Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 10 - The New Age
Log 10 - The New Age

Sydney Roundup -
Russell Storer


Now emerging from the summer rush of festivals and tourists, Sydney is settling in to the getting-down-to-business part of the year. The over-hyped millennial celebrations, the Sydney Festival, and then Mardi Gras has meant that there's a certain amount of ennui about the place. But we've still got the Biennale, and then of course the big O...

In a tough, extroverted city such as this, it's often hard to find a space for contemplation, let alone the time. Art can provide such a respite; yet art here often seems gung-ho, racy, marketable. There's an energy level that cannot help but sweep you along, and I've always felt it's a good way to cut the crap--you just get on with it. Yet there is little of the close-knit art community that you might find in Melbourne, or even Adelaide. You might join other artists down at the pub, but there's not always a lot of talking going on.

Still, we find our own ways through cities, creating our own channels, niches and sanctuaries. The artist-run space scene, which more than anything has the ability to generate pockets of critical engagement, excitement and genuine innovation, is relatively healthy, though could always be stronger. Rents in Sydney are ridiculously high and rising, making it increasingly more difficult for accessible spaces to be found, let alone maintained. Many have closed recently, although First Draft is still running after more than ten years, and Herringbone is now in its third year of operation. RubyAyre, in Surry Hills, has been operating for less than a year, and has had a consistent lineup of sharp solo and group shows. Besides local artists, it has featured practitioners from Perth and maintained its loose exhibition exchange arrangement with 1st Floor in Melbourne (RubyAyre grew out of Side On Inc., featured in Log #4). The gallery's openings are always packed, bringing in art-world heavyweights with astonishing ease--a rare and wonderful thing when so often institutions and dealers are too busy or disinterested to venture further than each other's shindigs.

Another relatively new venue is Elastic, housed in a tiny corner space in Chippendale, and run by nine artists, including Deej Fabyc, Elizabeth Pulie and Elvis Richardson. The shows run for only four days, with openings every Thursday night, providing a wealth of solo and curated group shows. August 26, so named because the three artists (Fabyc, Adam Boyd and Callum Morton) share that birthdate, was a neat little number, held in mid-March. Fabyc's typically autobiographical video displayed the artist discussing her feelings about her recent motherhood, with Morton providing a warts-and-all sound piece of his own sobbing. Andy Davey's going for gold, held in early April, continued the artist's obsession with all things gilded; this time using Golden Rough chocolate bars and wrappers. The work referenced the Olympics, but also uncovered a quaint '70s Sydney use of the term--apparently it referred to the surfer-boy trade from the North Shore with their sandy undies...

Andy Davey, Going for Gold Toby Huynh, Persuassion
[left] Andy Davey, Going for Gold, (chocolate and gold foil) at Elastic
[right] Toby Huynh, Persuasion, (digital prints on perspex) at Gallery 4A,
Courtesy AAAA Inc
Photo: Dacchi Dang

Gallery 4A is a space run by the Asian Australian Artist Association, and has, since its inception, occupied two different venues in Chinatown. It's a unique space--part artist-run, part commercial gallery, part institution (it has its own curator)--and has held a number of excellent shows, memorably Truong Tan for the '98 Mardi Gras and Stephen Birch's Civic Minded in '99. Exhibiting a mix of Asian and non-Asian artists, 4A operates both as a locus for the Asian communities, as well as providing a point of contact for Australian artists to the Asian contemporary art scenes--shows have toured to Japan, and artists have been exhibited here from India, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong.

4A's most recent exhibition, Skulls and Solicitors, features David Griggs and Michael Dagostino, young artists who have worked together on projects at a range of artist-run spaces, both in Sydney and Brisbane. Dagostino, the "solicitor" half, has reined in his normally rough and ready qualities in this show (previous pieces included white-goods plastered in what appeared to be spit balls). His work is represented simply by two small objects on one wall (a twig and a mobile phone, knobbly with resin) and two mounted photographs on the other. The photographs, which appear to be close-ups of urban detritus, have a painterly, yet nicely incidental quality. Griggs's work looked better than ever, his skateboarder aesthetic refined to elegant simplicity. A sharp user of unexpected materials (tarpaulin and camouflage fabric being previous favourites), Griggs has this time featured tie-dyed denim, draped over an ominous box-like shape. On the walls glower large spray-painted skulls, overlaid with painted pine shapes in military colours. It's army disposal store art, smelling of cheap leather jackets, steel-capped boots and flick knives. The two halves meet nicely in the middle; perhaps it's a plea for civic harmony, but I suspect something rather more sinister.

