reflective silver colour for Thirty Pieces of Silver, and an earthy rust for Subconscious of a Monument. Then there were the gossipy snippets, such as the the height of the “pools” of silverware in Thirty Pieces of Silver – not at all by coincidence, the height of a UK roll of toilet paper (rolls being used as supports during hanging of the original work). All of the MCA installation team – the small permanent group, the extended pool brought in as required – are artists themselves, providing a level of understanding not just of the importance of every detail for the artwork but also of the perspective of the artist herself and the experience of exhibiting.

Apparently somewhere there is time-lapse video of the installation process. I’ve searched the MCA website without result. If anyone comes across it, please let me know in the comments – I think it would be fascinating!

Incomplete fragments

“To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations”

The quote above is from Emily Dickinson. Or so a number of results from a duckduckgo search tell me. It heads an essay by Mary Ruefle, Lectures I will never give, which appears to be a transcript of a lecture she gave. It seems she didn’t want to be speaking in the lecture hall, and she didn’t want the students to be sitting there listening to her – she thought it would be better if they were all in their own rooms, writing.

Angry and sad, caught for whatever reasons in an unsatisfactory situation, Ruefle sifted through old files “in an effort to accumulate debris” and “came across a few untethered pieces of paper that intrigued” her. The undigested conglomerate of disparate material became the un-lecture. Magical properties in the bezoar?

I haven’t posted much lately, which means a gap in my memory bank. So this is my hairball, presented in an attempt at Ruefle’s structure.

I read Mary Ruefle’s lecture essay in the final days of the Intensive Creative Research program with Ruth Hadlow. Eight of us including Ruth, four sessions each of three days, spread over eight months. Sitting in a circle, or at our tables. Attentively speaking, reading, listening, writing. It kept getting better, we kept getting better, each session. Ruth teaches a process, a model of practice. There are lots of glimpses of it throughout this blog, hints and fragments, or at least of my attempts to live the process. I’m reminded of a performance lecture at AGNSW by Padma Menon – “Exploring Indian classical dance and Hindu-Buddhist sculpture”. As I understand it, Padma’s words, her performance, could only ever point to the philosophy, the approach, the belief, of Bhakthi. Actual personal experience is a key element. I hope I’m not being disrespectful in this comparison, but there seems to be a parallel. Anything I could write about specifics taught by Ruth, and I have copious notes I’m trying to get into some semblance of order, could only point to, only be a shadow of, the doing.

While in Hobart I visited the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Julie Gough
Head Count

The major temporary exhibition was from Julie Gough – Tense Past (link). Julie Gough is a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist. I’m not certain of the lessons when I was in primary school in the 1960s – it may still have been a story of complete, utter, and deliberate annihilation of the indigenous people on the island. Not true, but “The Truth” (as if there can every be such a singular thing) is still a dark tale.

Research of this colonial history and the impact of colonisation on Tasmania‚Äôs first people is the focus of Gough’s work. She reworks, reconsiders, text from the archives, complex histories, from her perspective, rather than the original colonial perspective of the material. She reads between the lines to show what she thinks is actually happening. The exhibition included works of sculpture, sound and video installations made over a period of more than 20 years, brought together in a conversation. Gough states “you can learn more. Nothing is fixed, frozen or definitive.” We – especially in this context Tasmanians, but all Australians – all have the capacity and responsibility to learn, to try to understand, to work together to face the past in order to move on to a different future.

Ideas around conversation, communication, perhaps miscommunication, recur through the exhibition. There was a constant murmur of voice from the various videos. Text was formed by shadows, stitch, burning… Repetition and reuse of imagery, found objections and borrowings from museum collections, made connections through the space, time, and the ideas.

Also on view was Extinction Studies, a performance by Lucienne Rickard that will continue over twelve months.

Lucienne Rickard
Extinction Studies

Rickard draws recently extinct species… and then erases them. It makes a very powerful as well as beautiful statement – after just a few weeks she had shown over a dozen species, judging from a penciled list at the side. Unfortunately the artist wasn’t there at the time I visited.

Relating it back to my own current explorations, it’s an effective way to move between analytical and material modes. There’s the abstraction of a list, the material representation of the drawing, and then the action, the creation of a visible memory, the making apparent and present the abstract but very real loss.

Anita Larkin tutored a (long) one day workshop “Making Sculptures from Found Objects” for Basketry NSW. Lots of skills, methods, products (the wonders of a lively mind in a hardware store). Unfortunately I was very low on energy, plus felt quite distant from the found materials I’d brought, so no work of mine to show. However, a couple of shots of others’ outcomes, taken from the Basketry facebook page.

The Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (link)… There’s so much to say about this exhibition that it seems impossible to begin.

There are fragments. In the case of Subconscious of a Monument, earth excavated from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa, suspended and filling a gallery space to a common level. Then add lighting, most spectacular in Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. With something that has worked, keep returning, finding new angles, new life, as in Thirty Pieces of Silver. There’s the original form, then photogravure etchings, then a tapestry… The initial strategy of removing and then adding volume is repeated as well. Then there is intense focus on materiality and what is left behind – black laquer residue from cutting records, curls of silver from engraving, deflated balloons. There is violence, actual and implied, mostly with a cartoonish edge. There is wit and cleverness and curiousity and clearly the most amazing ability to engage with people and enthuse them to work with her.

