Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trophy Wife

Elvis Richardson
Field Study #1 2007
Archival Pegasus Print, 40 x 45cm framed
Courtesy the artist & James Dorahy Project Space

Elvis Richardson
The impossibility of losing in the mind of someone winning S.T.G.C. 2007
Found trophy, burnt and re-silver plated, 13 x 13 cm
Courtesy the artist & James Dorahy Project Space

One of my greatest childhood regrets is not being sportier. I always envied those kids who would have cabinets upon cabinets of sporting or breakdancing trophies. I always imagined being awarded a medal for fencing, even though I never fenced. I suppose the annual School Rock Eisteddfod at the Sydney Entertainment Centre was more my forte – and admittedly that was as spectator than participant. Then there’s ArtExpress? I never made it in, but I did appear acting in a friend’s video artwork in the late 90s and that made it in. But unlike Hollywood, the auteur is everything in the artworld and the actor is regarded as shit-like.

I guess I’ll have to settle for being a trophy wife.

Feelings of regret for being a total loser when it comes to trophy acquisition (or lack thereof) came rushing back to the fore when visiting Elvis Richardson’s show at James Dorahy Project Space, The Impossibility of Losing in the Mind of Someone Winning. Richardson has been working with trophies for awhile now and they’re not her own. A total op-shop whore, Richardson mines the second-hand market place for abandoned trophies and makes them her own. She’s a collector of the kind of stuff no one wants or needs. I mean who the fuck wants someone else’s token of triumph displayed on the mantelpiece, let alone a complete strangers. But artists get off on reimagining the detritus that was once a treasured icon of achievement. For instance, Nicholas Folland also uses trophies and sport memorabilia in his work, to wryly comment more on defeat than the usual elation associated with winning. I'm even reminded here of Tracey Moffatt's great series Fourth (2001), where the artist lovingly photographed from her TV screen the almost winners (ie losers) of the 2000 Sydney Olympics as if the coverage was a found object just waiting for an artist to come along and reclaim it. Found objects in art always work so well when they carry with them the burden of displaced meaning. That’s my fancy faux academic way of saying that once the object screamed to the world, “I’m a winner” while now it reeks of apathy and amnesia; what was once so revered is now a lacklustre footnote. And what’s even more pathetic is that unless these objects end up in the hands of a clever artist, they sit at the op-shop as bitter reminder that Joe Citizen once won a tennis tournament, but he’s now either downsized or dead.

Richardson plays with these tensions beautifully in her work. You may recall similar themes pervading her ongoing Slide Show Land work, where 35mm transparencies are reclaimed and reconfigured from the dustbin of history we call eBay. In this body of work, Richardson has taken a bunch of trophies and refashioned them by burning and recasting them. The resulting works are bent out of shape rendering them sad and comical at the same time, like they’ve been polished one time too many. Imagine the maid took a line of speed one morning and over-polished the trophy cabinet in one particularly manic moment of hard-core hygiene - that’s what these readymade sporting sculptures look like. In a country that privileges sport over the arts, it’s great to see an artist like Richardson forcing sculpture onto sport. A nominee in the Basil Sellers Art Prize, which asks Australian contemporary artists to reflect and engage with sport, Richardson is something of a contender because she reminds us that despite its obvious and enduring emphasis on physicality, sport is potent as one of our leading elements of cultural and social life because it is a stage for unfettered emotional melodrama. It’s safe to say that today’s triumph will inevitably be tomorrow’s defeat and Richardson’s repurposed signifiers of sporting prowess blur the edges around these supposedly extreme states of victory and loss. Therein rests sport’s greatest paradox: a trophy always needs a shelf; a winner never wants a shelf life.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Greatest Artist in the World

There's a new ARI (artist-run-initiative) in town. Let me explain...

