Melburnin’ October 2013
by Inga Walton
The Queensland Centre for Photography (QCP) sponsors annual exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney to support its affiliated artists, and is presenting Mark Kimber’s Chemical Moon at fortyfivedownstairs (8-19 October, 2013). Kimber, who is the Studio Head of Photography & New Media in the School of Art, Architecture & Design at the University of South Australia, builds small dioramas (about 40cm across) out of styrene foam, wood and paper in his garage and photographs them with an old plastic Diana camera lens that has been taped to a digital back. “I am very influenced by the way the movies had to build small-scale sets to mimic immensity before the digital age, and the suspension of disbelief that this required from the audiences of the time. We now have CGI that makes everything look like a video game and yet still requires another type of suspension of disbelief”, Kimber observes.
Kimber’s works explore the potential for creative possibilities in the gap between wakefulness and sleep referred to as a Hypnagogic state, during which fantasies and hallucinations can often occur. His works are suggestive of mountainous valleys, wind-whipped oceans crashing against distant shores and rocky outcrops, flood-lit buildings looming out of swirling fog, as though the restless lens of his imagination travels without moving. “I’m interested in, to paraphrase poet Seamus Heany, ‘the arc between language and sensation’, the memory or trace of it, of places or events, intermeshed with the somewhat fluid state of flux that both photography and memory share with the concept of ‘truth’”. Kimber views making these works as a performance, the inspiration for which springs from events real and imagined, and from vivid memories of watching old adventure films and newsreel footage. “I like playing with concepts of scale and a sense of memory analogous to peripheral vision, worlds caught out of the corner of our eye, worlds that suggest vastness that are actually constructed from the most modest of materials”.
• fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (VIC) – www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
• Artist site – www.markkimber.net
Since 2008, expatriate artist Kathryn Ryan has divided her time between Australia and the United Arab Emirates; first in Abu Dhabi, and from November, 2011 in Dubai, as her architect husband works on hotel projects. Having established a home studio in Old Town, across the road from the Burj Khalifa skyscraper (the tallest man-made structure in the world), and the famous Dubai Mall, Ryan has been working full-time on a series of atmospheric studies Shadow & Light at Flinders Lane Gallery (8 – 26 October, 2013).
A three-time finalist in the prestigious Wynne Prize (2000, 2004, 2007), Ryan grew up on a dairy farm in Panmure, east of Warrnambool, and has spent much of her career immersed in documenting the landscape of South West Victoria. The vast tracts of agricultural land and rugged natural features have now been replaced by sand and soaring hyper-modern glass buildings, a startlingly different and quite extreme environment for Ryan to come to grips with. “With this climate of brilliant light all year round, my attention was drawn to the beautiful shadows made by all the plants, draping down the walls and onto the pavements. The Bougainvillea especially, make exotic shadows, their sensual organic shapes, their softened mystery … I have become a shadow hunter with my camera!”, she reveals. “After spending a long time taking in this new environment, looking, seeing, photographing, becoming familiar, sifting what was inspiring to me, what I connected to … I have now found a way in to this new world of mine through my artwork. My attention has been drawn to the intimate studies of nature in my close proximity”.
Ryan’s studies of Frangipani, seed pods, local plants, and low trees, lanterns, water features and pools scattered throughout Old Town reveals a more intimate, organic side of downtown Dubai, somewhat removed from the manufactured glitz of the shopping and commercial precincts. Monochrome charcoal works and gauzy oil on linen studies reflect the exotic surroundings, “… sheesha pipes, outdoor cafes on a hot night, Arabic music piped through the pavement speakers, dimly lit mood lighting, highlighting and accentuating the water features and Arabic details on the buildings, souks full of spices, delicate pashminas and Iranian carpets…it’s all very heady especially on a hot night!”, Ryan explains. “Arabic Lanterns are spread throughout all of this, on all the walkway walls, building entrances, and cafes. Their patterns of light spreading out across the walls and ceilings, are as equally mesmerizing to me as the plant shadows. So for now, the Arabic lanterns and the plant life and their shadows, have become the world I am immersed in”.
