Archive for the 'Out and about' Category

Exhibition: Masters of Modern Art from The Hermitage

A first peek at this exhibition at AGNSW. It opened on Saturday, mum and I just happened to be at the gallery (an excellent lecture by Susannah Fullerton), so we went for a quick reconnoitre.

It’s an interesting comparison and companion to the recent MoMA at NGV (15-Sep-2018). Both exhibitions start in the 1880s, but only a few at AGNSW go beyond the First World War compared to the up-to-the-minute NGV. I think all the works at AGNSW are wall-based paintings and drawings, while the NGV included sculpture, textiles, film, furniture and industrial products. The NGV felt like an illustrated book on the History of Modern Western Art, with very few artists represented more than once. The AGNSW exhibition is much more focused, and my initial impression is that it is more idiosyncratic as many of the works were originally selected by a small number of private collectors. And that, I think, could be this new exhibition’s strength – that it isn’t scholarly and balanced and broad, that there is passion and partisanship, that it has space and material for eight works by Matisse, eight by Picasso, four each by Kandinsky, Derain and I think Cezanne (with the inclusion of “our” painting). More visits will test my theories.

For now, a taster with a few works that particularly caught me.

Georges Dupuis
Notre Dame embankment, Le Havre
1908

Wassily Kandinsky
Landscape: Dunaberg near Murnau
1913

Henri Matisse
Woman on a terrace
1906

The images above are from https://www.arthermitage.org/, and like all images are pale and dull imitations of the originals. The texture, the play of light, the sense of scale, the feeling of sharing space with the artists… for those, get yourself to Sydney (it closes 3 March 2019).

The selection in this post shows my current passion and partisanship. Colour, contour, drawing. The energy and excitement of diagonal lines. From the website on the work by Matisse: “Like colour, drawing is an important element in the painting and plays an active role in the rhythmic organisation of the picture surface.
“Giving an energetic outline to the horizontal balustrade, the yachts on the water, the soft hills and comfortable figure of his wife, Matisse creates a world in which we feel both the beat of the pulse of life, and majestic calm.”

Somehow that, and Jane’s “drawing” of a shirt (14-Oct-2018), and all my recent experiments and components… there’s something there pulling me…

Exhibition: Make Your Mark

This is the inaugural exhibition at the new White Rhino Artspace. The exhibition “celebrates creative expression as a valuable tool in promoting wellbeing and community spirit.” There are works by 13 contemporary female artists, mediums including sculpture, textiles, installation, and paintings.

The team behind White Rhino consists of three women, all of them showing works in the exhibition. On the opening night the rooms were packed and there was a great buzz and positive atmosphere. It was exciting and inspiring to see the support and energy they have generated.

Caroline Kronenberg: Shadows
Caroline presented three works – a bamboo sculpture and two A2 sized framed photographs. The sculpture was one of a series created in collaboration with a bamboo master during a residency in Thailand. The seed-pod form was inspired by local fish traps. I was very interested in the photographs shown, and especially Caroline’s statement that this documentation was of the shadows, the cast mark of the form.

This idea of documenting and extending work was also seen in Matthew Bromhead’s drawing (22-Jul-2018). I thought I’d documented a lot of shadows in my own work, but a quick search of the blog didn’t turn up any evidence on that. Something to bring to the fore in the future.

Jane Bodnaruk: Holding by the seams

Jane’s work here references the roles of women sustaining and maintaining their families – the repetition, the joys, the tedium, the traces we leave of our voyage. I’ve shown some of Jane’s work before (13-Nov-2016) which explored the journey of women convicts on the first fleet. It’s interesting to see the themes of women, the domestic, tedium, responsibilities, developed in different ways.

Chatting with Jane at the opening I was particularly taken with her comments on the highly deconstructed shirt. She thought about how to make it a drawing of a shirt. Fascinating.

Christine Wiltshire: Strung, not unravelling mistakes

Christine “works with, and at times subverts, the traditional rule based conventions of hand knitting, whilst considering the generative potential of unintentional made mistakes. These mistakes occur randomly and often mark the site of an internal or external distraction of the maker.” In the exhibited pieces, rather than going back to a mistake and fixing it, Christine changed material (cotton and nylon threads), improvised any adjustments (for example to get the number of stitches the pattern expected), and continued knitting.