I was doing my 5pm power walk around Centennial Park on Thursday, when I encountered the opening night fanfare of Art Sydney at The Royal Hall of Industries, where hard-bodied suits were parading down the red carpet with their pregnant Double Bay wives. Replenishing my fluids more than necessary, then pretending to tie my Nike shoelaces, I waited awhile hoping to spy someone semi-famous. Be careful what you wish for! I didn't just see someone famous, I saw Arie Levit, the self-proclaimed
"Greatest Artist in the World". Admittedly I didn't know who he was; I'm just guessing he's famous and I didn't know because I cancelled my subscription to Parkett, like, ages ago.

It was quite amusing actually because Arie (who I gather has a mental illness or something) was rejected by Art Sydney and letting everyone know with his makeshift stall showcasing his precocious talents. What does he do? He paints, not with a brush, but with a trowel. I guess it's better than action painting from your asshole. I took a few phone snaps of management fighting to have him removed while an amateur TV crew (who I suspect were booked by Arie) filmed the commotion. As I was about to leave to finish my now interrupted power walk, Arie bailed me up with a brochure. Grammar may not be a strong suit, but confidence is. For that I feel blessed to have come close to such greatness. As Ari says:

Since the invention of the camera painters have had to compromise on the only thing that turns a painter into an artist... skill. Arie is the only painter in the last 200 years to put skill back into the art where it belongs. "I can do with my towel what the great Salvador Dali did with a hundred brushes. I paint the best paintings in the world, you can touch them, you can clean them with a cloth, you could even spill red wine over them, just mind the carpet mate!!" Aries fresco paintings amazes everyone who ever touches them. "When people touch my art my art touches them".

Pity his trowel isn't being used to craft the old-fashioned art of commas and apostrophes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Daily Dose

Stevie Nicks as an artwork courtesy of Commander Cody

Apologies to all (ie both) of my loyal readers for being AWOL. The last few weeks The Artswipe has been holed up at home sick as a dog. I contracted a case of apathy. Who'd have thought that was sexually transmitted! I went to see the family doctor and all she could do was offer some aesthetic advice and tell me to avoid coming into contact with anything white. Maybe I should stop seeing a PhD and visit an MD like the rest of the world because whiteness if just too fucking pervasive to avoid. But if you must know what The Artswipe is endorsing at the moment, here goes.

My favourite new media piece of recent times was The Worm by Channel 9 (Sunday, October 21, 2007). That was hypnotic and quietly compelling. My favourite text art was from the Good Weekend (October 13, 2007) - especially this quote from an article about Stevie Nicks:

So 1993 comes rolling around, and Stevie Nicks is finally convinced that that the protracted high dosage of Klonopin might be killing her. So she does exactly what you or I might do. She instructs her personal assistant, Glenn, to take her daily dose - just to see what effect it has. "I said, 'It won't kill you, because it hasn't killed me, but I just want to see what you think... Well, after an hour... he said, 'I can't fix the stereo and I don't think I can drive home'. And I said, 'Well good - just stay there because I'm studying you.' And he was almost hallucinating. It was bad".

So I am reading this in the doctor surgery waiting room. That's the best place to read the Good Weekend as you can be waiting a long time and the dullness of the magazine is a perfect match to the dodgy interior design characteristic of such places. As I contemplate what it must be like to be Stevie Nicks, I have a killer idea for a performance piece. I will get my doctor to prescribe me high doses of Klonopin - a hearty tranquiliser endorsed by none other than the white witch herself - and hand it out at the next art opening I attend.

I will call this piece 'Studying' the White Cube (just like the white wing dove) 2007.

Later in the article Stevie talks about why she founded "The Stevie Nicks Soldier's Angel Foundation". In case you don't know, this foundation promotes the use of music in the rehabilitation of of US servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing them with iPods.
And that's just what those brave soldiers need.

