Melburnin’ JUNE 2014
Curated by Collections Coordinator Jon Buckingham, Revelations: Sculpture From the RMIT Art Collection (until 12 July, 2014) brings together thirty-nine physical works, and photographic imagery of other significant pieces off-site, that reflect a microcosm of stylistic and formal developments in the medium and generational change during the last half-century.
RMIT was founded by Francis Ormond (1827-89) as the Working Men’s College, and opened in June 1887. It began teaching art in 1888. Situated at the La Trobe street entrance, the memorial statue erected to Ormond by Percival Ball (1845-1900), and unveiled in 1897, was one of only five bronze public sculptures in Melbourne at that time. Zoja Trofimiuk’s Bust of Francis Ormond (1987) was commissioned by the RMIT Graduate Association to mark the institution’s centenary. RMIT’s influence on sculpture in Melbourne has been significant; many works have been created by its staff or graduates since that formative time.
Nonetheless, many of the works in the RMIT sculpture collection have been largely unseen for decades, such as Peter Asel’s The Crown (1990). “Asel doesn’t practice any more, which is a pity as his work is receiving some very positive feedback from visitors”, says Buckingham. “The piece has been on display in a dusty corner for some years, and it’s been a real pleasure to bring it out, clean it up, and put it on display. He studied at RMIT during the late 1980s and early ‘90s, and during his practicing years made forged and welded steel sculptures … as well as a range of abstract painted steel works”.
Interdisciplinary indigenous artist Reko Rennie often employs the traditional geometric patterning common to the Kamilaroi people of northern NSW in his work. Rennie’s 2013 exhibition King and Country was replete with the symbolism of stylised crowns to denote the position of Aboriginal people and their dominion over the land. Rennie appropriates the symbol of monarchy and flashes it around like a tag to emphasise the ‘sovereign status’ of his community. The neon work I Wear My Own Crown (2013) represents a defiant statement of self-determination, identity, ownership and belonging.
Augustine Dall’Ava’s sculptural series If Only Carl Knew (1989-2001) was named in reference to the severe, modular, earth-bound work of American minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. When Andre visited Australia in the 1970s, steel plates of 30.5 cm squared were supplied to him to cover floor surfaces during his joint exhibition with Robert Hunter at Bruce Pollard’s Pinacotheca Gallery. Many years hence, the plates were offered to Dall’Ava who decided to use them as the basis for his oppositional sculptural aesthetic. Andre’s works stressed the physicality of weighty matter, his inert floor sculptures submit meekly to gravity. Dall’Ava’s works grapple with the precarious and the irrational, chance associations of forms and materials that play on weight, balance and spatial zones. The surrealist ethos of Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico is evident in many of the compositions, which strive to unify opposing ideas of matter and spirit. If Only Carl Knew, No. 29 (1994) incorporates the geometric gridded base, a spherical cone, and the frail wooden ladders that serve as a link between the earthbound and celestial spheres.
At the age of ninety-eight, the redoubtable Inge King, AM is presumably Australia’s most senior living artist whose public commissions, notably Forward Surge (1974-81) at the Arts Centre precinct, have contributed to her prominence. King’s long-overdue survey exhibition Constellation is currently on at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (until 31 August, 2014). The former Ingeborg Neufeld was born in Berlin and studied in London where she met visiting painter and printmaker Grahame King (1915-2008), another RMIT alumnus, at the Abbey Arts Centre. Having married the previous year, the couple arrived back in Australia in early 1951.
King studied metal-smithing at RMIT when she wanted to pursue jewellery making as a viable source of income while her children were small, and which she produced to a high standard until 1962. She was a founding member of the semi-professional Centre 5 group of seven sculptors, of whom Vincas Jomantas (1922-2001) and Lenton Parr (1924-2003) are also represented in the exhibition. Centre 5 formed in 1961, and its members exhibited together from 1963 to 1974, with the goal of fostering stronger links between abstract sculpture and architectural practice. Two of King’s smaller works, Daruma (1978) and the later Bagatelle (1st version) (2004), are included, and show the progression of King’s aesthetic towards the monumental, and the potential of her works to enhance public spaces.
Ah Xian (born Liu Ji Xian) developed his China, China series (1998-2002) at the ancient capital of porcelain production, Jingdezhen. He used traditional porcelain designs based on Chinese scroll paintings, adapted from pattern books, and drawn from the rich symbolism and patterning found on plates and bowls from the Imperial courts of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Many of the busts were cast from life, an arduous process involving multiple layers of plaster-soaked cloth over head, neck, and shoulders, the subject’s eyes and lips closed to protect against the plaster. The result is a passive, serene visage, particularly in China, China- Bust 78 (2002), where the soft celadon glaze is a perfect foil for the large lotus leaves and flowers adorning the surface.
Like his elder brother Ah Xian, Liu Xiao Xian became a member of the Chinese Diaspora in Australia, and sought asylum in 1990 after the Tiananmen Square uprisings of June, 1989. Liu scours antique stores and auction houses in search of inspirational objects which help him to offer insight, through his work, into the conflict between Eastern and Western cultures, and post-colonialist dialogue. His interest in some of the absurdities of Victorian-era cutlery, the multiplicity of their shapes and functions, inspired The Way We Eat (2009). Making cast porcelain forms of historic spoons, forks, knives, ladles, tongs, skewers and serving implements, Liu lines forty of them in a row on one side, as if poised for battle, contrasted with the efficiency of a single pair of chopsticks on the other.
