Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fatso Whale

Nike Savvas
Atomic: Full of Love, Full of Wonder 2005/2008 (detail)
Installation at Casula Powerhouse
Photo: The Artswipe

The Artswipe has been a nervous mess of late - all this Bill Henson talk has made me quite twitchy, aware that any minute a huge tsunami of repression could wash over a population of stupid masses who are happily drowning in their self-perpetuating hysteria. Grow up Australia! Grow up now! If you see me in the corner, twitching and in a fetal position, it's not because I'm being photographed by Bill Henson; it's because I'm pissed off. I never wanted to live in the 1950s and seeing I was born in 1970, now is not the time for time travel.

The Artswipe promises never mention Bill Henson again, because frankly other art shows are doing the rounds. And because I won't give it power.

So I went to the Casula Powerhouse today as I have been simply dying to see how the renovations turned out. Plus there is this shit-hot show called Australian. I bet Baz Luhrmann is pissed off - his movie Australia is about to come out and he probably thought he was tapping into something that had never been done before. Well think again Twinkle Toes Luhrmann, your movie frankly doesn't have the budget Casula Powerhouse does. Yes, Casula was given a trillion dollars to pimp their space. And just as well: power stations are so 'modernity' - give me the digital age already.

I got off the train at Casula and thought for a second about how this is Ivan Milat Country. The murder rape fantasy eventually wore off and I made my way to Casula Powerhouse. It's quiet there; I'm used to the flightpath of my inner west terrace. I tremble nervously as I made my way across the narrow road that crosses the railway line. All of a sudden I am stuck - fuck it, I can't move, I really am stuck! I have become such a fatso whale that I am increasingly finding it impossible to move through entrances and exits. So much for accessibility. I have been eating a lot of carbs these last few months and now as a result, I won't be able to get into the Casula Powerhouse because the pedestrian access across the rail line is so narrow, so "fat-ist". Even the producers of the "hit" show Keating! share my anxiety.

The Artswipe
How I Got Fat (Thank You for Your Donation) 2008 (detail)
Installation at Liverpool McDonalds

As the Liverpool Leader reports:

Casula Powerhouse staff braved a few bumps while setting up for the musical Keating! A crew of about 25 people rolled up their sleeves on Monday to help unload the set, which travels by a semi-trailer that was too big to manoeuvre down a narrow road and cross a railway line leading to the Powerhouse. Theatre producer Lyn Wallis said the 'bump-in'' theatre lingo for setting up a show ran smoothly despite the obstacles. 'It's been a well-executed operation,' an excited Ms Wallis told the Leader. 'The show's been touring in the semi and there's a tonne of equipment. We managed to negotiate the semi down to the bottom of the hill and close to the railway line, which was a surprise. From there we used three small trucks to load the set to the theatre.'
Finally, after a combination of sweaty discombobulation and holding my breath, the good Lord used his invisible fist to push me through the tough Westie terrain. (Or some volunteers came out to help me...) All of a sudden the angels started singing "Hallelujah." At last, I was inside the Casula Powerhouse after a struggle screaming out for its own screenplay.

Australian, the inaugural exhibition at the revamped Casula Powerhouse, is curated by Nicholas Tsoutas and according to the website:
Casula Powerhouse commissioned Australia's hottest contemporary visual artists to transform the newly refurbished arts centre into a spectacle of colour, texture and movement. Combined, the artists have 40 biennales between them, and are among the most exciting practitioners today. The exhibition features 12 new works, in a variety of mediums including sculpture, painting, installation and textiles.

Like most Australians the artists have cultural and family ties in other places and it is this which informs their work. Australian celebrates the complexity that makes this country such an interesting place to live and presents some of the freshest and most dynamic work being created in this country today. 
Great, I love "hot" artists. Since I've put on so much weight the art "hotties" have stopped picking The Artswipe for casual sex at art opening so I have been a bit sex deprived. But that's OK, masturbation is free. And if you're an art lover like me, you can always use those quiet moments of ecstasy to imagine all kinds of sexual adventures with Shaun Gladwell's skateboard or Nike Savvas's balls.

