Friday, September 21, 2007

What is Artswipe?

It seems The Telegraph has found me out. After all this time of artworld anonymity, it has been revealed. The Artswipe is "cyber granny", not supernanny as some have conjectured. The Telegraph "outing" is timely, seeing it came just after Simpleposie from Toronto pondered in her "question for the day" a querie that most Sydney-siders stopped asking long ago, "What is Artswipe?" (scroll down to question #2156 - I thought I had lots of questions!)

Apparently it doesn't stop there. YouTube has found me out as well. Smile, smile, smile.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Matthew Hopkins performing in his installation
The Future Pt.2: Getting used to the Future. Version 2.2
Courtesy the artist and Firstdraft Gallery

This week I managed to sneak in a bit of art between meals - so much for my diet. Among others I saw Primavera 07 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Matthew Hopkins at Firstdraft Gallery, and Jess MacNeil at Gallery Barry Keldoulis. Actually I probably saw a few other things at the Danks Street complex where GBK resides, but apart from Jess MacNeil’s work they’ve faded from memory. Actually one thing I do remember is walking past Conny Dietzschold Gallery, where a gallery assistant was up a ladder hanging a piece of art. A couple of old ladies passed by and I overheard one say: “That’s not the kind of dress you should be wearing when you hang a picture”. This was a memorable moment.

I had heard from friends that Primavera was crap. I've never really been one for Primavera bashing. It’s an easy target for criticism – sometimes the complaints are valid, but I suspect in most cases they are flavoured with Sour Grape Snapple. The show aside for a second, at least you know the opening night will be a highpoint. Unfortunately The Artswipe was at a Bingo Tournament that night, but an insider reports that it was a tepid affair, mostly populated with an aging art crowd and the usual Fashion Week wannabes. What was missing apparently was the young artist crowd that Primavera is supposed to represent. For starters, the MCA allegedly did not invite any of their preparatory staff or visitor service officers, a generally young and funky bunch who epitomise the Primavera demographic. Gee, I’m glad I was busy!

Art by Claire Fisher from Six Feet Under

So I finally made my way to the MCA with an open heart and mind. Usually I'm a cold bitch, so this was a real effort OK. But it wasn't long before my bitch radar made its return from the repressed because most of it was not so great. I generally make it a practice to talk up the good things before I go for the ugly jugular but I’ll make an exception today. For starters, let's talk about the signature marketing image for Primavera of the raised hands. Double V, 2005 by Justine Khamara are hands using two fingers to make either an "up yours" or peace symbol - depending I suppose on how you feel. In the Primavera marketing, Double V works because as a reproduction in print or web, it acts like a big enticement for everyone to get their hands in the air because Primavera is here! In reality, it is comprised of tiny cut outs that get totally lost in the space. This is probably for the best considering how underwhelming the work really is. Khamara's three-dimensional collage heads, Bugaboo, might be cool if they didn't appear so inspired by the work of a fictional artist from TV! Is it just me, or did Claire Fisher from Six Feet Under already make this artwork during her art school years? Speaking of cut-outs, a second contender for uninteresting work is Martin Smith’s series of photos with song lyrics literally cut out of them. To make work inspired by popular music is fairly commonplace, but I find the allusions to music dominate and reveal more about the artist's self-conscious affection for the music referenced than it does about any genuinely interesting original visual idea.

Jess MacNeil
Opera House Steps December, 2006
Digital video, 2 min 28 sec, infinite loop
Courtesy the artist and Gallery Barry Keldoulis

What was good? Amanda Marburg's paintings of famous movie moments but recast with cutesy claymation figures were inspired. The highlight of the show was definitely Jess MacNeil's video Opera House Steps December, 2006. Though I’d already seen it before in other shows, being projected at such a monumental scale gave it renewed resonance. McNeil makes videos that look like paintings and paintings that look like video (paused of course). With Opera House Steps December, MacNeil has filmed people walking up and down the steps but used some fancy-pants special-effects to erase the people. What remains are human shadows that move across the steps like a toy Slinky working overtime.

Nude Descending a Staircase?
Courtesy Google Images

Recalled in MacNeil's video is the graphic interplay of form that Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein mastered through his method of 'montage by conflict'. In the famous Odessa Steps sequence of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925), the actual steps themselves were key to creating the scene's visual drama. The tiered horizontal pattern of the steps would be interrupted by the descending masses, creating a clash of horizontal and vertical form. The composition of Opera House Steps December echoes the same kind of visual drama but with meditative intent. Eisenstein was a master editor whose practice (and theory) of montage revolutionised filmmaking. While he knew where to cut the frame for dynamic impact, MacNeil keeps the camera running in one long take, editing through the digital removal of the body. Like legendary American video artist Bill Viola, MacNeil has a knack for making poetry with a medium not often used to poetic effect. And that’s certainly what MacNeil achieves in her new work on show at GBK. Again her videos The Thaw, Wake (Coniston Water) and Wake (Windermere) are utterly compelling in their quiet contemplation of scenes that in any other circumstance border on the banal.

Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

Of all the other shows I saw this week, a real highlight was Matthew Hopkins' The Future Pt.2: Getting used to the Future. Version 2.2 – A Bogus Infinity at Firstdraft Gallery. Like early Hany Armanious or Adam Cullen, Hopkins makes grunge art installations cut with quick wit. The installation is predominately an explosion of white knotted socks in creepy configurations. Some of his drawings reference Stephen King novels, which makes me wonder if the sock forms are meant to be immobile monsters just waiting to contaminate the earth with a form of tinea never before witnessed. In his artist statement, Hopkins describes the installation as based on research he did when he visited the future. The thing is, the future was just like now but objects were all jumbled around. He writes:

"The funny thing about the future is that it is not that different to now, the present. The future is really just a re-arranged version of now, the present. What I mean by re-arranged is that objects, emotions, things we do etc., are all mixed up and around with each other. Drinking a cup of coffee in the future, for example, is actually building a house. Crying in the future is actually sticky-tape."

Like a synesthete who hears taste or sees sound, Hopkins sculpts an object-based synesthesia to create a scene of a future shape-shifted beyond recognition. That's the kind of future I want to visit, and considering the future is really just around the corner, I'm looking forward to seeing more from this promising young artist.

Primavera 08 perhaps?

Friday, September 14, 2007


People say the Internet shrinks distances, makes you global. I used the think so too. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that life before the Internet - God forbid, life before Blogger - could be just as intimate, just as global. That is of course if you have a healthy fan base. And there's no point being coy about it, The Artswipe has many fans, so many that crowd surfing has taken its toll and my fan club president has taken to chronic fatigue. Because you all know that I like to give something back to the fans, I've decided to bite the bullet and share the love. What better way to give of yourself than as specially made merchandise, editioned in endless multiples. A commercial gallery dealer tried convincing me to limit my editions to 6 + 2 AP (read 'Artist Print') but my better judgement warned against cheating a commodity whore's own logic of global domination.

Without further adieu, The Artswipe coffee mugs are now available on special order. They feature the logo on one side and the collage Heartfelt (recently voted by the fans as one of their all-time favourite visual moments) on the other. Price on application: theartswipe at hotmail dot com

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Eating Crow

The Artswipe
Humble Pie, 2007
Several ingredients outlined below

Thanks to everyone who has invited me to their APEC parties. A blanket apology for not being able to come, I was having my own APEC celebration at home. And what better way to celebrate than to make some humble pie, sit down with a cold beer and watch an Aussie flick. Before I review the film I watched, let me just give you the recipe for my APEC pie.

1 eggplant
2 zucchini
1 large sweet potato
2 cups shredded spinach
1/2 butternut pumpkin
3 cups ricotta cheese
shortcrust pastry base
puff pastry lid
lettering stencil (optional)

Pre-roast the vegetables and configure lovingly in a pasty lined dish. Smear the ricotta throughout the layers of vegetables. Create a pastry lid and cut out the letters APEC and that symbol (use a stencil if you must). Baste pastry with milk. Bake for 45 minutes at 200 C.

You'll have noticed that there is no meat in this pie. I'm not one for vegetarianism. (I tried this for a year or so at art school but only so I could hang out with some of the coolest kids.) The reason for a vegetable pie on APEC weekend is that there are other sources of meat one can indulge in. The meat of Australian screen culture for starters! I went to Video Ezy, paid off my $2.50 late fee for dropping back The Secret DVD late a few months ago and headed straight for the New Release wall. Hurrying myself through the latest titles (as the pie was baking at home and one must not overcook these things) I found a lovely Aussie romantic comedy - a perfect companion to a vegetable pie. "Where's the meat?" I hear you ask. And good question it is. I believe the genre can function like a nice piece of steak when it's a romantic comedy masquerading as a documentary. So that is why I recommend viewing Bra Boys this weekend if you're still looking for ways to spend your Sunday.

Bra Boys (Dir. Sunny Abberton, 2007) calls itself a documentary but it has my vote for best romantic comedy of the year. Assuming it might be about boys who wear either bras or Akubras, my expectations were indeed challenged when I sat down with this little think piece. I won't outline the whole plot as you can read about it at Wikipedia or check out its official website. In short Bra Boys features all these beefy surfer dudes from Maroubra who spend 90 minutes of screen time justifying their beach gang tribalism. These boys have had tough lives - drugs, parental neglect, shit like that. They find freedom in the waves. They find love through the fist. No, they're not into fistin' - that kinda shit is kept off screen! They're into using their fists as an expression of mateship. Or at least that is how I read it. When you live in a community that appears to exclude women (apart from their mothers, none appeared on-screen) I suspect there's a lot of pent up sexual frustration going on. So if you're not bashing each other up over the politics of beach entitlement, you may as well form into gangs and get demonstrative tattoos that read "My Brother's Keeper" with an icon representing a very tight handshake. There's nothing at all gay about this picture when you couch such a tight-fisted homosocial testosterone in familial terms.