Be sure to spend some time in the designated ‘blue room’ with the American composer and artist Bill Fontana’s trippy Kirribilli Wharf (1976), an eight channel sound installation lasting for a little under half an hour with a new lighting component designed by the gallery. This was the first multichannel ‘sound sculpture’ to be made in Australia, and was originally exhibited as an installation at the Sydney Opera House, then presented at RMIT in 1977, during Fontana’s time in Melbourne. The work represents a defining moment in Fontana’s career; the first time his conceptual analysis of a natural process resulted in a recording that was inherently musical. It marks the point at which he began to apply structural thinking to the recordable listening process.
As Fontana described it, “Kirribilli Wharf, like many other phenomena in the environment, is a natural sound sculpture in a state of automatic self-performance. An eight channel sound portrait was made of the complex sound world found within the large floating concrete and wooden wharf in Sydney Harbour. The most interesting sounds were the percussive compression waves spontaneously formed in the many small vertical blow holes made from steel pipes inserted at many points in the wharf”. The work acts as a real time ‘sonic map’ of the distinctive noises created by the wharf, using sound and space to convey form and express movement. You may leave feeling a bit dazed and trailed by seagulls … kerplunk.
Audio visual stations provide two sources of commentary, the first from RMIT Senior Lecturer Simon Perry discussing some of his works including Public Purse (1994) in the Bourke Street Mall. The second is a documentary film by Tim Burstall entitled Sculpture Australia (1969), sourced from the National Film and Sound Archive. It features George Baldessin, Norma Redpath, Vincas Jomantas and Ron Robertson Swann, among others, and complements the exhibition with some footage of their fabricating processes.
Other artists included are Bruce Armstrong, Geoffrey Bartlett, Peter Blizzard (1947-2010), Robert Bridgewater, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Jock Clutterbuck, Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-99), Don Gore, Victor Greenhalgh (1900-83), Anton Hart, Sam Jinks, Juz Kitson, Alexander Knox, Hilarie Mais, Baluka Maymuru, Galuma Maymuru, Clement Meadmore (1929-2005), Helen Mueller, Anthony Pryor (1951-91), Lisa Roet, Bruce Slatter, Jeffery Wilkinson (1921-97), David Wilson, Dan Wollmering and Klaus Zimmer (1928-2007).
Revelations: Sculpture from the RMIT Art Collection, RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne (VIC), until 12 July – rmit.edu.au/rmitgallery
There’s a bear in there … over at the National Gallery of Victoria (International). In fact eight polar bears have been spotted roaming around the Federation Court atrium. Italian artist Paola Pivi’s You Started it…I Finish it (until 31 August, 2014) follows on from her exhibition last year, OK, you are better than me, so what? at Galerie Perrotin, New York, of brightly coloured life-size bears covered in feathers. The NGV was keen to invite a leading Italian contemporary artist to exhibit whose work would complement the current Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, the eleventh installment of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.
Pivi’s interest in Ursus maritimus developed in 2005 while she was posing as a journalist in Alaska for the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and decided to move there the following year. She had been toying with the idea of doing an artwork with taxidermy bears, a polar bear and a grizzly bear dancing together, but she was unable to source any carcasses. The decision to use urethane foam was a compromise measure to achieve the sculptural outcome Pivi wanted, and a Canadian taxidermist was brought in to help arrange the forms to reflect accurate postures. Other works like What Goes Round – Art Comes Round (2010), and subsequent photographic pieces like Did You Know I Am Single? (2010), I’m A Bear, So What? and All White Except One (both 2012), used some twenty-four (fake) bear pelts ranging from white to dark brown which (literally) carpeted the gallery floor and ceiling.
Certainly Pivi did not heed the injunction never to work with animals; in fact she has quite a track-record in the menagerie field. Untitled (Ostriches) (2003) saw a pair of the birds perched in a blue motor boat floating out at sea near the Sicilian island of Alicudi. Pivi was living there at the time, and did the same to a lone donkey with Untitled (Donkey) (2003). Untitled (2008) saw a Muskox standing atop a heaped island of coffee beans, while Fffffffffffffffffff (2006) covered a hapless crocodile in whipped cream. One Cup of Cappuccino, Then I Go (2007) an ‘installation’ at Kunsthalle Basel involved one live leopard, borrowed from a German animal trainer, which picked its way through 3,000 fake cups of coffee laid out on the floor. Adding to the confusion, the leopard’s ‘performance’ was not viewable by the public, and the evidence of its presence exists only in a series of photographs. For My Religion Is Kindness. Thank You, See You in the Future (2006) at Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan, Pivi filled an old warehouse with white animals, including horses, rabbits, llamas, geese and peacocks, sourced through a company that specialises in animals for cinema and advertising.
Pivi delights in using people, animals and material objects in unsettling, incongruous and unexpected situations and contexts. Her output is audacious, thought-provoking and lacking in ponderous subtext. “Like much of my art, they’re just visions that come into my head, that I then make real”, she remarks. “Visions are part of my process, and it is very simple, you know, because I think from instinct, from the very deep core of me, where it’s not even me any more … I don’t have elaborate theories about my art, because I think it is the art that is the interesting thing, and to elaborate on it just doesn’t serve any purpose for me”.
You Started it … I Finish it. NGV (International), 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne (VIC), until 31 August – ngv.vic.gov.au
Artist site – paolapivi.com
Inga Walton is a writer and arts consultant based in Melbourne who contributes to numerous Australian and international publications. She has submitted copy, of an increasingly verbose nature, to Trouble since 2008. She is under the impression that readers are not morons with a short attention span, and would like to know lots of things.