ARTS WRITING

 

Grafitti: DEPORT THE GOVERNMENT

 

 

Below you will find some of my arts writing:

 

ANNA SANDE Photographs 2008 - 2012

Artist statement, Exhibition: Photographs 2008 - 2012

photonet gallery, 2013

 

PERSIA AND OTHER ASIAS - ANNA SANDE - PHOTOGRAPHS 2005-2008

Artist/photographer's Notes

Karingallery Geelong, 2011

 

COMMITMENT

Artist statement, Exhibition: 30 Portraits

Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, 2003

 

GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY

Catalogue essay, Exhibition: know your place

Span, Melbourne, March 2001

Curator Dylan Volkhardt

 

ORDER AND SENTIMENT - THE AMBIGUOUS PLACE OF THE FLAG

CRAFT Vol 32, No 241:1, 2001

 

THE PIXEL AND THE PORE - DANIEL LIBESKIND AT THE NGV

Lab Architectural Studio

Art Monthly ONLINE - Dec 2000

 

ARCHIMEDE'S TOMB MEETS STAR WARS

a conversation with three metalsmiths about the allure of the handmade

CRAFT Vol 31, No 240:2, 2000

 

THE WOODBLOCK PRINTS OF BARNABY SMITH

Spiritual Soft-Drive

Catalogue essay

69 Smith Street Gallery, Fitzroy, 1999

 

TRAVELLERS ALL

'In Australia, the stranger is always already here.'

Catalogue essay:The International Erotic

George Paton Gallery, October 1998

 

 


 

ARTIST STATEMENT

ANNA SANDE Photographs 2008 - 2012

photonet gallery

 

The calls on the science of photography are many: to record, inform, entertain, provide an aide memoire - functional pursuits for what is very often deemed to be a functional practice.

 

These photographs serve no such purpose they do not form a coherent or quirky series although there are clearly a number that follow a certain moment or interest, what they are is simple erratic observations of what might be called an emotional aesthetic. As such they are extremely personal and only intermittently translatable to any kind of universal, evidence of a singularity requiring acute temerity and commitment to the validity of individual experience, which sometimes becomes art.

 

AS


 

 

 

PERSIA AND OTHER ASIAS - ANNA SANDE - PHOTOGRAPHS 2005-2008

KARINGALLERY, 2011, ARTIST/PHOTOGRAPHER'S NOTES

 

 

Scale is one of the all-important questions when realizing an artwork. Scale can provoke humour, command attention, infer relativities, summon intimacy.

 

With a few 'loud' exceptions, the images in this show are small, modest, and I hope in being so, that they will draw the viewer close.

 

Photographs are great in the way they can halt the world - for a change - offer an opportunity to pause, be intimate, examine and wonder at what is paradoxically the effect of light of only a fraction of a second, the result of a choice often made in a nanosecond, instinctively, often rhythmically - or as Justin Clemens would have it, in a state of 'essential blindness'.(1)

 

It is this 'somehow choice', this framing, that over time begins to characterize the work of a particular eye. I hope in this show, people who know my painting, film and still photography, will be able to decipher the threads of a visual character, my interests, my concerns, my eye (or my 'blindness'):

 

It is hoped that the viewer will discover that the images here are not simply 'travel pics'. None is the result of carefree sojourning, but rather the desire to come close to the human condition - blindly, if you like.

 

 

(1) Justin Clemens, Minimal Domination, Surpllus, Melbourne, 2011, 'This happened', 42.

(2) Online on this website

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

ANNA SANDE – COMMITMENT - 2003

30 Portraits

Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne

 

 

ARTIST’S STATEMENT

 

 

I have always thought of painting as a commitment - a commitment that I would not make until I was free to give it all it takes.

 

Four years ago I found a space in the city - I still don’t dare call it a ‘studio’. My space is brilliant - quite literally, abundant light, a plane tree out the window, plenty of room - it is that very thing Virginia Woolf described so succinctly “ a room of one’s own” where I can be alone, with my thoughts, feelings and materials.

