Melburnin by Inga Walton
LOL: Laugh Out Loud at Latrobe Regional Gallery (until 15 September, 2013), curated by Fiona West and Maria-Luisa Marino, brings together nineteen works by eleven artists to explore a central feature of the collective Australian identity. The works were selected to express various aspects of the national sense of humour; the ribald, ironic, anti-authoritarian, dry, laconic, self-mocking, and the comic.
New Zealand-born ceramist Jim Cooper’s sprawling installation from his Family Portraits series (2011) comprises approximately 100 riotously glazed works ranging from figurative studies, to animals, flowers, fruit, and everyday items. His work acted as the catalyst for developing the exhibition when Arts Director Julie Adams received the invitation to Cooper’s Sydney show, and began to ponder the place of humour in contemporary arts practice. Despite being posed in a manner that evokes the worst parts of a class photo, viewers will probably recognise someone they know amongst these disparate characters with their quirks, preoccupations and vulnerabilities.
Tim Moore’s subversive embroideries meticulously document the more absurd aspects of life, particularly the hobbies and outdoor pursuits of others; the more eccentric and extreme the better. He is particularly fond of naturists (who, in a delightful paradox, apparently refer to clothed people as textiles), and their fearless exposure of any number of wobbly bits to wider scrutiny. Granny Going Down (2008) depicts an abseiling lady of a certain age-bracket whose pendulous breasts are at risk of tangling in her harness as she prepares to rappel from a cliff.
Other targets of Moore’s treacherous needle include sporting events and arena demonstrations with a perilous edge such as la voltige (an equestrian vaulting discipline which combines gymnastics and dance on horseback), figure skating, and pairs ice dancing, seen here in Disney Swingers on Ice (2011). Targets also include any number of cartoon characters and popular children’s figures that Moore finds grating. In Hee-Hee Man (2011) the eponymous hero of the 1980s animated show, Prince Adam of Eternia, strikes his usual manly pose with a less-than-manly aspect poking out of his red briefs. (At the time of writing, Skeletor remains unscathed). The fictional Detroit cyborg police officer RoboCop fairs better, but is struggling to wrangle his unwieldy member in Robocock (2011).
The most recent recipient of the Tom Malone Prize at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Tom Moore (no relation to Tim), uses traditional blown and hot-worked glass techniques, combined with mixed-media, to create immersive panoramas and thematic installations. These bustling environments are populated by hybrid and biomorphic creatures who go about their nonsensical or incongruous activities unencumbered by human interference. Moore speculates what the world might have, or may still, look like if evolution gives a defeatist shrug and takes a different direction. These Boots (2009) shows the truncated underside of two water birds diving into a lake, displaying shiny footwear instead of webbed feet. In contrast to our fast-paced exhaustively ‘connected’ world, Moore’s protagonists seem to display abundant bonhomie, and a sense of mutual obligation as they scoot hither and thither within these curious narratives.
Other artists included are Joanna Braithwaite, Rodney Forbes, Linda Marrinon, Kate Mitchell, collaborative duo (Tim) Gregory & (Oliver) Watts, Colin Suggett, and Julian Wolkenstein.
• Latrobe Regional Gallery, 138 Commercial Road, Morwell, Victoria, 3840. –www.latroberegionalgallery.com
> There’s a disconcerting din emanating from one of the anonymous industrial buildings just down the street from Colour Factory in Fitzroy. Strange Neighbour is Melbourne’s newest contemporary art gallery, also housing a separate photo studio with roller door access for natural light options, and a darkroom for artists to work onsite.
But back to the thumping noise, the culprit is from the début exhibition, Creep Show (until 13 July, 2013), which draws on further aspects of strange; the disconcerting, the weird, the unsettling, and the uncomfortably familiar. Not terribly pleased to see you, Happy Orang (2011) is a motion-sensor activated gorilla scaled up to adult-size. Glowering in the corner, its repetitive drumming is set off by proximity, like some sort of abused circus captive trained to amuse. The cheery red checked trousers and matching bow-tie it wears are belied by the creature’s disconcertingly hairy bulk, expressionless shiny face, and rather sullen, looming presence. Pip Ryan’s work casts us back to childhood fantasies of the secret lives of toys in their private time, except this one has also grown up and wants to reclaim your bedroom!
Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Dreamkeepers (2012), focuses on the outdoor ramblings of a group of somewhat grotesque individuals whose confronting appearance might explain their otherwise isolated position within the landscape, and by implication, society as a whole. The Holiday Makers (2011) shows a family group in the process of negotiating a photograph of the mother and daughter on a beach-top bluff; all very ordinary, but for their distorted faces. The Wind Watcher (2011) and The Photographer (2012) both follow the somewhat introspective activities of young girls amusing themselves. The viewer is invited to wonder whether they have been ostracised by potential friendship groups because they don’t conform to accepted and stereotypical ideas of ‘pretty’. These freakish, wizened individuals serve to confront us with our aesthetic prejudices. Papapetrou questions whether much-vaunted ideas of tolerance, difference and inclusiveness are literally skin-deep.
