Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Firstdraft depot visit - 29 August

Lovely weather for a quick snoop about the Firstdraft depot.  For those that came in late Firstdraft is Sydney's oldest ARI, founded in the 1800s or 1980s. Their main gallery space is in Surry Hills and the depot is their studio space in Woolloomooloo. For the local historians out there, the depot used to be an actual depot, and to be honest it looks like it stopped being a working outpost of Sydney council yesterday. But they have hundreds of emerging artists filter through the space, with one half comprising some subsidised spaces that six artists can rent for up to six months and the other half shared by two artists awarded residencies by the organisation.

Our tour started upstairs in the rooms currently occupied by artists Boni Cairncross and Romi Graham. These artists are on the residencies and are prepping for shows at the firstdraft gallery in September and October respectively. After a quick snoop here it was over the corridor to check out the renters (I wonder if there is any tension between the scholarship kids and those paying their way? I should've asked). I didn't catch the names of all the artists here and I couldn't find anything on their intrawebs site (which if I was one of these artists I would ask for a shout out, any publicity helps right?) but I did like the look of Linda Wilken's output which I think would be very popular with some of my junior art critics (it is all disney princesses and barbies repurposed for subversive social commentary). Downstairs we had a chance to look and hear about Boni and Romi's work in what I guess is the project space. It was interesting to hear about Boni's "you must follow me carefully" work where she makes a record of a live performance by someone else. I will have to see this as a performance before I make my mind up. I think I would want some more permanent type of record than the roll of paper which seems a bit ephemeral. I also wonder how a commercial imperative may impact her work in the future (but that may just be the collector in me wondering what is for sale). Romi's work was easier for me to take in. It is an exploration of fame where her alter ego (also known as Romi) pretends to be a famous starlet a la Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. Romi has made some really colourful banners celebrating her fame and has a great quote "never let your talent hold you back" on the one above. This not only speaks to fame but according to my art historian other half (who has a thing for 16th century venetian masters) could also be a subtle satire of some contemporary art output. Romi includes her twitter handle (@RomiGrahamReal) in her work, her goal here is 1 million followers so if any of my 4 readers has a twitter account (I know you do mum!) then help her out as she has a ways to go.

Points: I will give 3 to Romi. I liked how visual her banners were (and I think her alter-ego would crave the top spot). 2 points for Boni and 1 will go to Linda Wilken.  Highly commended to Firstdraft for a great night out.

The John Fries Memorial Prize at Gaffa Gallery - 29 August

So Gaffa has been on my radar for a little while but I just never made it to their old space near central and have only just visited their current digs on Clarence St. So I can't tell you if it is a step up or a step down but this Clarence St space is pretty decent. Three galleries by the official count and a lot of nooks and crannies.  Some of these were well utilised by the field of finalists in the John Fries memorial prize. So what is the John Fries prize? Well according to the Viscopy interwebs site it is an annual art prize now in its 3rd iteration funded by the Fries family to honour a former Viscopy director John. They sling 10k to an emerging visual artist "resident in Australia and New Zealand who are not enrolled as a student and whose work is not represented in the collection of a state, territory or national public art gallery."

Okay, so on to the show. It was a little hard to put faces to names in this one. The room sheet was helpfully divided into gallery 1, 2 and 3 but little did I realise I walked into gallery 2 first so it took me a little while to work out who was who in the zoo. Highlights in this room were Owen Leong's beeswax heart which appealed to the memento moriist in me and Jacqueline Bradley's Kite Jacket which I thought was pretty clever and would look great in a kids room (and I mean that in a nice way, our junior critics live with all sorts of inappropriate art in their bedrooms). Next up was gallery 1. I was a little surprised to see Kate Shaw in the show, I would've thought this 3 times Wynne finalist would've been in a state gallery but I checked her cv and the answer is not yet. I'm not sure how long one is 'emerging' as Kate was also a finalist in the 2006 ABN AMRO emerging artists award but looks like there isn't a standard definition. I usually use prices and Kate's ask of just over 15k for Milkwater puts her out of what I consider emerging (it was the highest priced work in the show although admittedly it is a very big work). She won 3rd place here, or 'commended' in awards speak. Other work that took my fancy here included Philjames' interesting simpsons inspired fibreglass head and upcycled old landscape and Cigdem Aydemir's video which was fantastic, this was 'highly commended' by the judges. It helped that I recognised the park that the swing she uses is from, that park also has a great flying fox - maybe that should be the follow-up work. Wanda Gillespie's batik looking pram took my eye in gallery 3 but by now I had seen the two runners up but not the winner so off to ask at the front desk and it is Jacob Leary's work in the 'guest gallery' that took out the chockies here. This work "Technological Causality" is described as 'mixed media' on the room sheet but really does its best to defy description. The best analogy I could think of was the little cabin in the movie 'A Beautiful Mind' where John Nash/Russell Crowe goes crazy with lines and photos everywhere, although it did give me a great idea for a salon hang at home.