• Flinders Lane Gallery, 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (VIC) – www.flg.com.au
• Artist site – kathrynryan.blogspot.com.au
It is not a subject the majority of its possessors particularly want to talk about, or have mentioned. When it is discussed, it is often in crude, scornful, offensive, or derogatory terms. Photographer Philip Werner refuses to conform to the pervasive societal and cultural cringe-factor. With the aim of providing a counterpoint to the proliferation of increasingly mainstream pornographic imagery, retouched advertising, airbrushed fashion and ‘boudoir’ shots, and prevailing negative body stereotypes, Werner has produced an exhibition and accompanying book, 101 Vagina, at Colour Factory (until 6 October) as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Werner’s initial inspiration came from Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues (1996), “[It] brought home to me how debilitating the vagina taboo can be on a personal and societal level”, he reflects. “It is a sad fact that an increasing number of women are seeking labiaplasty. Sad that so many women end up believing they are somehow not normal or attractive due to gross misrepresentation, in various media, of what normal is and where beauty lies”. The book’s anonymous participants range in age from eighteen to sixty-five. In the accompanying panels, they offer varied and candid responses to participating in the session; accounts of past experiences, poems, affirmations, distressing memories, confessions, admissions, and what the project has meant to them. Random comments include: “shame is very insidious”; “cunt is not a dirty word”; “once you realise there is no ‘different’ you can be free to fully enjoy all that you have without an inner dialogue of anxiety or shame”; “think outside the box”; “please learn how to use me properly”; “I think the more art and film projects that show ‘real’ women’s bodies, and just how wonderfully different we are, the more educated and empowered women become …”
While the participants may have found the experience variously liberating, triumphant, validating, and life-affirming, the reaction in Sydney when 101 Vagina was exhibited is typical of all the book rails against. Redfern’s 107 Projects Gallery had four visits from Police in June this year after two complaints to the City of Sydney Council. Police continued to monitor the exhibition and make censorship suggestions, including that the gallery windows and a glass door be covered during the show, which was complied with. The promotional posters for the book, which prominently display the word ‘Vagina’ were also deemed offensive, despite no explicit content. For Sydney Fringe Festival last month, the full exhibition was displayed at Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst without incident. However, Werner was also invited to participate in the Fringe Arts Forum program held at the Italian Forum in Leichhardt. Months after arrangements were confirmed, management there suddenly decided that the exhibition was not ‘family friendly’. A compromise was reached whereby the seven images were covered with a QR code over the genital area. Via smart phone, these ‘modesty squares’ linked to a censorship-related website/article, or simply the original uncensored image.
Born in Weisbaden, Werner grew up in Hamburg during the Cold War; this may well have informed his abhorrence of censorship and institutionalised repression. He is now based in Brunswick, and is also a peace activist who organised last year’s solidarity march in honour of murdered ABC employee Jill Meagher that drew some 30,000 people to Sydney Road. This year’s commemoration drew a smaller, but determined crowd of around 8,000, including Victorian Premier, Dr. Denis Napthine and Cr. Oscar Yildiz, Mayor of Moreland. “I believe many of our societal problems are related in some way to sexual repression, including violence towards women and girls, if not violence in general”, Werner contends. He certainly believes that men must take responsibility for being part of the solution to this insidious problem, and participate in projects that affirm the value and status of women.
Speaking of the 101 Vagina project, Werner stresses, “I’m so glad to have been able to create that space, rattle that taboo and facilitate the lifting of some of that shame. And I feel honoured and humbled by the courageous participation and trust placed in me by so many women”. Colour Factory has already received one hand-written complaint about the exhibition. An exasperated Werner says, “Complaints like this show that we still have a long way to go in the removing of this taboo, and in feeling comfortable with our bodies and our sexuality. We were all conceived and born through the vagina, vaginas are sacred, not obscene!”
• Colour Factory 409-429 Gore St, Fitzroy (VIC) – www.colourfactory.com.au/gallery
• Artist site – www.philipwernerfoto.com
• Book site – www.101vagina.com