The buoyant economy has meant that commercial galleries are firing; the relative affluence is palpable, and even if the work isn't always that interesting, you can always find something to look at elsewhere. Mori Gallery is one of the more interesting and diverse galleries, with a particular focus on the Pacific; it regularly shows artists from New Zealand. Gitte Weise Gallery, currently showing NZ/UK artist Bill Culbert, operates from a tiny space high above Oxford Street, but is moving to a new venue--the old Coventry Gallery in Paddington--in May. It'll be opening with Rosemary Laing, who will now be able to exhibit in a space that will do her work justice. Laing, for a long time now one of the most interesting and consistent photographers in the country, is finally getting her international dues, with a number of big shows lined up for the year.

However, Dale Frank is truly the artist du jour, with a painting retrospective at the recently opened Level 4 gallery at the MCA and a project room at the Art Gallery of NSW. Although an artist who has dabbled in every conceivable medium, Frank is best known as a painter, and it's with painting that his anarchic and joyous sensibility shines. Paint, varnish, glitter, aluminium, carpets, hubcaps, and car deodorisers are all subject to Franking--a mass of acid colours, sexy gloops and swirls, glorious surfaces and the campest, silliest titles this side of Fiona Apple's last album [full title: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights And if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And if You Fall It Won't Matter, 'Cuz You'll Know That You're Right]. Downstairs at the MCA, Frank is also included in the Hitchcock: Art, Cinema and Suspense exhibition, which comes in two parts. The first, Notorious, is a touring exhibition from MoMA Oxford, and features art/film luminaries such as Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas (always get those two mixed up), Chris Marker, Cindy Sherman and Atom Egoyan. The Australian component, Moral Hallucination: Channelling Hitchcock is more about the feel of Hitchcock, neatly enabling curator Ted Colless to include such moody artists as Anne Wallace, Louise Hearman, Robyn Stacey and Bill Henson. The stamp of Colless is strongly on the show, with the work shoehorned into three rooms, each given an evocative title in order to "channel" the maestro: Jack Ruby, Syrup and Vogue. Where this leaves the art is another question, but it's an enjoyable experience, and a fine example of exhibition as total art work.

The Art Gallery of NSW recently heldPassing Time, a group show of ex-Moët & Chandon finalists (Gail Hastings, Xiao Xian Liu, Patricia Piccinini, David Noonan and Mutlu Cerkez) curated by Victoria Lynn. The work was a pretty mixed bag: Noonan and particularly Piccinini provided the highlights, both with elaborate installations. Noonan produced a cavernous 2001-type space, with two video projections onto a kitschy galactic skyscape; while Piccinini's hairless mutant rat scuttled from monitor to monitor, popped up in a Holden Kingswood in a series of digital photographs, and grossed everyone out with large-screen close-ups of its body while it breathed fast then slow in orgasmic bursts. Passing Time is an apt title for an exhibition that marks the end of Moët & Chandon's involvement with contemporary art for the time being. The great age of the art prize (i.e. the 1990s) seems to be fading, with the likely loss of both the $100,000 Contempora 5 in Melbourne and the MCA-based Seppelt art award. Although the prizes have been regularly (and rightly) criticised for turning art into a kind of horse race, this is not necessarily a good sign.

Moet and Chandon finalists
Passing Time: Moet & Chandon exhibition 2000, Gail Hastings (foreground), Mutlu Cerkez (background), Art Gallery of New South Wales
Courtesy AGNSW
Photo: Jeni Carter.

While the economy might be powering ahead, social policy and support for the arts is degenerating rapidly. With a Prime Minister doggedly incapable of understanding symbol and gesture in public life (Howard's refusal to say sorry; his semantic disavowal of the stolen generations), it is no wonder that art is at the bottom of the priority list. The NSW State government, one of the most poll-driven in recent memory, has decided to bail out of providing the $14.5 million required to complete the Sydney City Council's offer of recurrent funding for the MCA, resulting in what could be a rather nasty battle involving the Council, the Harbour Authority, the University of Sydney and perhaps the Art Gallery of NSW. These are not going to be easy times.


Russell Storer [Taurus (Taurus rising, Aquarius moon) Dog] "is a writer and curator who lives in Sydney if that doesn't sound too wanky."



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room