Points:  3 to Cigdem Aydemir's video "Extremist Activity (swing)" (still pictured on top), whose highly commended from the judges would've been upgraded to the win under a Big Lamington regime, two points to Philjames whose signature on the upcycled op shop landscape is fantastic and 1 point for Owen's wax heart.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mass Action: 137 cakes in 90 houses at the CWA - 28 August

So I haven't really been to that much performance art but when I heard about Brown Council attempting to make all 137 cakes from the CWA cook book 'Jam Drops and Marble Cake' released this year I started planning my visit.  It should come as no surprise to regular readers to learn that this book is already in the Big Lamington collection!  Hailing from regional NSW I am a big supporter of the CWA of NSW and have made a few things out of their older recipe books, and with some success too.  This performance is being held in the CWA auditorium at Potts Point until this Saturday (1 Sept) but we were able to swing by just after kick off to see them in action.

The one thing you usually get in performance art is a set of ground rules for how the performance will run.  Brown Council have this posted in the auditorium (and it looks really professional with the logo they designed for this gig), they are:
During the 90 hours the members of Brown Council must adhere to the following rules:
1. There must be continuous baking for the entire 90 hours, starting at 12pm on the 28th of August and concluding at 6am on the 1st of September 2012.
2. At least two members must be cooking at all times and all four members must be cooking during the designated opening hours.
3. Members must not leave the CWA headquarters at any time during the 90 hours.
4. Members must attempt to bake all cakes in accordance with CWA judging standards, but if a cake fails (burns, sinks etc) the member may not attempt to bake it again.
5. Once the cake is cooked members must label the cake, photograph it and then put it on display in the auditorium. All cakes must be photographed and the images uploaded onto the website."

It was a bit of a packed house this morning, with plenty of CWA members in town for a big forum or somesuch so they came by and had a sniff around.  According to the Brown Council twitter feed one CWA member was heard to comment "they might be artists, but they're not cooks". Snap. We also had channel 7 in the house filming a segment for the Sunrise programme on Friday morning. So what was actually happening? Well, there was a bit of cooking going on. Lots of prep work, cutting fruit, measuring etc. The BC ladies have sensibly decided to do a lot of fruit cakes and puddings early in the piece as they will last better until the judging on Saturday. There are only two ovens between the four cooks, one in the kitchen and one out back, so the operations planner in me reckons they might be a bottleneck in the system somewhere. We were able to actually sample some of the cooking. First up were some rock cakes (photo below).  Brown Council had put away their best six for judging which meant the spares were out for morning tea. Not bad, although a CWA lady confided to me that the bottom was a little burnt. That might seem harsh (as BC were pretty happy with them) but competitive cooking as practiced by the CWA is completely different to baking something for arvo tea. It needs to be perfect.

Points on hold until the judging on Saturday. I will be there.  But so far so good.  I was really impressed by the ambition of the project and how in the spirit everyone was with their matching aprons. Gee I just hope they got some ribbons made for the judging! I would highly recommend a trip down to CWA HQ for this, but if you can't make it and are tech savvy enough to find your way to their interwebs site you can even watch a live feed. Nicely done.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

CRONIES at Roslyn Oxley - 25 August

This was a quick visit to take advantage of the group show curated by Mikala Dwyer and Fleur Wiber and see a handful of artists I'd ordinarily not know. So it was off down the hill into lower Paddington to see what Roslyn Oxley had in store ...