Christine explained to me that she deliberately chooses to use techniques in which she is not highly proficient, that she finds awkward or difficult. Some of that is an interest in the development of muscle memory, but there is also opening up oneself to making mistakes, to see what happens. In an earlier work Christine used cross stitch. At first she unravelled the piece entirely whenever she made a mistake in the pattern and started again. Realising this could leave her with very little to exhibit, Christine adjusted her brief so that she stopped working on a piece and began fresh with each mistake. Some attempts were abandoned quickly, one or two advanced much further, but I don’t think any were “completed”. There is so much to think about here – the nature of work, particularly repetitive (women’s) work, perfection, learning, “finished”, enough…

Ruth Hadlow (mentioned many times in this blog) has been a significant influence on Christine. I think this can be seen in the clarity Christine shows about her focus and interest, the rules or briefs which she sets herself, the open-ended outcomes she welcomes.

Tracy Stirzaker: Double wedding rings: something blue
Tracy is one of the three partners in White Rhino. I wrote about her solo exhibition in Lane Cove earlier this year (25-Mar-2018).

Tracy’s artist statement references Irish philosopher and poet David Whyte who writes of Three Marriages – to another, to work, to self. The wedding rings here refer to the marriage to oneself, the importance of commitment to oneself, and Tracy’s research into anxiety, depression, and self-worth.

The idea of the Three Marriages is new to me, but it’s an interesting experiment to try to declare “I am enough”. It’s about on a par with “I am an artist”.

MoMA at NGV

MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art is like an Art History course – the module on modern western art. It starts with four foundation works, by Seurat, van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin, then speeds through the decades, finishing with an ephemeral installation, Roman Ondak’s Measuring the universe which is growing with audience participation throughout the exhibition time. There are over 200 works in all – painting, sculpture, film, digital, plus architectural models, graphic designs, furniture and textiles…

It’s a pretty nice life when you can give three days to experiencing an exhibition. For me in practice not full days – it can be a race to see if back, feet or brain give out first – but I could spend half a day going through getting a feel for the whole thing, initial impressions and reactions, then keep returning for concentrated time with key (to me) works. In between I wandered through the NGV generally, including visits to old favourites from my week there in 2013 (21-Jul-2013 gives an overview, 23-Jul-2013, 7-Sep-2013 and 13-Sep-2013 annotations of particular works).

Paul Cézanne
Still Life with Apples
1895-98

What a luxury, to stand in front of a Cézanne still life and go “slow down, wait… what are you seeing. ..”. To take as much time as you can to focus, concentrate, and see. What is happening here? Why is it important? What am I seeing? Paint. The act of painting. The act of seeing. Of experiencing. Space. A man’s effort, struggle, belief.

At times I was absorbed, following hills and valleys of “cloth”, play of colour and light, deep shadow behind. Then listening to the conversations around me – painters, educators, general punters… We shift around each other with varying degrees of awareness of sight lines. Some give just a glance at the painting, more spend time with the wall label. Few are able to stand and look – this is only the first wall.

André Derain
Bathers
1907

André Derain
Fishing Boats, Collioure
1905

One of many great advantages to seeing actual works is the sense of scale. Bathers is 132.1 x 195 cm; Fishing Boats, Collioure just 38.2 x 46.3 cm. Both exciting to look at – the colour, the application of paint, the forming of space, the vivid worlds created, the insight into a moment of significance in art history – but one surrounds you and has a sense of sustained effort and intention.

Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
1913 (cast 1931)

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is 111.2 cm high. Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined something that could sit on a table. On its pedestal in the exhibition it has so much more force and dynamic energy than I anticipated. Folds or flames flutter and snap behind the striding figure, the powerful thighs and buttocks propelling it from the classical past into hard, fast, machinery, racing forward. There seems such purpose, such confidence and exhilaration…

I felt maudlin, missing the point, thinking of Boccioni’s death in WWI, and on to my grandparents and the impact of that war on their generation. But then, that’s part of looking at art, being taken on one’s own journey.

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Non-Objective Painting
1919

My response to Rodchenko’s Non-Objective Painting is deeply subjective, personal. From this perspective its place in the chronology of art history seems irrelevant. Instead I felt it captured some of my own recent swirling thoughts and interests. I could write about the materiality of the painted lines, but what I saw was movement and depth. Lines and grids, the impact of limited colour. It was all about my own desire to be making.