It had crossed my mind that the consolation prizes offered to Australian Idol contestants as they get booted off (juicy plasma screens and then some) are probably more generous. But at least the gift of music heals like nothing else. Stevie just knows that it's better to scratch your phantom limb in time to the beat of Rhiannon than to the bitter bombless silence of American life post-wartime.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Multiple Choice

The Artswipe
Born 2B Cute, 2007
Mobile phone photo

I was strolling through a suburban Westfield (my favourite of art spaces) and encountered this shiny installation. Very Kingpins, I thought. Who'd have ever thought the acid house smiley face would make a comeback precisely 20 years on. But how appropriate, how artworld are such comebacks. The remixing of pop histories is very much a present day concern, exemplified by artists like The Kingpins, Soda_Jerk, Ms & Mr, Spat + Loogie, Motel Sisters. Exhibiting with your actual name is so last decade - it's so much more zeitgeist to invent a funky moniker to match your funky artwork. I called deed poll to ask their opinion about all of this and spoke to a woman called Tap Water. She said,"ask me no questions, I tell you no lies". Hmmm cryptic, I thought. (Just as well she didn't call herself Tap Gallery - that place makes my skin crawl). One thing Tap Water did shed light on is that it's against the law to change your name to a conjunction (joining words like"and", "for" or "or"). Shame if you're a text artist.

I was so inspired by the Westfield installation - partly because everything was so cheap - that I made my way from there to The Kingpins opening at Kaliman Gallery on Thursday night (4 October). There's no point going to see their show unless you go on opening night because the whole point of their practice is the party involved. As I'm fairly shallow at the best of times I like artists who aren't afraid to make partying their medium of choice. And what a party it was. Check out the opening night photos at the new and very trendy Kaliman Gallery Blogspot. I'm standing just behind the wig sculpture in case you're wondering.

The Kingpins
Survivor, 2007
Oil on canvas, 90 x 65 cm
Courtesy the artist & Kaliman Gallery

So who are The Kingpins? All you need to know is that they're a supercrazygirlfoursome who remix history with such garish kitschy aplomb it makes your rectum bleed sequins. Known mainly for their music video like works, The Kingpins' new stuff depicts Azaria Chamberlain as if she was a 27 year old trapped in a Bollywood world. I don't know about you, but I've always wondered what Azaria would be doing now if she was alive. Last time I visited Psychic Sue, she told me Azaria is very much alive: she lives in our hearts. What an uplifting thought. In the universe of The Kingpins, Azaria is trapped on canvas. Yes, trapped in a painting. Like all good rockstars between albums, The Kingpins have given the music video production team annual leave and commissioned sign painters from India. The blurb at the Kaliman blog says:

To produce the paintings the Kingpins travelled to India to work with Bollywood cinema and sign painters, Muthu Arts and Kumar Arts of Pondicherry. This collaboration allowed the Kingpins to explore a history of cinematic advertising, famous for its hyper-real palette and incredible technical skill. The resulting pastiche is a mesmerising combination. Mothered by dingoes and fathered by popular culture, Azaria Chamberlain appears before us as a fantasy woman, legendary figure of the Australian outback in full-blown Bollywood colour.

I suppose the blog isn't going to say: The Kingpins are now making paintings because they are easier for a commercial gallery to sell. But come to think of it, video art is selling like hotcakes these days. So much so it makes me wonder if there's a bootleggy kind of black market out there trading Shaun Gladwells. Just picture it: a nervous crackwhore bootlegger in Chinatown with his pirated video art copies spreadout on a tressle table: "For you two dollar".

Pope Alice
Giza circa AD1500
from Appearances series, ongoing
Courtesy the artist and MOP Projects

What else have I seen this week? Well video art and the whole persona thing (usually) done by the likes of The Kingpins is the subject of the MOP show Multiple Personality. I've been meaning to see this show since it opened as a PDF of its catalogue was emailed to The Artswipe by curator, Daniel Mudie Cunningham. Referring to
The Art Life, The Artswipe, Skanky Jane, and Art & Mayhem, he writes in the catalogue text, "Persona is evidently multiple in an online context as it relies less on the accountability of the word made flesh." Nice one DMC.