CRONIES (again with the title in capslock and italics, I feel I am missing something here, is there an art gallery style guide that I don't have?) showcases the work of a number of PhD and Masters candidates that Mikala Dwyer supervises at the Sydney College of the Arts.  So it is nice that she has been able to get them a group show in Paddo.  It also explains how all these random pieces connect. First thing you see is the glitter work of Johnny Niesche ("Sugar 'n' Spikes"pictured above). I've only recently been a fan of over the top glitter use after seeing some Reuben Paterson works in NZ. It really is quite visually striking, although if someone could explain to me his artist statement on the room sheet it would be much appreciated: "questioning the question is the crux of the quest", indeed! He has got another great piece around the corner using two mirrors to make a single piece of glittered wood appear as a wooden frame. Nice trick. Katie Williams has what looks to be a big old phone booth made out of copper sheeting.  Apparently it is a 'faraday cage' and can block cellular networks etc.  Okay, so don't use it to make private calls. I thought taxidermy should be represented somewhere and wasn't disappointed by Eloise Kirk's installation which made quite good use of a poor old coyote. I liked how she tried to convey the sense of the desert's vastness with only a minimalist touch. There was a table of props from what looks like a performance where Marya Elimelakh drinks vodka shots and recites russian history. Judging by the number of empty bottles this must have been some performance. I am sorry I missed it.

Points: I think Johnny Niesche could clean up here.  3 for "Sugar 'n' spikes" and 2 for his mirror sculpture "A. Sprinkle".  To mix it up will give 1 point to Eloise Kirk for her "Westering" installation, which manages to fuse taxidermy, a video and a box full of dirt in a thoughtful way.

Ken + Julia Yonetani at 4A - 22 August

A little while ago I couldn't even find my way to this place, now it is my most visited gallery in the last six weeks!  This visit was to see 'What the birds knew', showcasing some new work by previous Big Lamington point winners Ken and Julia Yonetani.   I was looking forward to this show, and not just because Time Out had labelled it a must see (I am not sure how well serious art places take a thumbs up like that, hopefully it is seen as a compliment!).  The Mrs and I really enjoyed our last outing to see their salt works last year so with junior critics tucked up in bed were off to Chinatown ...

You know you are in the right place when you see the big glowing chandelier at street level.  All the works are made from uranium glass, which sounds crazy nowadays but was quite commonly used in housewares up until WW2 (and its usage dates from 79AD!).  We didn't get to see it in a regular light but under that black UV lighting in glows bright green (see picture above, 'USA' from their crystal palace series).  Upstairs is a huge glowing green ant (I think this piece is also called 'what the birds knew') and three words made in neon light style out of uranium glass tubing.  I was quite excited to see the neon look achieved with the uranium glass, mainly because I thought ahoy, here's a way to get a neon sign without worrying about an electrician.  My enthusiasm was tempered when I realised I need to install the black light anyway.  Onto the unmissable presence in the room, the dirty great big ant.  Why an ant you ask?  Well I would've asked but luckily Ken addressed this in his artist talk, and it is a pretty good story.  As Japanese / Australian artists, this show is their response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  And the ant is their version of a godzilla like creature created by an atomic exposure.  They chose the ant due to the link to aboriginal stories from the sites where uranium has been mined in the territory (and in another link, exported to Japan). So I get it. And I like it. I do think that all these works do speak to the environmental fears that are a recurring theme in the Yonetani's work and I am sure the ant will end up in a museum that has a spare 6 metres to exhibit this bad boy (I think it would be great at MONA). But I did have a different reaction to the one the Yonetani's are after. You see, they make a big fuss to visitors that this uranium glass is safe, poses no health risk etc. So in a way, we are being desensitised to the fear of radiation. Maybe ANSTO (the Australian nuclear people who gave this work the all clear, and who gave yours truly big science prize back in the day) should start putting uranium glass in a few public buildings to soften the public up before they ask to build a real nuclear power plant somewhere? Or 4A could hand out lead aprons like when you go for an x-ray!

Points.  With only 5 works this will be pretty easy.  I will give the 3 points to the chandelier.  I think the ominous glow works best as a traditional light fitting. And I am looking forward to seeing more of these when the Yonetani's have a solo show at Artereal in October, apparently there is one chandelier for every nuclear nation, in proportion to their output. We do like big things here at Big Lamington so 2 points goes to the big ant.  1 point will go to 'radioactive', particularly descriptive of the source material. 