So anyway, it must be said that Russell Crowe narrates this journey and can I just say, GOD BLESS HIM for that. Bra Boys begins with the Crib Notes story about white settlement in Australia and how it impacted Maroubra - or something like that. I know that when I am reflecting on my own community formations, it is important to go back in time and paint the scene with some sweeping context. For instance, I recently gave a PowerPoint presentation at the local community centre about the origins of blogging. I started my talk with the Big Bang and subsequent evolution of the species.

Bra Boys gets even more interesting when it responds to the Cronulla Riots of December 2005. It is here the boys affirm their multiculturalism. Prior to this event (acknowledged in the last 10 minutes of the 90 minute film) there'd been no reason to explore the multiculturalism of the beach. But what better opportunity to end it with a message to the world about how tribalism can have a social inclusion policy. One of the guys talks about how non-local visitors to the beach should always remember to acknowledge the culture and tradition that has shaped the beach. I couldn't agree more - it's at the beach that you find really rich culture. As a kid I engaged with beach culture through my metal detector. Finding 50c and some fishing tackle was a day well-spent. Until it was all spoiled when my parents warned us to be careful that you don't step on a syringe. Culture indeed.

After the Cronulla Riots segment, the boys of Bra reveal their racial and ethnic backgrounds just after a poignant scene of two children playing: a black dwarf chasing a white non-dwarf. It's a healing moment. Like all the APEC leaders wearing Akubras and Drizabone coats, this image of the children should go down in Australian history as a definitive moment of all types of difference united.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"A" Pecs

The Artswipe
Stuck in Traffic Again 2007
Digital video (still)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Agender: Apolitcal

I'm not one to linger on sexual politics. I have no agenda or a gender - The Artswipe is free of such constraints. Apolitical you could say. People into sexual politics need to get laid more. "Don't speak," I always say when conversation turns to third wave feminism, "Just feel." Not so long ago, the artkids used to chant, "Fuck politics, lets dance". These days, I look for a lover with a slow hand, Pointer Sisters style.

One thing I will say as a coda to Artswipe's previous post about gender in all its complex statistical banality: it remains important to this day to always know whether to leave the toilet seat up or down. And art journalists more than anyone should respect this simple etiquette by at least investigating the gender of their subjects. Sometimes you can tell because a woman artist might have two protruding mounds emanating (for want of a better term) from her chest. A male artist might have a "bulging canvas," as they say in the classics. And then there's the "third sex" - all those queers and diasporicals. That's another story for another time.

The point of this post. Unlike John McDonald, I might not be the hugest fan of the Aida Tomescu canvas. Tomescu features in McDonald's book Studio: Australian Painters on the Nature of Creativity,
reviewed elsewhere at Artswipe. I suspect old McDonald owns one of her paintings and is hoping his endorsement in today's Sydney Morning Herald article might manifest their value fourfold. A case in point:

Tomescu has grown in confidence, becoming much more certain of her artistic certainty. It is the kind of self-revelation that some people seek in psychoanalysis, or a radical change of lifestyle, but for Tomescu the entire drama has enfolded within the confines of the studio. It is not a process that allows for detailed descriptions, just as paintings resists verbalisation.

OK. McDonald mentions her "studio" again. Get over it. All artists have studios - not just the artists he cites in that banal book. As for the reference to psychoanalysis and "radical change of lifestyle" - thank you for pointing out the tenets of bourgeois boredom once more. Finding psychoanalytic solace in art went out with Art & Text. As for radical change of lifestyle? See Andrew Frost's brilliant article elsewhere in the Herald called "If the artists are young the reception is cool". It is here you will find artists who have a lust for life, a zesty yet critical take on "change" and "lifestyle" without being concerned with something regarded as so "radical" as to be perceived as a bit Mick Jagger in reality.

Apart from being chuffed big time that Mr Frost cites The Artswipe as one of the blogs that tries to "pick up the slack" due to the lack of artist-driven publications produced in Australia, I'm also aware that there is a subtle jibe in placement here (being that Frost's article appears some eight pages after McDonald's). You see, Frost laments that emerging art culture in Australia is as ephemeral as the young careers that loom large but sometimes peter out, due perhaps to intensified mental strain - which is all well if you can afford psychoanalysis! But alas, on Centrelink payments, not many of us can afford the Herald, let along a Freudian couchtrip. As Frost points out referring to a hypothetical pup of the artworld, "our esteemed art critics probably wouldn't have liked their work."

So who are these "esteemed critics" Frost speaks of?

Not knowing how to answer that slippery question (ie you do the math) I think it best to turn the question back to my original concern: gender, the arts and journalism. (Can you tell from my subtle yet meandering logic that I was high school debating champion?) That aside, for all my criticism of John McDonald, bless his soul, at least he recognises Aida Tomescu is a woman. Herald journalist Tracey Clement - champion of young artists everywhere, unlike some - for some inexplicable reason, has taken Tomescu's "bulging canvas" literally. As you can see below in Clement's Metro Picks (SMH Metro 31 August 07), Tomescu has man-morphed. But that's OK. Clement was too busy checking out everything in the artworld - not just some "mini-goats-cheese-pizza-East-Sydney-art-studio-crawl" - that she assumed for a moment that whatever might be McDonald fodder could actually be anything but male.