Multiple Personality is an entertaining show that positions veteran legends like the Luke Roberts/Pope Alice nexus alongside new stars like Matthew Hopkins and Sari TM Kivinen (both of whom have been the subject of older Artswipe posts. See here for Hopkins and here for Kivinen). The video work by Ms & Mr is a highlight that shows the artists remixing their childhood home videos so that present day Mr appears in video footage of a school play performance by Ms. Think Twin Peaks meets Degrassi Junior High. Their video at MOP has a similar vibe to Videodromes for the Alone: The Lovecats, 1991/2007 - showcased in Heavy Sentimental, their wonderful debut show for Kaliman Gallery in June 2007. If I get bored of partying as my medium, I'm going to take a page out of the Ms & Mr guidebook to life and make marriage my medium of choice. Why not? It's multi-tasking at its best. "Babe can you take out the trash?" "Sure sweetie, but wait, let me grab the camcorder, bin night hasn't been examined yet in our practice".

I'm sure my little Mrs - Skanky Jane - won't mind taking out the trash.

Ms & Mr
Videodromes for the Alone: The Lovecats, 1991/2007
VHS & DV transferred to DVD
Colour, sound, edition of 5 + 1AP, duration 3:02 min
Courtesy the artist & Kaliman Gallery

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Horse Flu

From The Artswipe Collection

Last week I was at a party where this old friend (who I really should just dump) – let's call her Fay – asked me which animal I might have been in a past life. I thought long and hard about it before replying – such things have to be taken very seriously. So serious in fact that I'm sure some COFA Art Theory kid is already writing a PhD on the topic. Before I got a chance to answer Fay's question, she started telling me that her past life was equine. Fay was indeed a horse called Zara. So that Fay/Zara couldn't see my disapproval, I rolled my inner eyes, and thought, what is it about chicks and horses? I don't get it; isn't that girly-horsy thing, like Tab and Swatch watches, just a little bit last century? Once every girl I knew either wanted a horse or wanted to be a horse. Ride a fucking bike, for godsakes! I remember when I was at school (the posh one of my imagination) little princess cunts like Mia, Sue and Julie weren't satisfied unless daddy bought them a pony, which is exactly what daddy did. I used to wonder if their daddies would adopt me. I'd do anything for a daddy who would let me ride.

If I was a child in this day and age, I'd be lucky to score a Tamagotchi from my parents, let alone a day-pass barebacking at El Caballo Blanco. Speaking of which, I was sifting through a week's worth of junkmail yesterday (you know the drill: endless invites to every gallery in the world) and a pamphlet about El Caballo Blanco caught my eye. How amazing that it still exists. I had just assumed (whenever it crossed my mind) that it had gone the way of Old Sydney Town or Australia's Wonderland. Oh wait, it actually did; this pamphlet is advertising its return to Sydney as an All New Arena Spectacle: "A piece of history returns". Yay! The last time I was at El Caballo Blanco – c. the early years – I bought a souvenir spoon for my mother and she thought it really beautiful. As my mother was more into mink coats and costume jewellery at the time, I suspect in retrospect that she was pretending.

Getting back to my past life animal. I won't divulge what my animal might be, for fear the reincarnation gods are listening and will start planning my next life accordingly - just in case I guess the animal and get it wrong. And to be quite honest, I'd rather come back a fridge magnet than an animal. Animals are so over-rated. Who'd want to be an animal when you're never quite sure if you'll end up dinner for another species, roadkill along the Great Highway of Wherever, or shot up with cancer or "the AIDS" for the Greater Scientific Good. Imagine coming back as a pet for either the disabled or dilettante. And seeing how much I hate French cinema in this life, it would be just my luck that I'd come back as the poster pet for the Brigitte Bardot animal welfare foundation in the next life if I don't play my cards right.