Tony Albert at Sullivan & Strumpf - 18 August

Tony Albert finally has a commercial show in Sydney, indeed this is his first commercial show anywhere for three years.  Called "FAMILY" (I am not sure of the significance of the capslock but I am willing to run with it), this show runs until 8 September so you have plenty of time to get along and check it out for yourselves.  I absolutely loved it and will be back to see it again, next time sans junior critics (two of whom came along to the opening which featured a great conversation with David Teplitzky who is a bit of an enigma to me at present despite some persistent interwebs stalking).

The show brings together much of his recent work.  Two of the big collages, installed on a background of his 'Be Deadly' posters, we had recently seen at 4A.  There was a large collection of his trademark velvet pieces, called 'Rearranging our history', which got a bit of a run in the SMH last weekend.  The velvets look great when installed en masse.  There is a lot to take in, and you can see his trademark phrases stencilled here and there.  I quite like text in art, and these quotes (some political, some cultural) do get you thinking.  Finally there was a collection of about 15 collages done on aluminium which were available to the general public although I think had all sold by the end of the opening drinks.  These were based on one of the big works which had been cut up and further worked with additional embellishments, especially from aboriginal playing cards which keep popping up in his work. I am a small time ebay tragic for random vintage ephemera (much like Tony although with less of an aboriginalia focus in my instance) so I guess the visual look and feel of the collages appeals to me.  What I really appreciate about his work is how he uses these kitschy iconic cultural references with what to me seems like a lot of sincerity. Mixed in with quotes I had seen before (like the always memorable 'pay attention motherfucker') were ones I hadn't come across like 'vote yes for aborigines' (which if you google it will turn up political badges from the 1967 referendum included in the Museum of Australian Democracy's collection - see you can learn something from visiting galleries!).
Points:  I'll restrict the points to those collages on aluminium (as these were the only works for sale at the show).  When I first saw them, I was primarily drawn to the text heavy works but with some more time to digest the whole show the 3D heavy ones are growing on me.  3 points for "We are family (get up everybody and sing)" pictured at top. Given the quote in this piece referenced the aboriginal referendum I particularly liked the inclusion of the Phantom in the collage as the mob behind that comic actually produced two special issues for the Australian Electoral Commission to explain voting to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders in the '80s (see Vote 1 Phantom and The Phantom enrols and votes; I think I have these in my comic collection somewhere). 2 points for "Are you ready for a brand new beat" (pictured just above), I am really appreciating the 3D elements of this and think I will have to add playing cards and matchboxes to my ebay shopping list.  1 point to "Callin' out around the world", again some more people popping out of matchbox action here.  That 3D effect of the person coming out of the work brought to my mind the work of US photographer Thomas Allen (his website here) who I remember seeing at Foley Gallery in NY back in 2007 (and if you are in NY he is showing again at Foley from 9 September to 14 October).  A highly commended ribbon would also go to the framed letter to Gordon Bennett the title of which I don't have handy! I'll keep an eye out for it on my return visit.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Greg Weight at Australian Galleries Roylston St - 7 August

We had been meaning to get down to the Roylston street outpost of Australian Galleries to check out the Greg Weight show but only just made it, visiting on the last day.  This show was called "see you tomorrow at 2" which is meant to be the photographers last words to the artist Margaret Olley who passed away last year.

These photos are of her house on Duxford Street in Paddington.  They are quite a fascinating documentation of her studio, which was quite the cluttered space.  We found the show very interesting, firstly to get a look inside an artists studio but also to picture the inside of a Paddington terrace house of a neighbour.  In a quite random sense I have lived around the corner from Margaret Olley twice, as she had owned a lovely historic house in my home town of Maitland in the 70s.  The images themselves would work easily on your walls, much like one of Olley's still lifes, although at $1600-$2000 for an edition of 8 I think I could live without one. We didn't have to worry as our favourites had mostly sold out, like the above image "the dining table".  It was good to see this show and then the artscape documentary on Olley that the ABC recently televised.

Points:  3 for the dining table, 2 for the cherries and 1 for the lounge room.  Click here to see all the images for yourself.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hijacked III at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Photography - 3 August

ACP has a pretty decent photo exhibition which is on show until Sunday. So get in quick.  The show's premise is a survey of UK and Australian artists which to me sounds like the curators ring up a haphazard cast of characters to see whose works they can get their hands on.  It works. And pretty well too, but I had the nagging feeling I could've spent 10 minutes on the intrawebs and come up with a dozen different names that would've fitted just as easily.