In case you're thinking this exhibition of "hot" art only features Gladwell and Savvas, think again. It also includes
Sean Cordeiro & Claire Healy (so hot right now), David Griggs, Raquel Ormella, Guan Wei, Dani Marti, Gordon Hookey and others. The hottest moment was the wonderful ceiling installation of motorised kinetic chandaleirs by Suzann Victor that greets you upon entering the space.

Unfortunately it's downhill from there. David Griggs presented an installation called
Donkey Root and unless the sizzle of your Winfield Blue ciggie lighting up a friend's Marlboro Light has made a comeback in "hotness" stakes, then it may as well be met with a frosty reception.

I suppose this exhibition has set up a couple of impossible tasks. Much has to do with the title: being called
Australian, it heralds itself as both grandiose and remote. Australian erects claims about "cultural difference" in a self-conscious and tokenistic manner befitting something that heralds its "hotness" before anything else.

Weirder still, the show advertises the involvement of "writers",
Prof. Ien Ang, Prof. Andrew Jakubowicz, Assoc. Prof. Nikos Papastergiadis, Dr. Juan Salazar and Dr Paula Abood. The very least you could expect then is some killer publication to accompany this ambitious exhibition. At least when Captain Cook "discovered" Australia he wrote it all down and it was later published. This exhibition purports to depict what being "Australian" is all about through art and instead of publishing anything, the writers involved are put to work penning the didactic wall texts accompanying the artworks. Surely a catalogue is not much to ask for? For starters, it's usually where the curatorial rationale is located. The writers were also put to work as "speakers" at a three day conference. I was at a pie eating contest and couldn't attend, so I hope they performed the necessary intellectual audit of all the issues involved.

Considering the $13 million government funding Casula Powerhouse has received for the refurbishment, and the
media hoopla greeting its re-opening, I expected to be dazzled. Alas, I have been more dazzled by parking inspectors and abortion clinics.

Flick through the
Casula Powerhouse program and you quickly realise the space has been given over to the priority of high-turnover theatre productions. "Bums on seats" is the technical term used in the industry to describe this phenomenon. It appears that Casula Powerhouse's days as an art space are endangered. The program does not indicate what the next visual arts show will be, and that's because they probably don't know: it is still months and months away. The dates for Australian are 5 April - 7 September. Who ever heard of a regional gallery holding an exhibition for five months? Don't trip over yourself in the wild stampede to see it before it closes! In contrast, the theatre program rolls over with swift conveyor belt regularity.

On my lonely all-stations train ride home, I imagined what it might be like to exhibit at Casula Powerhouse. Some of us are hopelessly aspirational, I know. But then I remembered how fatso whales like me have no place there; we can't even get through the pedestrian crossing! The weight loss has to begin with either me or them. No doubt I'll be the biggest loser.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't Give it Power

John A. Douglas
Screen Test # 1(Americana), 2008
c-type photograph on alluminium, 1400mm x 1000mm
Courtesy the artist and Chalkhorse

Who would have thought the
Bill Henson scandal would in fact turn out to be such a red hot scandal? Every single party I attended at the weekend (I was invited to at least a dozen) was aflutter with the news. One person told me she would not speak about it as she had vowed "not to give it power". I took my hat off to her and we had a healing moment together. Every news channel was buzzing and I couldn't get enough. Even Rudd had his say! Oh dear, does this mean art will start becoming micromanaged by the media watchdogs? Has a precedent been set by Henson, whereby contentious artworks, no matter how potentially dull, will always come under the scrutiny of the moral majority? It's not as if this hasn't happened before - art scandals are a periodic affair. But never before has an Australian Prime Minister chucked in his two cents. Or at least that I know of.

But to leave your Monday morning on a brighter note, here is my favourite moment from the Henson media coverage. On Friday evening (23 May 2008) a commercial news network (I forget which one) covered the closure of the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery opening on Thursday night (22 May) by including comment from an artist who was there during the shut down. The artist was John A. Douglas and he said something about the closure being an outrage. What made it funny was they wrote his name on screen as "John MacDonald".

