Melburnin September 2013
by Inga Walton
In 1998 Geoff Todd was invited to exhibit at the Museo dei Bozzetti in Pietrasanta, by its then director Giuseppe Cordoni. Pietrasanta is on the coast of northern Tuscany, a town where the marble is worked rather than quarried, though it is situated close to Carrara. “The Professor of sculpture explained to me that, as the ‘rules’ of art had changed to such an extent, his students could graduate with successful works that merely expressed the qualities of the marble, and revealed its wonderful form. However, he felt the accepted ‘modern’ sculpture techniques encouraged uniformity and were ‘using’ the students, rather than the students controlling the techniques”, Todd recalls. “It was then I realised why my work was of interest to the Città di Pietrasanta and its Centro Culturale; my drawing from the figure brought it back into the realm of art rather than mere rendering. It was hoped my works would inspire the students to take up the challenge to work closely with the figure, to wrestle with marble carving in contemporary practice, and show they were indeed in control of the medium”.
In his catalogue essay Cordoni observed, “… the first and most apparent reason for Geoff Todd’s style can be attributed to his acute perception, his readiness of mind. Only a few incisive outlines achieve the desired effect; spare fields of colour create a visual mood. It is a quality of painting which is masterful because it is minimal and intense … One could say that he is present in his work; he is poised, ever-ready to secure for us, in the course of his encounters with all that is living and unique, one of the rare secrets of humanity”. Todd returns to some of the themes that informed the first exhibition with twenty new works in L’amore della figura, II at Salt Contemporary Art (13 September-6 October, 2013). These rather stark nude studies, enlivened with minimal colour, express Todd’s preference for concerted studio work with a model. In doing so, he reasserts the practice of drawing from life, a key discipline which has fallen out of favour in Australian art schools. It is also expressive of a skill-set which used to denote the realm of the artist, something Todd feels is being eroded.
“I have been reflecting of late on the tendency, particularly in the popular media, to label everything and anything as ‘art’. This creates a situation where increasingly the term has little currency, applied as it is to objects and activities that bear little relation to the areas of practice that ‘art’ traditionally encompasses. This does a great disservice to those of us within the field, and it would also seem to generate a lot of confusion for the viewer”, he believes. “Some random comments on various television shows have irked me recently. An architecture segment where the reporter rhapsodised, ‘This house is an artwork, it’s like living inside an artwork!’. I say it was a wonderfully designed house, conceived by a master architect, not an artist”, Todd asserts. “A shopping channel segment where the host was presenting a diamond-encrusted bangle and called it a ‘sculpture’. Really? To me it looked like a beautiful piece of jewellery made by an accomplished metalsmith. Comments on MasterChef that so-and-so is ‘a true artist’, that’s interesting because I thought it was about cooking; a billboard exhorting us to ‘Learn the art of coffee making’, seriously?”.
Todd’s frustration at the casual misapplication of the term stems not from a quibble about semantics, but from his feeling that this habit detracts from the legitimate dialogue about the evolution and appreciation of art, and its place in contemporary culture. “Art is humanity’s response to itself, and I believe humanity ‘owns’ art. We have always needed to preserve qualities of life and states of mind, many of which art is capable of exposing, illuminating and documenting in profound ways. In today’s world because anyone can call anything ‘art’, the reputation of legitimate art has been sadly diluted, and more difficult to identify. Certainly, let an excellent example of something within its own field be respected and acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean it qualifies as ‘art’. I think that the eroding of this distinction does no one any credit”.
• Salt Contemporary Art, 33-35 Hesse Street, Queenscliff, Victoria, 3225 – salt-art.com.au
• Artist site – geofftodd.com
As part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Terence Stewart Bogue’s exhibition Enigma (until 15 September, 2013) brings together nearly thirty works in this continuing series of monochrome figurative studies. Born in Brazil, Bogue was greatly influenced by his countryman, pioneering fashion photographer Otto Stupakoff (1935-2009), whom he met when he was sixteen. Stupakoff recommended Bogue attend the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where he stayed for two and a half years, before moving to London. There he worked for Adrian Flowers, a well known figure in advertising and editorial photography during the 1960s and 1970s whom Bogue remembers as, “an eccentric genius who resembled Rasputin and held a contagious fascination for light. He taught me to question”.
Bogue emigrated to Australia in 1974 and established his South Melbourne studio in 1979. He quickly became one of the leading commercial photographers in the state, a position he maintained for some three decades. In recent years, Bogue has chosen to focus almost exclusively on his own artistic output, “I photographed work by some of the best artists in Victoria: potters, weavers, glass blowers, painters, silversmiths and woodworkers. All these photographs were of things”, he remarks. “What really intrigued me though were the people who made them. Extraordinary individuals who evolve and create extraordinary work in a society that can leave us painfully undernourished, creatively. So I started to photograph some of them. That led me to try and distill the beauty within us all, this intangible enigma that we are”.
