Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 9 - Lists
Log 9 - Lists

Melbourne Roundup
Clare Firth-Smith


1. CHANGES The Melbourne art scene has as usual been running at a frenetic pace. There has been a musical chairs-like shift amongst some of the coveted contemporary art curatoral positions at ACCA, CCP, and Gertrude St. Other events of significance include the relocation of Tolarno Gallery (to the city) and the temporary closure of the NGV due to renovation. Building has begun on the Federation Square Contemporary Art Museum and ACCA's new Wood Marsh designed site at the Malthouse, and construction is nearly finished at the new State Museum. And of course there's been much reflective discussion about the plethora of video and installation work in Signs of Life, Melbourne's inaugural international biennial, as well as the current state of our art prizes.

2. RICKY The recent interest in young artists lifted a notch or two when Ricky Swallow (aged 24) won the $100,000 Contempora5 award in September. Buoyed by the stiff competition he produced ambitious new work: Peugeot Taipan: Model for a discontinued line and Model for a sunken movement. The latter was a giant black Darth Vader head that appeared to be sinking into the black floor of the Ian Potter Gallery. Constructed in multiple parts, its tiered appearance was suggestive of archeological excavations and ruined empires. When accepting his prize Swallow generously suggested that the other four artists deserved to receive more than just $2,000 runner-up money. Other work of interest at Contempora5 was Mikala Dwyer's iffytown 1999. A quirky and claustrophobic mixed media installation that operates on a vertical/ horizontal shift exploring density and spatial disorder.

3. VIDEO Two more artists concerned with ideas of a spatial nature are David Noonan and Simon Trevaks. Their new video collaboration 9 at Project Space examines the aesthetics of science fiction, space exploration and futurist idealism. Noonan's work often looks retro and frequently references films such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001. In 9, communication and relationships are played out against a backdrop of modernist architecture and NASA design. Two actors play out separate scenarios of distance and disaster in outer space, each on a different video projection positioned next to each other. The girl is manning the control ship whilst the boy is in a shuttle rapidly losing contact. Both verbalise concern that their communication link is breaking up. In this layered work, troubled relationships are used as a metaphor for impending doom as well as modernism's own inbuilt obsolescence and eventual demise.

4. PAINTINGThe Trouble with Harry, a recent show at Project Space also looks at modernism but from a totally different perspective. The Trouble with Harry is about the death of painting. It takes its named from a '50s Hitchcock film about a corpse that keeps reappearing. Judith Duquemin, Diena Georgetti and Daniel Noonan transverse the slippery quagmire that painting now (apparently) has become. Although I would beg to differ slightly on the belief that painting ever really died, I think this is a great exhibition that shows us that there's still plenty of life left in the old dog. Daniel Noonan's Untitled 1999 uses the uncertainty and insecurity (over currency and relevance) that seems to surround a lot of contemporary painting and propels the medium into the position of subject rather than vehicle. His work examines the situation of being a painter at this particular post-historical time. He shows us that nothing about this medium can be a 'given' anymore, and although painting doesn't have the authority it used to have, it's definitely back.

5. COMMERCIAL SCENE At Anna Schwartz Gallery in September, Tony Clark's exhibition revealed subtle new directions in his work. Small canvas boards contained irregular circular and elliptical patterns in shades of brown, orange and beige. Although visually similar to '70s textile design, a conceptual investigation into the colour and form of 18th and 19th century Spanish portrait painting informed the compositions.

6. ARTIST RUN SPACES Parekohai Whakamoe and Ingrid Braun's New Work and Raafat Ishak's Gone Good Government at 1st Floor was a good line up in what has been an ordinary year at the space. Whakamoe and Braun both examine the notion of 'when place becomes space' but with diverse outcomes. Braun's crisp geometric photographs strip away architecture to reveal the structure of design whilst Whakamoe's ethereal landscape drawings refer to the virtual world and lost places. Raafat Ishak's work is a fresh and complicated addition to the ongoing tradition of painting about the grid. His piece entropically depicts an abstracted template of a collapsing building. Its chipboard surface is left uncovered in parts to compete with the intense colour and tight depth of field, leaving an overwhelming impression of suffocation and vertigo. Kim Donaldson's exhibition Just passing through at Spencer St Gallery was all about process. One room displayed a wall of incredibly detailed time-based drawings. They were produced over a period of one month, everyday detailing an aerial view of her kitchen and its changing contents. The other room had a group of exquisite monochrome paintings depicting her eye-glasses resting on an unspecified surface. The catalogue states that "All works in the show were executed without the assistance of spectacles".

Raafat Ishak, Gone Good Governerment
Raafat Ishak
Gone Good Government

oil on chipboard, 1999

7. PERFORMANCE Damp, Melbourne's answer to art club 2000, staged a performance at 200 Gertrude St in August called Punchline, which was a parody on the predictable bitchiness and unfolding disaster that group exhibitions can arouse. Its catalogue states "what if all your private fears and doubts were confirmed by your friends and peers... everything at your opening went awry, the catalogue was wrong, nobody could agree, the work was trashed..." What started off as an opening to a straight forward show of sculpture and objects disintegrated. There was a drunk idiot, a lovers' quarrel, minor vandalism, a big fight amongst the artists, then someone smashed part of the show. Seriously, it all took a while to sink in that it wasn't real. It was great!

8. ARCHITECTURE AND INSTALLATION Craig Easton & Natasha Johns-Messenger's installation Strange Place was at new space Level 11. The site is the foyer of architecture firm Ashton Ragett McDougall and is situated on one of the top floors of a building predominantly used for car parking. In a 2D/3D pull, the installation uses painterly devices to intervene in an unusual space. Relying heavily on design, the show suffered from close proximity to ARM. Looking into the reception, one could see many other interesting examples of this field. It's the space itself that's actually the surprising thing here. It's wedge shaped and small, has elevators, front doors, corridors, views into business areas and a window overlooking the city (to compete with). And yet, despite the surrounding action, it's a great little spot to look at art. Charles Anderson has the next show here, so this will be a space to watch.

9. DEATH OF AN ARTIST Sadly, one of Melbourne's greatest contemporary artists died on July 22nd. Howard Arkley, aged 48, had an accidental heroin overdose within days of returning home from exhibiting in the Venice Biennale and a sell-out solo show at Karen Lovegrove in Los Angeles. He was at the peak of his career and will be fondly remembered. John Davis also passed away on 17th October. He was mostly known for his environmental practice, 70s earthworks and stick sculptures. Albert Tucker, a seminal Melbourne Modern Expressionist died on 23rd October leaving a canonical body of work that depicts our city in a dark, forboding, mysterious way. And Kiwi/Australian artist Rosalie Gascoigne died aged 82. Her enormous artistic contribution enriched our knowledge of landscape and its layered construction, forever informing our understanding of looking at the land.

Clare Firth-Smith
Summer 2000



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room