Postscript: John A Douglas, who was interviewed at The Art Life recently, emailed The Artswipe today and said:
Let me tell you that a precedent has been set - it was the first time I had gone to try and look at some work (yes I said to the media his work is actually a bit passe and boring) and been attacked by a media scrum. Basically some guy gave me the wrong info and said that he and the gallery had been charged. In hindsight I think they wanted to get a reaction and i was it. I turned around and suddenly all the cameras were on me (without my consent) as they couldn't get a word from the gallery. I can tell you it was art history 101 to the media - they must have thought I was John McDonald which shows how fucking moronic these guys are.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kindergarten Cop

Not a Bill Henson image.

What's new in "pedo" culture? Ask
Bill Henson, whose exhibition opening at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery featuring nude thirteen year old models, was shut down last night by police. According to The Australian, "Police said they wanted to speak to one of the models before deciding whether the show would go ahead." How controversial! It's like the time Juan Davila's Stupid as a Painter was impounded by police in 1982. Bill Henson has been making similar looking images for years - alas, the tiresomeness of it all. In fact, he has courted similar controversy as his work frequently displays bored, naked youth cavorting in moody landscapes.

I'm not into making grand claims about the moral code of art featuring twinky pre-teen talent, but I do think that police should shut down shows like this. Not because of child protection - that is so passe. Rather, police should shut down shows by artists who keep on churning out the same old, same old. Seen one Bill Henson, seen them all. I would reproduce one here but it seems the Roslyn Oxley9 website has been shut down too. Heavens to Betsy!

I have no real thoughts on whether sexually charged depictions of kids are appropriate in artistic contexts. It's a rather boring debate. If the semi-formed pre-pubescent body is your thing, well so be it, who am I to judge? Sometimes I wonder whether artists into this kind of thing (Larry Clark is another case in point) should just spare us all, get it out of their system and fuck their models once and for all. Maybe then we'll be spared of the ongoing fantasy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Let's Get Lost with Found Objects

The Artswipe
Is this found object an Adam Cullen? 2008
Mattress, spray paint, a 'can-do' attitude
Dimensions: queen size bed
Courtesy mid-career

Tonight The Artswipe attended the opening of Let's Get Lost, a mid-career survey by bad man artist Adam Cullen, at the Art Gallery of NSW. I have been a bit of a Cullen fan for some time: his swift brushstrokes do it to me every time. Last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald article on Cullen (Saturday May 10, 2008) quotes the patron saint of paint John McDonald, who says, Cullen's "colours are chosen to be as lurid and as in your face as possible. The images are often chosen the same way. The whole thing is knocked up with a contemptuous speed."

Being so time-poor these days, it's best to just get to the point, I don't have all day, give me speed and make it a double! Thanks Christ for Cullen - while the rest of the Western world is busy with their Blackberry Blue Tooth Redneck Whitegoods, Cullen is busy whipping it out like a sharp shooter whose idea of foreplay is target practice at the firing range. Like a dirty date-rape mattress, Cullen's paintings number crunch the very idea of a zeitgeist into the sound of one back cracking. What's wrong with being "in your face"? It's better than being stuck "up your own ass".

On my way to the Art Gallery, I happenstanced upon an Adam Cullen artwork in the street. Or maybe it was just a found object, I can never tell. Fuck art for getting so so blurred with the everyday. Whatever it was, I believed in my heart, soul and rectum that it was a satellite installation for the AGNSW show. It was beautiful - a lonely, spent mattress propped up against the fence of a block of council flats, a medium with a message of two powerful letters - AC.

I always admired Duchamp for signing a urinal R. Mutt. Perhaps Cullen is following the grand tradition laid down by his anarchic Dada forebears; that by signing his initials he lays claim to an impulse to piss hard and good on an embracing establishment. Maybe he hadn't finished writing on the mattress? Perhaps he took a tea break with every intention of coming back and completing the initials to form the words: A. Cunt.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tip Jar

The Artswipe vs Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro
Untitled Til Tomorrow, 2008
Public Art

I visited my local tip today and saw a really great installation by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro. I love those guys! Such a grip on public art.