 

Painting is as much about looking as it is putting marks on a surface and in my space I spend hours and hours doing just that. Sometimes I stay into the night and wake to find myself looking at what I’ve been working on. This continuity is precious as Louis Kahan understood: he told me that the happiest times of his life were when he could wake to see his work at the foot of his bed in the morning.

 

My living with my work confounds my husband of nine months, but I remind him that that was how he found me - committed to my painting. Happily my grown children are delighted by my commitment and always interested to see what I’ve been painting.

 

In many ways my commitment is a risk - the outside world deems it an extravagance to abandon secure livelihood and paint. So be it. Perhaps women are better at taking such so called risks because if they are, or have been mothers, they have generally been working most of their lives unpaid, so to follow another passion unpaid is not so willful.

 

I was very surprised when I started painting portraits. They were not a subject I had contemplated but they have me by the throat, I’m addicted and cannot stop. (I do spend some time working in other areas, film and writing in particular, but they too are part of my space.) Painting is my first passion.

 

It’s early days and I’m nervous about how much time I have left to paint, (I’m 55), but when this panic strikes I remember Emily (Kame Kngwarreye - who I understand began painting when she was 60), and she helps me get it into perspective.

 

The hard part for me is letting go. I studied graphics and wear a certain straightjacket. Painting portraits is also a constraint because for me there needs be at least a flash of likeness and the struggle to find that battles with the letting go. My aim is to paint a portrait that, no matter who the subject, will have resonance for anyone who looks at it.

 

Yes I do use photographic reference - another surprise - I had always maintained I could never work from other than life. However because I need to be in a certain state to paint I prefer to be alone, to draw my subject from life and take some photographs but then to dwell on the essence that I find trampling over the geography of the face, in private. For this reason to date I’ve only painted people I have a knowledge of and a feeling for.

 

It’s an intoxicating experience wandering over the prominences and gullies, the waterways, the pools and caves of the human face, discovering how one line leads to another. Here we are in the human condition yet each so unique - that’s the mystery and pleasure that fires my painting, my commitment.

 


 

 

 

Catalogue essay for the three-part exhibition know your place

Melbourne, March 2001

Curator Dylan Volkhardt

 

 

 

GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY -

 

Is there?

 

 

 

 

Contemplate this. HM is a man whose memories came to a halt in 1953. When HM was 25 he lost his ability to remember. It was cut out of him. Years thereafter, whenever he looked in the mirror and saw an aging man he was horrified. Small compensation: HM was unable to remember his horror. He has not been able to form a friendship since 1953 - ‘he is always in the company of strangers’, yet he retains the ability to play the piano and even to learn new pieces - without remembering how he learnt them. Skills are laid down in the procedural area of the brain, a ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ location.

 

Last week [that was 2001] a group of doctors, led by an Italian, (the same as had previously enabled a 62 year old woman to give birth), set about cloning a human male. Last week [that was 2001] it was reported that Mir is returning to earth with a glass-eating bacteria aboard. Change is in the air - the stuff of nightmares, or, if you wish, extravagant fantasies daily become real. As Eliot said: ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality’.

 

 

What will we choose to remember, how much will we be able to remember, what will we be allowed to remember? Will we (again Eliot)

‘communicate with Mars .... dissect

The recurrent image into preconscious terrors -

To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual

Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:

And always will be, some of them especially

When there is distress of nations and perplexity

Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgeware Road.’ ?[i]

 

The primary geography of memory is physiological and internal, exceedingly complex, utterly flesh, yet dependent upon repetition. To ‘exist’ memory requires a somewhat predictable local geography.

 

Does your local landscape exist long enough to form a dream and perhaps a memory, and a soul?

 

What if it takes two years to permanently lay down episodes destined for long-term memory -

and what if, early in those two years you are expelled from your country-of-origin-of-that-nascent-memory - ie. the physical origin and local landscape of that experience is lost and you cannot reconnect with that vista, that ritual, that space, that chair, those faces?

and what if, you have been ‘stolen’ from your birthplace and family?

and what if, you are not expelled but your local landscape changes so rapidly that within two years, or two days, or even two hours or minutes, it’s unrecognizable? (If you’re a Melbournian consider the ‘collapse’ of the Gas and Fuel “matchboxes” - what remains in your mind of that phenomenon - I’m told no moving document of their demise is to be had. What do you remember?)