It was in a lecture on Rodin that I first learnt the idea of a “complete fragment”. In a brief recent visit to the Art Gallery of South Australia I had the opportunity to see multiple examples of Rodin’s work. In fact there seemed to be a Rodin in most of the galleries, all supporting themes being explored by the curators. I’ve written about AGSA before (5-May-2013), and the way different objects are juxtaposed to reveal unexpected connections. That visit I was particularly taken by the conversation between The Bowmore Artemis (c. 180 AD) and Buck with cigar by Marc Quinn (2009). Both works are still in the same gallery, but have been moved around and other objects added and removed – breaking that link, it seems to me.

The first “complete fragment” I found was Flying Figure in a space exploring ‘the marvellous’, and was actually on a “waterfall wall” of works which “point to concepts of movement yet appear frozen, like fragments of time”. Signage also referred to Rodin’s belief that a fragment “can convey the complete sensation of motion”.

From memory this next work, The Inner Voice, was in an adjoining gallery, and I didn’t record the theme. Quoting again from the signage: “Rather than pursuing anatomical correctness or finish, Rodin was instead interested in the expressive qualities of form. Here he has distorted the female figure to explore themes of isolation, vulnerability and introspection. The laterally leaning upper body with its head resting on the right shoulder established the beginning of a tranquil, curving rhythm that flows throughout the entire sculpture. Such articulation would have been compromised, for example, by the inclusion of arms and the left knee.”

In a third gallery, sharing space with The Bowmore Artemis and Buck with cigar, was a The Walking Man, study for the torso. Dated 1878, cast in 1979, it was in a cabinet with another torso of similar size, carved in stone in 1931. From my reading (Albert Elsen seems to be the “go to” man), The walking man is a key example of the “complete fragment” philosophy. Head and arms are not included, not required, to convey the movement being explored. It is particularly interesting to see what is effectively a fragment of a complete fragment. It still manages to be full of life, energy, and movement.

In his book Rodin, Elsen claims the truncation was not a simple whim, not indiscriminate. “By reducing the body in this way, Rodin established a new authority of the artist over what had heretofore been considered the sanctity of the human form and the completeness of its external appearance, and gave sculpture a new integrity which … was to influence cubist sculpture. He may have intended to show the body as marvelous and mysterious in every part and at the same time force the viewer’s attention to the sculpture’s execution.” Also
“… what he was doing here with the figure was a precedent for the arbitrary proportioning of parts of the body for aesthetic and expressive reasons… a precedent for establishing criteria and completeness that were based upon the fragment’s self-sufficient expressiveness and the sculpture’s ability to be further curtailed without loss of its potency.” Elsen noted care taken in the carving away of sections, a continuing respect for the integrity of the body. Thinking of this while in the gallery, I was convinced by Elsen’s argument.

More recently, I’ve been reading On Sculpture by Antony Gormley. He points out that a sculpture is “a still, silent object”. Instead of seeing Rodin as offering a new beginning, Gormley states “I admire Rodin, but … we have to ask what he had to do in order to make gesture acceptable. He had to accept the object nature of the work and cut off body parts quite violently… he had to allow it to become an object and wound it, cut it and destroy it”. Gormley claims “a whole trajectory of Western sculpture ends with Rodin” and concludes “Represented movement is a stupid idea for sculpture”. I think there is a deliberate bluntness, even clumsiness, in this sentence.

It seems clear to me that the two sculptors have different goals. Rodin is expressing a movement or emotion, or exploring aesthetically. Gormley is interested in reflexivity, where the viewer becomes aware of their own movement, their own breath, when moving around or through Gormley’s sculptures and installations. Each approach has, in its own way, a kind of spareness, terseness. Just enough, and no more, to achieve objectives. Space – physical, mental, spiritual? – that the viewer must complete. Working at a very different level, this makes me question my recent investigations into “unbalance” – working with mobiles (which of course are actually very carefully balanced), and photographs of piles of crockery about to topple over. I was looking to create sensation in a potential viewer – a catch of breath, perhaps a flicker of foreboding – but it was all very literal. Fulsome. I need to find other ways.

Still at AGSA, some other works that caught my eye.

Hauntingly beautiful work on the wall by Hossein Valamanesh.

It’s made of lotus leaves on gauze, and synthetic polymer paint. The shadow figure writing is a verse by Rumi (1207 – 1273):
I tear my shirt with every breath for the extent of ecstasy and joy of being in love; now he has become all my being, and I am only a shirt.

More fragments in a gallery space filled by Chiharu Shiota – Absence Embodied.

And finally a selfie – this time a reflection – with Lindy Lee, The Life Of Stars.

Lindy Lee
The Life Of Stars

Mary Ruefle does eventually bring herself to give specific advice if you want to be a writer.
When your pencil is dull, sharpen it.
And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.

And as for time for other occupations (the Dickinson quote), my years employed as a data analyst have come to somewhat abrupt end, and thus somewhat startled, I am entering into a full-time creative life. If the voice in this post seems rather uneven, it’s because it has been written over a number of weeks while I’m finding my feet.

Finally a maxim from Pitigrilli, quoted by Umberto Eco in “Wilde: Paradox and Aphorism”:
Fragments: a fortunate excuse for writers who cannot put a whole book together.


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December 2019

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