PS. Thanks Memphys for yesterday's post. Can you ask permission next time? Flat white with two sugars, you know the drill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Work Experience

Something for Kate

Um hey, firstly let me just say I'm not actually The Artswipe... I'm just here on work experience. My name's Memphys, I am in Year 11. I haven't really got long to write as The Artswipe has just gone down the road to get us some battered savs for lunch - extra chicken salt. Anyway, my careers advisor said that I was suited for working in the public arena so here I am. I was really excited at first because I thought I could go down to Channel Nine and work with my Uncle Gavan; he's the audience warm-up guy for Mornings With Kerrie-Ann. But Uncle Gavan said that I was a bit too emo for Kerrie Ann's audience. I guess he would know.

So now I'm alone at The Artswipe nerve centre. Some of the the stuff lying around in here is a bit random. There is a lot of really bad posters on the walls. One says "Welcome to my Wonderworld" and has a picture of some guy kissing a dog. On The Artswipe's fridge is a picture of a monkey eating a banana and sitting on the toilet. But I've been keeping myself busy playing with the velcro dart-board (velcro balls instead of actual darts). There is a scoreboard next to it. That disturbs me a bit. Isn't this site a solo operation? Whatever.

But I don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing here. The Artswipe hasn't really left me anything to do. I just came back from boiling the jug before and there was a ball of Blu-Tack about the size of a mango on the table. I have been going around the walls and using it to clean off old crusty Blu-Tack bits. I think that's what it's for.

But this place has something to do with art (apparently), so I thought I'd turn my hand to something creative. I've been working on a Blu-Tack relief sculpture around the door frame. I'm not really sure how it's going to turn out but at the moment it's a sculpture of two dresses fighting. One is
Kate Ritchie's Logies dress (Gold Logie, 2008) and the other looks a bit like my cousin's winter school uniform...just not brown.

Anyway, because of some of the el-cheapo 'Yello-Tak' (?!) that has infected my media, Kate Ritchie looks a bit like she has either pissed herself or is giving birth to giant yellow tapeworms. Perhaps I will call it
Piss Kate. As it happens we studied Andres Serrano at school last semester. I don't know what the fuss was all about. My mum got locked in the laundry for a whole weekend once when dad took us kids to Movieworld; she filled a whole Brita water filter with wee.

So I think
The Artswipe will be back soon, the shops are just up the road. I'd better go, I think I can smell battered savs. Plus it's mufti day next Monday and I have to start thinking of something to wear.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Feeling your way in like Helen Keller

The Artswipe vs Bill Viola
Fire and Ice (Splashdance) 2008
Video art
Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW

The Artswipe went to see the Bill Viola meditation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week. You know, I was feeling elemental. It was a real fire and ice kind of day.

Just quietly, I have never seen what the Bill Viola hullabaloo is all about. In the video at the AGNSW these figures float in space like microcosmic specks of matter before crash landing (via a really tricky edit) into water. They float. It's all slow motion and affecting. I wept for days after.

Before "experiencing" the phenomenological power of this work one has to make their way into the darkened gallery it inhabits. And it's one of those kinds of heavy duty spaces where light is blocked out, stamped out, eradicated. You're feeling your way in like Helen Keller, trying to not trip over anyone, let alone accidentally fondle random genitalia. So the eyes have not yet adjusted and the speck-like figures orbiting in darkness make the space even darker. I start freaking out thinking about someone else's repressed junior high memories involving back alley ways and car parks. I've always been a shoulder to cry on, which means I have a lot of baggage. Whenever watching video art by international art stars all that dark baggage comes to the surface. All the pain and shit.

So I grab my mobile phone as a light source to guide my passing into Bill Viola's dark space. His dark hole of elemental substance. The Nokia makes a good torch. Someone sitting in darkness watching the video yells out as soon as my Nokia lights up: "Please don't!"

You know what: Get Fucked Anonymous Bill Viola Fan in the Darkness! I was just trying to do the right thing by OHS and not tread on anyone or encounter, as I said, random genitalia.

Moral of the story: The Artswipe is so over international artstarvideoart about darkness and light, floating and fire. Rebirth already - I'm sure your mother would love the comeback.

I already have Earth, Wind and Fire in my record collection.

Postscript: Melbourne artist Kate Smith emailed The Artswipe a reproduction of an artwork she made in 2005 that taps into the same themes dealt with here:

Kate Smith
Can You Feel It, 2005
Acrylic on postcard
Courtesy the artist