The Art as Action gallery was the place I kept returning to. Two free-hanging room dividers by Anni Albers were spare and linear, using materials to great advantage. One was a spanish lace structure (I show an early sample version 24-Aug-2008) – very effective. A large mobile, Snow Flurry, 1, by Alexander Calder, moved slowly and majestically in one corner.

What absolutely captivated me was a 1949 work by Mark Rothko, No. 3/No. 13, also called Magenta, Black, Green on Orange. This was an experience. Immersion. A physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience. I returned to it again and again. I also wanted more, so on the first day went searching for the NGV Rothko I remembered from 2013. Confident strides to the 19th – 20th Century galleries… and it wasn’t there. I tried again on day 2, and found it. In a side gallery. Tucked away in an area focused on decorative arts.

The platform in front kept me far away. Other items impinged on peripheral vision. The ceiling was low. The lighting drab and uneven. On first attempt I didn’t even find it. On second I just couldn’t see it, couldn’t enter into it. Third attempt I went earlier in the day, before my eyes and mind were filled. Finally I got somewhere. Just a little I lost myself in it, was absorbed, expanded.

Rothko works, roughly to scale.
On the left MoMA’s No. 3/No. 13
1949.
On the right NGV’s Untitled (Red)
1956.


The works are not too dissimilar in size. One has more – is “incident” the right word? More varied in colour, and incredible vibration in the lower green/orange area.

The current presentation is entirely different.

Rothko in MoMA at NGV installation


The MoMA work is in an airy, well-lit, high-ceiling gallery, plenty of breathing space, seen in this photo with works by Barnett Newman, Louise Bourgeois and Jackson Pollock.

Rothko – NGV installation


This photo flatters the NGV presentation. As well as the single other painting, a work by Pierre Soulages, there is a chaise longue designed by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, a mannequin in evening dress by mayber Lagerfeld, then mainly furniture on that side of the gallery. All 20th century, but spread across it. I think possibly three visitors glanced in during the times I was there.

It made me cranky, and then wondering just why I was so cross. Pretty much all the galleries I went into at NGV had a mixture of what might be termed fine art, decorative art, applied art. The ratios of these varied wildly. The sequence of galleries following the NGV Rothko were heavily furniture focused, including entire room and apartment settings. A broader view of “art” seems a reasonable idea. The decorative arts were really my entry point to looking and experiencing beauty, back when I first traveled in the 70s and 80s, and it’s good to see them afforded respect in an institution like NGV. Objects of interest in themselves can also give a wider context for the traditional gallery art – for example see my comments about a cabinet of items displayed next to a still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem (21-Jul-2013). But apart from coming from the same century, the works sharing space with the Rothko had nothing to say to it in my view. It felt more like a bunch of oddments that they wanted to display but couldn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Pollock’s Blue Poles in the apartment of Mr and Mrs Ben Heller, New York.

It did start some reflection on the nature of art, how we expect to see and experience it. Pollock’s Blue Poles used to be in a living space. Work may be intended for a chapel or a restaurant (read a bit about Rothko’s works intended for the Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York – an article by Jonathan Jones, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/dec/07/artsfeatures, and the website of the Tate, where Rothko gifted the works https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/in-the-studio/mark-rothko). A big gallery is really quite a strange idea. Then there’s seeing contemporary works in a smaller commercial gallery, in groupings and repetition/variation that won’t survive purchase and dispersal…

This post has been underway for too long already. A couple more quick notes.

Still from Pathé Frères film of Loïe Fuller

In the NGV Rothko room there was another connection to the MoMA exhibition. That included a film by the Lumière brothers which paid homage to American dancer Loïe Fuller’s ‘Serpentine dance’ (in the film performed by an anonymous female figure). In the NGV room there was a 1905 Pathé Frères film showing Fuller herself. Next to it was a lighted sculpture by François-Raoul Larche, Loïe Fuller, the dancer.

François-Raoul Larche
Loïe Fuller, the dancer
c. 1900

Interesting to compare the two sculptures of moving bodies, Larche’s and Boccioni’s, created around 13 years apart.