Fay was getting mighty pissed with me now for being too cerebral so I bought her another Southern Comfort and Coke to shut her up before moving to the other end of the bar to talk to Wendy. The thing about Wendy is that she actually has a bit of a horse face so I couldn't handle it anymore. After having a spew outside, I hailed a cab and went home. But I couldn't sleep. I had horses on my mind. Ignoring the El Cobalo Blanco brochure sitting on the coffee table, I flicked through the art invite junk mail and saw that Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has a show of new work by Jenny Watson called Star Material – now there's an artist who knows a thing or two about the horse. I finally fell asleep knowing Jenny Watson could indeed answer my tough equine questions if I paid a visit to the Oxley stable.

Jenny Watson
Horse around, 2007
L: Oil and acrylic on rabbit skin glue primed
Chinese organza over damask, 280x126cm
R: Acrylic on prepared oval stretcher, 36x28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

With a mild headache, I took myself off to the gallery hoping for answers to the enduring riddle of why girls get their rocks off to horses. Is it just the big swinging cock or is there really something special there, more akin to an emotional connection? Certainly one woman I'll grant a hobby horse concession is
Patti Smith, the first lady of punk. Her Horses (1975) album still makes me come to this day. In the film of her one woman show, Without You I'm Nothing (1990), Sandra Bernhard sums up Patti in a nutshell: "She was a prophetess. She saw so far into the future she could afford to take ten years off and not say another word".

So I'm at Jenny Watson's show on a sunny Saturday afternoon and, as expected, I encountered a painting of a girl on a horse. As Watson has been dealing with the same concerns (girls, horses and then some) for some twenty years, it didn't really take me by surprise. Yep, all the familiar traits were there: naïve paintings on fabrics and scrawled diary-like texts detailing the cutesy everyday minutia inspiring the work. Watson was big for this kind of stuff in the 1980s and with prices fetching in the realm of $20K these days, it's safe to say the horsy coming of age she had in the 80s will be as commodifiable well into her coming of old age. Which is soon, I suspect.

But come on, it's not all old stuff re-hashed. Watson makes a stab at pop culture currency by painting an iPod advert depicting a silhouetted figure dancing with her is… is it a Nano? Whatever the case, I bet it doesn't have 80-gig of memory like mine does! Watson has really captured something here; the painting was so authentic of contemporary "yoof culture", I could almost hear Jamiroquai or some shit like that wafting from the "rabbit skin glue primed Chinese organza over Chinese cotton". Do I hear Sophie Ellis Bextor? Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't Patti Smith.

Jenny Watson
Self portrait as an iPod ad, 2007
L: acrylic on rabbit skin primed Chinese organza over Chinese cotton, 128x77 cm
R: acrylic on prepared square stretcher, 30x30 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Leaving Roslyn Oxley9 and wondering if perhaps Jenny Watson is responsible for the horse flu epidemic, I decided to nip this horse shit in the bud once and for all and jump in a
Hansom cab and trek out west to Hawkesbury Regional Gallery to see Bloodlines: Art and the Horse, curated by Peter Fay. I need some context for the major equine love-in that is gripping this country. Stepping inside the space, I was confronted by such a massive lineup of artists that I was somewhat overwhelmed and there for at least three hours. All that was missing was the smell of manure (which is fine considering some of the work made up for that). If I had paid to get in, it would have been worth the admission, heck I would have even made a donation. Look, I'd even go as far as saying that it'd be worth a kidney or two. Bloodlines made me feel better that it's not just the girls who have a crush on the horse - the boys love their pony clubs just as much. Now that I've taken the plunge into "horse culture", I will de definitely betting at the next Melbourne Cup. For that major personal breakthrough I'm deeply grateful.

What's that over there near the door? How did I miss it as I walked in? Just as I'm leaving Hawkesbury Gallery, an unobtrusive and somewhat grungy little piece by Kate Smith takes me by surprise. The artist has pin-pricked a scrappy bit of cardboard to form three modest but powerful words: I Hate Horses.

Kate Smith
I Hate Horses, 2007
Cardboard, 21 x 39 cm
Courtesy the artist