I am not usually one for following UK artists as my tastes are quite parochial (although with an english wife you'll find a few UK artists sneak in the collection) so I was surprised I did actually recognise one of the pomgolian artists, Sarah Pickering.  Sarah does these photos of explosions that she mocks up and I am not sure what she wants the works to mean but I think they look great.  Then again I was on disciplinary probation at uni for a fireworks related incident so I love me a bit of gunpowder.  I think Sarah has shown in New York a few times at Aperture or ICP and I think I was close to picking up one of her works back in the day.  The picture at top is "Landmine" but you can check out her portfolio on her website here.  Now what about those good old Aussie artists. Christian Thompon, tick; Bindi Cole, tick; Petrina Hicks, tick; Tony Albert, tick; Tracey Moffatt, tick.  Okay, quite a few of the usual suspects accounted for.  I do like Christian Thompson's stuff although his 'King Billy' was a little too spooky looking for me (he definitely wouldn't be able to sit near an unaccompanied minor on a plane).  Bindi Cole's work on Sistagirls is interesting from a social sense but I feel the images are a little too fashion mag editorial.  Tony Albert's no place photos of people wearing mexican wrestling masks look good en masse and printed out really big, which is a truism for photography and how I would present a work if asked!

Points:  I will give Sarah Pickering the 3 for the explosions. Tony Albert, who it feels like I have been stalking recently, will get the 2 and I will give 1 point to Luke Stephenson for his bird snaps, which could've been much bigger (didn't he see those budgies at Iain Dawson?).

18th Sydney Biennale at Cockatoo Island - 1 August

The 18th Biennale of Sydney ( on the web but #18bos on twitter - work that one out) runs until 16 September so you've got plenty of time to catch the free ferry over to Cockatoo Island to see this for yourself.  It is a great outing and reasonably family friendly.  Despite this, we only took our 4 year old junior critic with us as it makes it slightly easier to see some art.  So what did the team think?

Firstly we love the free ferry, and are very grateful for whoever keeps sponsoring that.  I think it is the Balnaves Foundation but the signage was tastefully discrete which is rather un-Sydney like.  Onto the art.  First up was the modern day midden of oyster shells and teacups creatively called "untitled" (pictured at top).  I quite liked this work, from an artist who I had never heard of before, Jonathan Jones.  It was a strong start and if no one was looking I would've souvenired something, but then I thought replicating this installation would be pretty easy. In fact come summer when I feel like eating oysters al fresco I just might try this in the backyard.  Next up for us was one of the tunnels which contained "Dune" by dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde.  My daughter loved this interactive work of sound and lights and we had to swing back later in the day to get one more turn at it.  Other highlights were Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya's "living chasm" which was a fog installation that seemed eerily appropriate for this naval dockyard; Sachiko Abe's trancelike papercutting performance; kiwi Tiffany Singh's "knock on the sky and listen to the sound" wind chime install (which we had seen back at the Dowse last year); and the Canadian pair Pien and Tagaq's "Source" which defies description in a sentence, if you've seen it you'll understand when I say we liked running through the ropes.  Lastly we really enjoyed Li Hongbo's "Ocean of Flowers"which masses together lots of honeycomb paper lantern type thingys.  It is great that he has some unfurled examples and the end and this is where you find out that (spoiler alert) they are actually designed as weapons.  Nice touch.  As always in a show as diverse as the Biennale there was plenty of stuff that didn't float my boat, Alec Finlay's bee hives and Maria Cardoso's insect organs come to mind. It's not that I am anti-insect, I would love an urban hive of my own in Paddington, but I felt Alec could've gone further and had some real bees instead of the recordings.

Points.  3 to Li Hongbo for the paper thingys (above).  We all liked this one.  I will give 2 points to Jonathan Jones whose work I thought really worked well in his allocated space.  The last point is tough as there were quite a lot of pieces that we liked.  I will give 1 point to both Tiffany and Daan as these both worked well on the Island, were interactive, and were adored by my 4 year old.  All in all a good show, definitely not as flashy as last time (I am probably thinking of the exploding cars and the Brook Andrew bouncy castle) but still worth the price of admission (I realise it is nominally free but the nice cafe at the top of the island doesn't miss you!).