Also on at the NGV, Japonisme: Japan and the birth of Modern Art is a fascinating exploration of the impact of Japanese art and design upon the arts in the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Well worth a browse.

Gallery Lane Cove – recent exhibitions

The Art of Friendship
This exhibition marked the opening of the new cultural precinct in Lane Cove. The curatorium was led by Guy Warren, and the exhibition was a selection of works by Warren and his friends and colleagues. This made for quite a mixture (almost all rectangles on walls), and I was very conscious of the choices I made, what attracted me, as I moved around the gallery.

The standard apology for photos with odd angles. There were a lot of reflections to battle.

Margot Goodall
Within The Gorge


Margot Goodall
Secret Waterhole


Two small collographs by Margot Goodall were modest but beautiful little worlds. Shapes, composition, texture. Quite simply, I wanted to run home and start printing.

Jim Croke
Slowly Falling


Jim Croke
Slowly Falling (detail)


I struggled with Jim Croke’s large (160 x 150 x 10 cm) steel piece. Of course it uses material similar to material I use. It reminded of some of Tracey Deep’s work (29-Sep-2016). I had to do a lot of letting go to see it (probably not entirely successfully). The apparent horizontal lines give a stability – I find it hard to accept it as “slowly falling”. The unruly curls are tightly contained in the rows, the rectangle. I found focusing on rhythm my best entry point.

Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0


Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0 (detail)

Peter Kingston
Zoo Ferry, 0 (detail)


This hand-coloured and wash etching was very exciting. The lines of the etching are so flowing and energetic. So much is done with very little. Then more energy and luminous colour from the wash, layers and depth. Plus so absolutely Sydney. I’m sure I remember seeing Kingston’s work before and being excited – I’m thinking in the Destination Sydney at Mosman – but haven’t been able to track down the catalogue on my shelves. The crisp, deep mark of the press, framing the main area of the picture, increased the thrill of the splatters of paint.

Luke Sciberras
Curlewee Point

Euan Macleod
Crossing Figures, (Golden Hills)

There were works by both Luke Sciberras and Euan Macleod, and a strange mixture of familiarity and difference to the works at Manly (27-Jul-2018). General style and preoccupations could be seen, but also quite different by both artists.

Sciberras had such Australian colours and forms, in addition to the name. I find the divide down the centre of the picture, the contrast of the two parts, disturbing, unsettling.

There is so much more space in Macleod’s painting compared to the claustrophobic beaches of Belle Ile. The ghostly figures seem more animated to me, striding purposefully across the frame. That thin stripe of green at the bottom gives them support and solidity, and together with the golden hills and many of the colours in the water it’s bright and … well, not exactly cheerful but not gloomy and brooding.

Chris Gentle
Rozelle Bay


Chris Gentle
Rozelle Bay (detail)


Chris Gentle’s painting zings with colour and vibrant lines. (I wouldn’t normally describe a line as “vibrant”, but here it seems right). The composition seems static – a few zippy diagonals, a jagged line, but nothing really seems to be heading anywhere. But the colour and marks fizz!

ARTPark @ Gallery Lane Cove: An Exhibition of contemporary sculptures
This exhibition of nine sculptures is on the terrace of the gallery. ARTPark Australia constantly runs sculpture exhibitions in Australia. Constantly in that when an exhibition ends the works are moved for display at the next venue. They are bringing sculpture to the people, which seems a pretty worthy goal. These are “high quality collectable sculpture suited for placement in commercial foyers, luxury homes and innovative garden design” (from the website).

None of it attracted or excited or drew me. The sculptures weren’t big exactly, but they were all a bit more than domestic in scale. They were pretty much static, balanced. Durable.

It was quite enlightening really, to go to an exhibition that I thought would grab me but didn’t.

Exhibition: Belle Île: Luke Sciberras & Euan Macleod

This exhibition is on at Manly Art Gallery & Museum until 2 September 2018. If you’re anywhere near Sydney I recommend getting yourself organised and over there. Apart from the works themselves there is the story of the genesis of the exhibition, plus insight into the artists’ processes in developing the works.

