Melburnin’ August 2013
by Inga Walton
Since May, the floating installation clinamen (2013) by French artist and composer Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has been casting quite a spell on viewers to the National Gallery of Victoria (until 8 September, 2013). Many have settled themselves on the perimeter bench within the temporary exhibition space erected in the Federation Court atrium to partake of the somewhat hypnotic quality of this ingenious work.The title refers to the curve of celestial configurations; to the arc of the sun, and the unpredictable motion of atoms moving through, and colliding, in space.
Buoyant in a vivid turquoise pool, white porcelain bowls are gently propelled across the surface by a water pump whereupon they inevitably collide, causing a percussive clinking, like a sonic ‘pondscape’. The number of bowls varies depending on maintenance, but at any one time there can be between 140 and 155 vessels of various sizes drifting around, contributing to this lively and unpredictable acoustic experience.
“Art is a possibility to open and to escape from the functionality of objects. For me, functionality is the worst thing in the world, because its message is to functionalise people in the same way”, Boursier-Mougenot asserts. The present work can be viewed as the next stage in a process of gradual refinement, as it draws on some of his earlier creative initiatives; untitled (Series I, II, III…) (1997-99) using inflatable rubber pools, and Variation (2009), exhibited at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Brazil, employing three recessed pools.
Boursier-Mougenot trained at the Conservatory for Music in Nice, and initially worked as a composer for avant-garde music projects and the Pascal Rambert theatre company (1985-94). He then began to develop long-duration mixed-media installations in which sound and movement merge to maximise the “musical potential” of various situations and objects. These projects have included such disparate components as vacuum cleaners, fans, balloons, video monitors, cameras, and projectors, live finches (the original Twitter?), glassware, and furniture, combined with a range of musical instruments and technical equipment like pianos, keyboards, Les Paul guitars, harmonicas, integrated loudspeakers, microphones, and amplifiers. In bringing the visible and the audible together into a “listening experience”, which embraces the potential for random musicality, Boursier-Mougenot temporarily incorporates “the one who contemplates” (the viewer) into the work of art as both a witness and a participant.
By integrating music, clinamen is expressive of the artist’s belief that the audience becomes more engaged and invested in the work as a result, “People fall in[to] a kind of meditation or contemplation. Not to the piece, but to themselves, like a mirror”, he observes. “The problem with visual art is that a lot of times you have to have an art background to understand it. Music is the opposite; it poses very emotional questions. People like some kinds of music, not others; and nobody will tell us that we are stupid because we don’t like one over another. Experiencing my work allows people the possibility to have an opinion, or an emotion they accept when they say it is music. For me, that is fifty percent of what I am trying to do”.
The movement and spontaneity of Boursier-Mougenot’s work beautifully prefaces the glimmering and tranquil world of Claude Monet’s famous Waterlilies (Nymphéas) in the principal exhibition space. “It took a long time, many years to make a piece like this, not many years of labour, but many years of pleasure and experimentation to finally catch the moment when the pieces [are] in the state to be stabilised … but then I did play first, this was very important, as you play music, as you improvise, and then little by little year after year, the things become more and more pure”.
• National Gallery of Victoria (International), 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004: www.ngv.vic.gov.au
The twenty-one artists who make up the professional group Goldfields Printmakers recently held their first exhibition Borders & Crossings at the Art Gallery of Ballarat (25 May – 7 July, 2013). Now those works will travel to the IMPACT8 International Printmaking Conference in Dundee (28 August – 1 September, 2013), a central element to the Inaugural Print Festival Scotland.
Jimmy Pasakos, who lectures in Contemporary Imaging at the University of Ballarat, had the idea to establish Goldfields Printmakers during the IMPACT7 conference held in Melbourne (2011). “Appropriately enough, I had a ‘Eureka’ moment!”, he quips. “My concept was to bring together printmakers from the historic and significant Goldfields region and to provide a portal through which dialogue and diversity can evolve in a supportive and enriching environment”. The group held its first meeting in November last year, “There was a sense of anticipation around the possibilities for the group to concertedly explore printmaking in this creatively diverse region, to tell our story through print, molding our own identity and leaving a legacy for new printmakers who come through the region. Our journey has only just begun”.
Pasakos will present a paper in Dundee discussing their achievements to date and potential future directions. “I will be reflecting upon the cultural significance of this project in regards to community engagement and the role that distance plays in the formation of this group. With Goldfields Printmakers we can engage, stimulate and provide a valuable contribution to not only the artists themselves but to the wider regional audience”, he believes. “Currently we are investigating various ways in which we can achieve this; in the form of print exchanges, group exhibitions and workshops. Ideally, we want to expand the number of established artists associated with our group, and perhaps mentor upcoming talent to participate in this rewarding area of practise”.
