Engineered slapdash is familiar as an approach to clothing, but not until recently has a company branded a product Engineered that looks like a ten year olds attempt to make some half-right jeans. Theyre good looking jeans, though, its just that on some wearers, they create the popular 80s baggies silhouette which our retrovisioned principles havent quite worked back around to recognising as looking good. The principle of such oxymoronic labelling is a good metaphor for the Melbourne of Winter 2001 and fits nicely with the overall idea of cross (purposes) for this edition of LOG.
New Zealand artists seem to like exhibiting in Melbourne and their work does seem to suit the context here, in a perpendicular kind of way. ( In the same way that Wellington is considered the cultural capital of New Zealand, Melbourne is considered the vortex of Australian cultural life, which is why a lot of my friends prefer Sydney, a place where innate trashy suburban aspirations are worn with pride.) As one of the growing numbers of leisure athletes, I have had ample opportunity to view whats on offer.
Despite the cultural similarities between the two ex-colonies, modes of artistic expression are distinct. In overly simplistic, generalising terms, the difference is evidenced by the focus on aesthetic resolution from the Melbourne set which serves as an almost direct contrast to New Zealand works which will risk the beauty of the object in favour of creating certain tensions and edginess. In painting, for example, the expressive norm here is well represented by the work of Sean Mielak. In his most recent show at the First Floor gallery, each work has been rendered in incredibly neat detail, making its execution of a Ramsey St-type neighbourhood of houses hyper-real. Compare this to the scruffier applications within a Saskia Leek-style painting and we can begin to understand the different dimensions involved in approaching just one aspect of Australian and New Zealand art. Video art is different, though, where the vernaculars of expression are more alike within the differing elements of style.
Janine Randersons Sky Views, which showed at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in July, is an outstanding example of the medium. (Fig. i)
A deceptively simple looking piece, it uses the artifice of time-lapse photography to imagine the view from Aucklands Sky Tower as that which reveals a camouflaged alien mothership through a series of mirrored unfoldings. The accompanying soundtrack is impeccable; without intruding upon the visual space, it creates the necessary feeling of tension required to make it seem as though the mirrored view evolves.
Another video piece worthy of note has been the recent Daniel Von Sturmer exhibit, Material From Another Medium. In this installation, three screens have been set in a triangular formation in CCPs back exhibiting room. Each screen is devoted to one material/conceptual principle, which is then explored according to the potential of video. On one screen a plastic bag in close-up is screwballed and shot expanding out of its wrinklings. On another, a green balloon is nozzled onto a laundry tap and filled until it bursts. The final screen displays a sole sculpture within a confined gallery-like space that is positioned in seemingly impossible ways (like jutting out at a 90 degree angle from the wall) until we are given to realise, through the practice of resetting the sculpture for each new impossibility, that it is the size of a finger and can thus be far easier maniplulated than a life-size sculpture of the same. The catalogue mentions that the work " gives emphasis to the physical, temporal and architectural constructions that frame the cultural experience of looking at a work in a gallery." Im reminded of the 1970s BBC art-programme, Vision On, where objects disappeared instantly, then reappeared on the other side of the room, or where one mark on a page would grow into a detailed illustration. Ah, the magic of television space.
A lot of the better work this year has been on show at the CCP, although it should be noted that they have fallen prey, in every single exhibition programme, to the used-by-date manifesto of snap-shot photography either in form or content. My flatmate and I often lament this flaw in the obvious curatorial talent that keeps the space afloat culturally. Other styles and mediums, from CDRom to performance, installation and video, rarely fail to inspire, however.
In Central Melbourne, away from the New Zealand ghetto that is Fitzroy, the launch of the Uplands/TCB project space has created a lot of interest. This is due to the virtually unheard of practice, here, of artists running a commercial gallery space. To clarify: it is common that artists run non-profit spaces, that may or may not receive government body funding, like 200 Gertrude St, CCP, Westspace, First Floor, RMIT Storey Hall and Swinburne. The likes of Niagara Galleries, Anna Schwartz, Tolarno, Darren Knight and Roslyn Oxley Nine are run by dealers who are more interested in the commercial aspect of exhibiting, though this does not preclude them from signing artists that may not sell. The dealer collects a set of artists who are signed to his/her gallery, and these become the core group of exhibitors in that space. Uplands seems to represent the beginning of a (hopefully) new trend, where artists manage and sell the works of other artists considered commercially unviable by bigger dealerships. As such, it hints at the possibility that edgier practitioners might still make a living from their years of devotion. The opening show for Uplands signed artists bodes well for this vision.
Including the work of DAMP, Sharon Goodwin and a different strand of David Noonans work it is a beautifully curated, racy, pacy show that gives voice to drawing, video, sculpture, painting, photography and collectives. The visual crux of the show, the works that really bind it together, are the paintings of James Lynch. For some reason, the bad art, soft metal aesthetic provides an excellent platform from which to view the other pieces. With titles such as Anxious and Lonely and Bored and Careless, the words themselves rendered in font s traced from lettering-books, expressed in vivid, unmixed acrylics against cartoon style backgrounds depicting a map of the Earth or a wooden medieval dungeon door, these pieces are at once funny and slightly miserable. Because of that melancholic tinge, the smirk worthy aspect doesnt degenerate into that much dreaded in-the-know, nudge-nudge, wink-wink realm of irony.
There were red spots in evidence, too, indicating that Blair Trethowan and Jarrod Rawlins are onto an aesthetically and financially good thing with their gallery.
The Melbourne International Film Festival happened with a largely unexciting line-up that was obviously going to be put on wide-release when the premieres had finished. The Irrefutable Truth About Demons had two sessions. The one that I attended was at 11.30 on a Saturday night but a reasonable crowd still showed considering the middle-aged target audience. Its an example of "all right for a New Zealand film" which is really no excuse at all, since some New Zealanders do make good films - Harry Sinclair, Peter Jackson and Gaylene Preston among them. The Truth About Demons suffers from two trademark characteristics that render many New Zealand films mediocre - poor script development and inconsistent directorial vision leading to uneven performances from the actors. Two lines into the film, I was cringing because of the dialogue and acting, this combination indicating that the director hadnt contributed much to the teams overall understanding of the material. (If it had been consistently hammy, in the style of the schlock masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, it would have been fine.) That said, the visual narrative is exceptional, if a little bit cliched, suggesting that the director is just that, a director, not an auteur and thus might benefit from farming out other aspects of the film-making task. On the other hand Ring, which was also at the festival and is now back on limited release, was incredible. (Fig.ii) The banality of the soap-opera story-line and the lacklustre performance from the actors only served to heighten the films creepiness, which revolves around a video cassette that, once watched, leads to death seven days after the viewing. This is a good example of the director not attempting to exert control over the films audience, but rather allowing each viewer to be manipulated by his/her own dark presumptions.
Anna Daly lives in Melbourne and is hoping to save enough money to go to Sydney for a weekend soon.
fig ii: newspaper advertisement for Ring