This exhibition of very recent works – all 2017 and 2018 – is linked to John Russell: Australia’s French impressionist which opened last week at the Art Gallery of NSW – www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/john-russell/. I’ve blogged about Russell once or twice before (11-Nov-2013). The AGNSW website’s potted history includes “John Russell was a close friend of Vincent van Gogh and Auguste Rodin, taught impressionist colour theory to Henri Matisse and dined with Claude Monet.” A group including the curator, filmmakers and others visited Belle Île off the coast of France as part of the lead up to the AGNSW retrospective. Belle Île was Russell’s home for many years and where he met Monet. Sciberras and Macleod joined the expedition and spent a week or so on Belle Île last year, painting in locations that may be familiar to many from works by Monet and Russell. So it will be fascinating when I get to the AGNSW to view Russell’s works with the contemporary responses in mind.

However just now I’m focused on the Manly exhibition, and the work process that it exposes. Preliminary sketches and more developed studies are shown, as well as the major works which were painted later at the artists’ studios in Sydney.

A selection of work by Luke Sciberras. Note the size increases and materials change over development. Also apologies for odd angles, which still didn’t avoid reflections.:

Luke Sciberras
sketchbooks


Luke Sciberras
Plein Air Study, Belle Ile
gouache and pastel on paper, 29.5 x 42 cm


Luke Sciberras
Study For High Tide, Belle Ile
gouache on paper, 56 x 75 cm


Luke Sciberras
Study For Bangor, Belle Ile
Oil on board, 60 x 85 cm


Luke Sciberras
Pinnacles Between, Belle Ile
Oil on board, 160 x 240 cm


Luke Sciberras
Pinnacles Between, Belle Ile (Detail)

In the catalogue Sciberras writes of thrill of being in the actual place, the sound of the pebbles tumbled by the sea. “The challenge is to harness an energy; some spirit that comes back with you to the studio, to slough the coating of expectations and anticipation and immerse the imagination into the moment.” Then over time working in the studio versions of memory develop, a reflection on the experience of the place, works “about” the place but with their own energy.

In the documentary film showing in the exhibition space Sciberras talks in front of a particular picture – I think it might be Pinnacles Between, Belle Ile (photo above). He describes how the scale of the painting absorbs him bodily, in a way like the location. The cliffs abbreviate peripheral vision, close and claustrophobic, with fantastic views. Standing in front of the works is such a different experience to a tiny photo.

Next very different work from Euan Macleod.

Euan Macleod
Sketches drawn and painted at Belle Ile


Euan Macleod
Belle Ile People and Needles 7/5/17
acrylic on paper, 38 x 58 cm


Euan Macleod
Large Cave Entrance 11/5/17
acrylic on paper, 58 x 76 cm


Sorry, the photo above is particularly bad, but I wanted to show that right from the start Macleod was inventive, not entirely descriptive, putting in stairs where he wanted them. From the documentary film I gather Macleod wanted to emphasize the precariousness of getting down the cliffs, the feeling of being trapped on the beach.

Euan Macleod
Beach (Belle Ile)
acrylic on polyester, 120 x 84 cm


Euan Macleod
Guillotine
oil on acrylic on linen, 168 x 112 cm

In the catalogue Macleod notes that as he works later in the studio, although memories are important “the paintings become less specific in regard to place and more about an internal, emotional place.” There is a freedom for the work to determine where it goes.

I found the exhibition invigorating and inspiring. Seeing the movement of marks and ideas through different stages of development, using different materials, was very interesting. Some of the initial and clearly very quick sketches, visual note taking, looked not entirely unlike something I might attempt. The idea of landscape as a beginning, a core of memory, not a thing to copy, makes more sense when you see the series of works.

An ink on paper work by Sciberras, together with the work I saw recently by Matt Bromhead (22-Jul-2018), has me wanting to make my own experiments…

Luke Sciberras
Toul Rock, Belle Ile
Ink on paper, 56 x 75 cm


Luke Sciberras
Toul Rock, Belle Ile (detail)

Recent exhibitions

A quick roundup.

Matt Bromhead Longline pompom

Matt Bromhead
Installation view

After the excitement of the workshop with Matt (10-Jul-2018) it was great to be able to see some of his work in person at pompom.

Some of the sculptures were tall – up to 230 cm in height. They were generally spindly, apparently precarious. Matt invites movement, partly the nature of the materials, then some hanging elements, and sometimes some strategically placed magnets. There were cantilevers and delicate balances. Play with space, with solidity. There was a sense of a shimmer, a vibration.