After so many years spent documenting forms and figures, Bogue’s compulsion towards the medium remains as strong as ever, “Part of the fascination of photography is that it is such an unpredictable, fabulous two-dimensional lie. We can only interpret based on personal experience, and that experience is so subjective, so momentary, that a strong photograph will produce strong emotions that transcend the mere document. As such it will always be the better for what is left out. This is why I see a photograph as merely a trigger to our memory of substitution, where we perceive far more than we see”.
• Artist site – tbogue.com
TarraWarra Museum of Art marks its tenth anniversary this year with the addition of a new initiative, TarraWarra International. Curated by Victoria Lynn, the inaugural exhibition, Animate/Inanimate, presents works that consider the profound interconnections between diverse life forms and the environment in a time of rapid, and at times pitiless, global change. Louise Weaver’s five-piece sculptural installation is accompanied by the sounds of birds that the artist recorded around Victoria. These large-scale but airy works are predominantly made of natural fibres, and have a variety of textures, which frame and gently demarcate the space, casting shadows on the floor and walls.
A new installation by Janet Laurence, Fugitive (2013), draws on the specimen collection of the Melbourne Museum, and incorporates film footage of animals from the nearby Healesville Sanctuary, the first time the venues have collaborated. New media work from Indian artist Amar Kanwar, The Scene of Crime (2011) examines the industrial encroachment on local farming in Orissa (Odisha), a state on the subcontinent’s east coast by the Bay of Bengal, and the devastating results of environmental degradation. American Jennifer Allora and her Cuban collaborator Guillermo Calzadilla are based in Puerto Rico. Their new media work, Raptor’s Rapture (2012), concerns the oldest musical instrument located to date, an ancient flute made from the wing bone of a griffon vulture, found at the Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany in 2009. Bernadette Käfer, a flautist specialising in prehistoric instruments, attempts to play this 35,000 year-old relic of human culture in the presence of one of the bird’s living descendents, now threatened with extinction.
Chinese artist Lin Tianmiao’s glossy 180-piece sculptural installation All the Same (2011) consists of artificial versions of every bone in the human body categorized from largest to smallest, and arranged in a line along the walls. Lin employs a technique she calls ‘thread winding’, where silk or cotton thread is wound around an object until it is completely covered, and ultimately transformed; here the silk threads also pool on the floor, creating a rainbow-hued tangle. “I am very careful in employing colour because it is an element that you cannot use without careful consideration, otherwise it will interrupt the purity and order of the artwork. In many of my recent works I have used colour purposely, which I also think is necessary”, Lin says. “I have the choice to go in the direction of the stereotypical understanding of one colour, or not. For instance the use of the colour pink produces different psychological reactions from different gender groups and the exclusivity associated with the colour gold has a similar effect on different social classes. I find this very interesting”.
Reaction (2013), created especially for this exhibition, has twelve skulls wound in two shades of pink suspended from the ceiling. Each has been variously altered to incorporate an item used in day-to-day work (tubing, a shovel, a trumpet, an iron, kitchen utensils) to reflect the impact of politics and progress on the lives of the everyday person in China. Lin’s means of wrapping, shrouding, or ‘embalming’ these bodily parts so delicately and carefully demonstrates an almost obsessive labour within her work, or perhaps a consciousness of the fragility and disposability of life in her country. “To change, re-create or destroy their original functions and meanings … is to transplant new functions, life and possibilities within the objects, which makes ‘being useful’ into ‘being useless’, and ‘being useless’ into ‘being useful’. I am living in an environment in which violence is seen everywhere in China and the element ‘violence’ exists naturally in my works”.
• TarraWarra Museum of Art, 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville, Victoria, 3777 – twma.com.au
New Zealander Reuben Paterson also employs a naturalistic theme in his capsule collection of four sculptures and corresponding works on canvas, Earth, Wind & Fire (until 21 September, 2013), at Nellie Castan Gallery. Paterson is an artist unafraid to get his glitter on, sparkling materials which he puts to evocative use in order to engage with what is known in Māori culture as whakapapa, the layers of genealogy, myth and knowledge that are central to consciousness. The handmade sculptural works, a (brown) rearing bear, a (green) snake, a (black) reclining panther and a (gold) potted tree reflect the subdued tones of the earth and its environs, but are named after famous works of art.
With the exhibition title, Paterson gives a knowing wink to the enduring popularity of one of the few black ‘supergroups’, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2000) and still performing after forty-four years. He further references several of their singles for the monochrome painted works. Paterson’s practice deftly navigates the often fractious gulf between the depth of cultural memory and tradition that characterises his Māori ancestry, and the impact of received and contemporary ‘western’ influences. He does this with sparkle in tact and with his groove definitely on!
• Nellie Castan Gallery, Level 1, 12 River Street, South Yarra, Victoria, 3141 – nelliecastangallery.com
• Artist site – reubenpaterson.com