• IMPACT8: www.conf.dundee.ac.uk/impact8/home
Destination – Through a Glass, Darkly at Sophie Gannon Gallery (until 24 August, 2013) is the fourth in a series of sculptural installations by Judith Wright following A Wake (2011) at Queensland’s GOMA, A Journey (2012) at the 18th Biennale of Sydney, and Destination at Jensen Gallery, Sydney in March this year. Works on paper are interspersed with found objects, props, costumes, antique masks and vintage mannequins to form an eerie and static neo-Gothic pantomime, populated by a cast of ambiguous and hybrid characters. Two inscrutable black-clad and masked sentries, one holding a closed box, the other a copy of The Angel in the House (1854), the narrative poem about an ‘ideal’ happy marriage by Coventry Patmore (1823-96), wait at the entrance.
Imbued with shadow and a somewhat funereal aspect, this unfolding narrative imagines the potential life a lost child never experienced, a subject of great poignancy for Wright whose infant daughter died shortly after birth. Like Demeter trying to liberate her daughter Persephone from captivity in the underworld, so the absence of her beloved child, and Wright’s deep-seated sense of loss and abandonment, permeates many of the works. Wright came to her career in visual art from a background in dance, having performed with the Australian Ballet (1966-70), she has also worked extensively in the video-based medium. This is evident in the strong element of theatricality present in these sometimes disconcerting vignettes, and Wright’s inherent understanding of the nuances of staging and lighting in her placement of each element.
Wright’s protagonists exhibit various degrees of deficiency and disempowerment; mute, limbless, truncated, heedless, forbidding, as if expressing her own agony of powerlessness to help her child. An armless and seated jackal-headed figure in a dark pink and gold-net ‘romantic’ tutu contemplates a birthday cake, on a pedestal just beyond its reach, as a gold putto looks on. This is perhaps a reference to Anubis, the half-human, half-jackal Egyptian god associated with mummification and the protection of the dead for their journey into the afterlife. A tailor’s dummy with the taxidermy head of a dingo bears its teeth behind an empty wire crib; the torso of a sombre plaster angel, with one of its eyes plucked out, cannot play the hunting horn before it. Two macabre religious figures, a paunchy red-faced priest and frightful nun holding a red tribal mask seem to mock proceedings, a pair of battered children’s shoes before them. The figures in these haunting set-pieces seem immersed in interminable melancholy, or perhaps intractable rage, but are all silent as the grave.
• Sophie Gannon Gallery, 2 Albert Street, Richmond, Victoria, 3121 – www.sophiegannongallery.com.au
• Artist site: www.judith-wright.com
Ararat Regional Art Gallery celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary this year with a number of exhibitions highlighting its specialisation in the area of fibre art, a mandate established under the auspices of the inaugural Gallery Director (1973-77), Pamela Gullifer, AM. Making Time: The Art of John Corbett, 1974-2013 (until 11 August, 2013) continues this fine history of providing a platform for the often under-represented work of Australia’s leading textile practitioners.
John Corbett is the most represented artist in the gallery’s permanent collection, and the exhibition traces his development from off-loom weaving in the 1970s, to his engagement with international fibre art traditions, and the text-based assemblages and sculptures he produced from the 1980s onwards. Curator Anthony Camm grappled with the scarcity of examples from Corbett’s early career, “John has always treated the art objects he makes with irreverence, privileging the process and exhibition outcome over permanence or saleability, and this sometimes led to the creation of materially fragile work or even the repurposing of materials from completed artworks to make new work”.
Corbett was one of the first Australian artists to address the emerging AIDS crisis, and the wider issue of gay rights, in a stark and uncompromising manner. Works from this period emphasise his mounting sense of personal grief and mourning for a generation of friends and lovers lost. For this survey, Corbett re-made a pivotal work, Fighting for our Love (1987), which the Art Gallery of Western Australia declined to loan. Comprised of fabric-wrapped and tar coated wooden posts designed to lean against the wall in a jumble, the letters spell out a rallying cry for the gay community against entrenched prejudice and governmental inaction. Corbett represented Australia at the 9th International Triennale of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland (1998) with The Loss (1997) one of his ‘scroll’ works, in which the dead are memorialised within the cloth like a burial shroud, one which can be unfurled as a remembrance, or archived for future generations.
A study tour of America and Mexico in 1987 transformed Corbett’s practice, drawing in ethnic and folk textile imagery, especially those with a ritualistic purpose, such as milagros, votive offerings left in Catholic churches. He also explored the textile art of the indigenous Kuna people of the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. Corbett was inspired by their symbolically rich molas, highly coloured and boldly graphic iconography produced with a reverse appliqué technique, which he incorporated into his increasingly politicised and homoerotic works addressing gay male identity. Making Time serves to acknowledge the contribution of a rebellious and unconventional artist who has shown scant interest in the ‘mainstream’ over the course of his career. Corbett’s decision to align himself with materials, techniques and influences on the margins of the art world, and to embrace social advocacy at a time of personal risk, confers upon his work a raw and powerful authenticity.
• Ararat Regional Art Gallery, Town Hall, cnr. Vincent Street and Western Highway, Ararat, Victoria, 3377 – www.araratregionalartgallery.blogspot.com.au