One of the gallery owners came over and chatted, very welcoming and engaging. The solo exhibition at pompom is one of the outcomes of Matt’s selection in the 2018 Art Incubator grant program.

Matt was stunningly generous in the workshop he gave. The approach, materials and techniques he taught are strongly evident in the exhibited works, his current explorations. Seeing his drawings reinforced his approach. Apparently Matt’s quest/embrace of chance includes dropping colour through water to create his works on marine ply.

I enjoyed seeing the texture and moments of detail in Matt’s work. His work is raw and unpretentious, playful, experimental, thoughtful, purposeful, intentional.

One recurring thought from recent exhibitions – the power of grouped work. It was strong in Nicole de Mestre’s recent exhibition (13-May-2018). Matt’s work was fascinating in small grouping. They also worked well on small and low shelves on the wall. I think it would need a lot of space around a single work placed on the floor.

The second exhibition at pompom also gained impact from repetition with variation.

Sarah Edmondson According to Chance pompom

Sarah Edmondson
Installation view

Sarah Edmondson’s statement for this exhibition begins “The principle guiding my work is the belief that chance events open up opportunities of discovery”, so it was a great pairing with Matt Bromhead. The base image for all the works in the exhibition was a computer glitch, blown up, cut up, the outcome of an instant… and become the template for needlepoint. A bizarre combination of random chance with detailed consideration and planning followed by laborious process.

The size and mounting of all but one of the works was the same, a square of canvas in a deep frame. Colour tended to the vibrant. I found most interesting the works that transgressed, that broke the surface, showed the structure, interrupted the repetition of the stitch.

Cultivate: inspired by nature Sturt Gallery

In a brief visit to this exhibition I was particularly taken by a series of work by Sophie Carnell – Shoreline Series.

Carnell combines beach combed treasures with recycled sterling silver. Each piece creates its own little moment or space, but the combined hanging added more as one explored the variations of these unique, organic, whimsical objects.

Sophie Carnell
Shoreline Series

Sophie Carnell
Shoreline Series

Sophie Carnell
Shoreline series

The care, consideration, time, and effort put into each piece is clear. The mounting is simple and effective, inviting appreciation of the individual beauty of the object. There is a certain joy and exuberance and humour, refined and controlled without being made static.

Geoff Harvey: One Man’s Treasure Manly Art Gallery & Museum
An important part of looking at other people’s work is reflecting on why something doesn’t attract or delight me. From one or two small photos on the Manly Gallery website I was quite interested. (We were visiting planning a visit for a different exhibition – more on that in another post). Walking into the gallery I felt disappointed.

Geoff Harvey
Installation view


Geoff Harvey
Abbey Road (Romanesque Monasticism re-mastered)
Two of six pieces

First, overwhelming impression – static.

Everything is carefully balanced, centered. The spires seemed sturdy rather than soaring. There’s certainly nothing precarious or left to chance. Phallic and a bit obvious.

There is texture in the found objects, but again it seems controlled, tamed. Going closer to a particular piece, I didn’t feel rewarded by an extra level of detail or jolt of recognition. Which seemed strange, as the elements include some beautiful aged pieces of timber, often I guess architectural detailing from old buildings, plus oddments of kitchen paraphernalia.

Geoff Harvey
Grace of New York (making America grate again)
Full and detail views

The sub-title of one piece really aggravated me. Grace of New York (making America grate again). Graters – yeah, got it. Names of other pieces include “shrine”, “cathedral”, “minaret”, “men of prayer”. The artist apparently has a fascination with the architecture of worship. OK, fine…

So I’m slamming this guy for a single small exhibition. The tiniest sliver of a view on his work. Unfair and unreasonable, especially since care and skill and some great collected materials are evident.

But in the end this blog is about me and my learning. It’s not journalism or art criticism. A strong reaction is interesting. On reflection I think it’s a feeling of wasted resources, lost opportunities. So what do I bring back to my own work? Play with balance. Go for risk, the precipice. I prefer my humour whimsical or quirky. Push beyond the first idea. Surprise yourself.