Three monochrome works on paper by Heather B. Swann have a sinister, spectral quality, hinting at other-worldly transformation. Tony Woods filmed himself through a fish bowl for the new media work My Goldfish and I (2013), which gives the distorted ‘goldfish eye-view’ of the world seemingly trapped in a bubble. The reversed scale means the fish dwarfs the artist, lending a strange surrealist edge to the footage.
• Strange Neighbour, 395-97 Gore Street, Fitzroy, Victoria, 3065. – www.strangeneighbour.com
Painter Andrew Browne supervises (the venue’s preferred term) an intriguing cross-generational group of works from eight artists for Within (until 20 July, 2013) at Greenwood Street Project. Speaking of this capsule selection, which reflects Browne’s interest in the psychological dimensions of enclosure, the body, space and landscape, he remarks, “Each of these artists, in their own exemplary manner, deal with interior space, whether that of the psyche, the architectural, or the imaginative and metaphorical”. With just eleven works on view, Browne acknowledges that his approach is counter to grouping according to obvious similarities or themes. “There are few ‘stylistic’ links here – rather a shared attitude of serious immersion in the nature of perception and subtleties of individualised image-making, with an at times wilful surrealism – not the textbook ‘surrealism’ of the early twentieth century, but that of individuals grappling with personal touchstones and symbolism, processing feelings and imaging the intuitive”.
Two works by Paul Boston, Body (2002) and Head With Distant City (2009), seem to exemplify these notions of interiority. “Boston’s works invite you on a contemplative journey, his forms alluding to the body within and of the landscape – yet just as you are moving deep via an illusionistic portal you are brought back to the surface and back to the abstraction of much of his language”, Browne contends. “Much in the world takes us outside of ourselves, entertaining us as we bounce from one surface to another to only glancing effect – these artists and their works, like the figure in Tim McMonagle’s immersive painting That’s the style, Mary (2011), dig deeper to excavate something meaningful from within”. Other artists included are Benjamin Armstrong, Peter Booth, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), David Noonan, Sally Ross, and Hanna Tai.
* Greenwood Street Project, 9 Greenwood Street, Abbotsford, Victoria, 3067. –www.greenwoodstreetprojects.blogspot.com.au
Just in time for the school holidays, younger fans of beloved children’s book author Graeme Base will be excited to see an exhibition of over thirty illustrations and tracings from his popular title The Jewel Fish of Karnak (2011) at St. Kilda Town Hall Gallery (3 – 31 July, 2013). Ancient Egypt is the setting for this cautionary tale that follows the misadventures of the bumbling thieves, Jackal and Ibis, who are brought before the Cat Pharaoh to be punished. To earn pardon, they must travel up the River Nile to the Palace of the Crocodile Prince at Karnak to retrieve the golden Jewel Fish he has stolen from her. Ignoring Pharaoh’s warning not to pinch anything else, or get the magical Jewel Fish wet, inevitably leads to further strife for the hapless duo.
After an ignominious departure from the advertising industry, and dabbling in music, Base’s design portfolio led to work as a freelance illustrator working for publishing firms. “I always wanted to be an artist, or a musician. Writing came later when I figured out that if I wrote the stories myself I could draw what I wanted instead of what someone else wanted”, he admits. Base’s first book, My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch (1983), came out to great acclaim when he was twenty-five. “I got lucky … I met the right guy (Bob Sessions of Penguin Books Australia) at the right time (the publishing business was in great shape) with the right idea (he suggested I do something Australian)”.
The international success of the follow-up, Animalia (1986), “turned a hobby into a career”, one which now extends to fourteen books, an animated TV series, stage and orchestral adaptations, and sales in the region of five million copies. “Ideas come first, usually visually driven. Next comes scribbles – I am first and foremost an artist – but very soon I stop scribbling and concentrate on story. Without a good story the scribbles are just that, scribbles”, Base says. “When the story is fixed in my mind I design the layout of the book … then finally I design and execute the final artwork. Each book usually takes two years, though I’m getting faster … I am seeing if I can do a book in one year. It’s the artwork that takes all the time … each piece takes anything from two-to-six weeks, depending on complexity”.
• The Gallery, St. Kilda Town Hall, 99A Carlisle Street, St. Kilda, 3182 –www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/the_gallery.htm
Artist site: www.graemebase.com
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