Biennale of Sydney – MCA

A partial wander through the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Ciara Phillip

Ciara Phillips

In Ciara Phillip’s printing studio I felt flat and un-involved. Signage informed me that the artist has invited local community groups, is exploring the nature of collaboration, wants to connect with people and develop ideas together. Apparently as part of the audience I was meant to see work in production, interrupting the gallery convention of viewing a completed work of art. I saw: a print studio and associated paraphernalia; a gallery staff member making notes on a clip board – when I approached her to ask about the artist working in the studio she referred me to the information desk; later, a different gallery staff member striding across the space to tell someone not to touch the drying racks. I guess it’s more interesting as an idea or as a participant or as a audience to work actually in production.

Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill
Untitled (Interior) II


Five bronze sculptures, each contained on a plinth, fabulously delicate and complex. They were cast from fissures in dry dams and creeks during a long, severe drought in Australia. The void made visible. Lace-like, beauty from the hard and harsh. The more you look the more you see.

Lucio Fontana
Spatial Concept

Since then I’ve been thinking of Lucio Fontana and the pierced canvas, making apparent the threshold between materiality and immateriality (12-Jun-2016, and an image 21-Dec-2017).

John Olsen
Cooper’s Creek in flood

Of John Olsen, preoccupied with the littoral and the void (6-Apr-2017).

Resin samples

Of my cast resin samples from Mixed Media for Textiles, my glorious failures (14-Sep-2015). Thoughts are bubbling furiously.

Simryn Gill
Carbon Copy (detail)

Simryn Gill
Carbon Copy

Also by Simryn Gill is Carbon Copy. Frame after frame of typed text, varied, text that looks textural, textile-like. A strange mixture of precision, staggered repetition to form twill-like diagonals, and apparent carelessness, poorly typed, spelling and positional “errors”. Then you decipher some of the text and there’s a thudding, booming in your head, hateful words repeated ad nauseum until they almost lose impact and meaning, become part of the fabric of modern discourse.

Yvonne Koolmatrie

Yvonne Koolmatrie
Burial Baskets

Another series of works given additional presence and impact by repetition, variation, and thoughtful display. An expression of tradition, culture, community, country, the varying seasons. One was made ten years ago, the others commissioned for the Biennale. Tradition sustained and sustaining.

One of the things I value about basketry, enjoy being part of, is the sense of doing something fundamental to humanity, that connects people of widely separated times and places and cultures. Coiling, twining, looping… techniques subtly or strongly varied, made with differing or similar materials, with differing purposes and meaning, but creating connections.

Haegue Yang
That ubiquity is explored further in sculptures installed in a gallery of works by Haegue Yang in a series titled The Intermediate.

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Various types of ropes and twines, many synthetic but also natural materials, are combined with a range of objects using predominately basketry techniques in forms that raise ideas of effigies, folk rituals and menacing half-seen monsters.


Shown with a number of video works, bright lights moving in darkness, and installations of reflective surfaces and black venetian blinds, there is an unsettling beauty and sense of danger. The blinds in particular – so domestic, suburban, but hiding prying eyes and giving glimpses of private interiors…

Svay Sareth
There are quite a few video works in the exhibition – not usually a favoured medium for me. You generally walk in part way through, they make considerable time demands on the audience, it’s hard to use the technique of a quick reconnoiter followed by deeper consideration of the works that particularly attract one, and often I find them quite a passive experience.

Prendre les Mesures is documentary footage of a durational performance. Svay Sareth used a large sack needle to measure the length of the causeway at the entrance to the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. 7315 needle lengths, eight hours’ duration.

The film is taken from different viewpoints, close and from a distance. Often the artist seemed in danger of being trampled by the weight of tourists visiting the site. It was hard to tell what he was doing.

The MCA website text includes “While Angkor Wat has been a spiritual location of great significance, Svay calls attention to the expropriation of the temple by varying powers over time, from the colonial-era establishment of an archaeological park, to more recent concessions of ticket sales to private companies, and the ever-present masses of tourists” (https://www.biennaleofsydney.art/artists/svay-sareth/). I didn’t understand that while viewing it, but it was absorbing to watch the focus and attention of the man in all that bustle, what appeared a quiet and gentle determination to continue his chosen task regardless of time, aching knees, the reactions of the other visitors to his presence and to the presence of the film cameras.

A sack needle was displayed on a black cushion on a plinth nearby. It’s fascinating the power of that presentation. Something so ordinary and utilitarian transformed.


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