 

James Clifford reminds us: we now have to make sense of a world without stable vantage points. How to?

 

Memory is pattern. For comprehensive and permanent recall the brain relies on successive exposure to elements of a predictable landscape of an episode, smell, colour, sound, taste, feel. Neuron firing in the brain causes a chemical change on the neuron surface which increases sensitivity to stimulation from those neurons associated with a shared episode. This increased sensitivity is called long term potentiation and binds involved neurons so that the slightest activity in one will trigger activity in the others - revisited over several years, the memory becomes etched in the mind as a meaningful episode and part of a reliable and retrievable personal past.

 

Rehearsal and establishment of memories usually takes place during dreaming sleep.

 

Memories are the cornerstone of culture. [Geert Lovink (2011, 32) recently observed: 'What we know by heart defines a country.'] When long-term potentiation is experienced by a reasonable number of people in a certain locus under similar circumstances a culture eventuates.

 

Given the frenzy of now, the torrent of information, the speed of travel, the increased complexity of existence should we fear for the continued formation of memories and associated cultures? What were art movements have become mere moments. Where there were physical focal documents now there is ephemera, clamouring websites, a barrage of media, that old chestnut, built-in obsolescence is assured by fashion. Messages are posted while we sleep. Posters are slapped on walls - they greet us in the morning and are gone by dusk. Horizontal and vertical worlds collide without recognition.

 

When the world was slower there were convocations of artists sharing provocations, circumstances, experiences, memories, perhaps even dreams. There was reading, talking and writing about art and art movements, groups of visually-oriented people shared their interests. Now the words art movement sound quaint ... perhaps something to do with the bowels, those extraordinary physical sausages that expel SHIT ... movements are lost, old hat, and fragmentation and anxiety and social constipation are there in their place (?)

 

Why value an art movement? It lubricates, argues, expels, contributes to the creation and health of intrinsic rather than dictated culture. It is a shit detector. The artist is now surrounded by dictated culture, a culture devised by those it serves.

 

Writing in 1963 on the subject of Australian painting since 1945, James Gleeson commenced his article[ii] with the words ‘Art flows’ and went on: ‘within our Western society since the eighteenth century it is held to be strange if the current does not change its course and velocity with each new generation. ... One of the factors that distinguishes the European approach from all others is the constant search for new forms, the continuous development of new concepts and the unending struggle to arrive at new goals. This dynamic and restless attitude is basic to our way of life ... it provides the mental climate in which our arts are nourished.’ Gleeson attributed the impetus for change to a number of influences: immigration, travel, stimulation (from international art works), dialogue, international resources.

 

The rate of ‘flow’ has increased exponentially in the 40 odd years since Gleeson wrote; the flood has flattened western cultural topography, national borders are blurred by crashing currents of international information. Art ‘generations’ last a mere nanosecond. How then to shore up memories that are the source, and succour, of vision, skill, emotion, place and path, and knowledge? Are your memories being chucked out with the bathwater, flushed away by a relentless deluge of information, the speed of change? What if your landscape has changed overnight and Luther Blissett and Karen Eliot[iii] have become your neighbours and ‘everything conceals something else’?

 

Enter sleep, the dream, the ineluctable landscape. How is your dream quotient? Suffering fragmentation and quantum shift, at least mega renovation nextdoor, or re-purposing of the local park as shopping complex, or museum? Do you dream? Does your landscape exist long enough to form a dream, perchance a shared observation, a lengthy exchange - a culture?

 

We all have our cortexes but how well are we able to exercise them, orchestrate neuron firings, summon memories, when so much around us is expunged, demolished, cosmetically concocted, revamped, revised, expendable, a site for desperate sexual gratification, a site indeed! What does that mean nowadays - site - a typographical and procedural disaster that flits about in the ether? What happened to sight? Where is that place we can always revisit, where are those memories? This is the new geography: sites in limbo in flickering opposition to the geography of memory? How to remember the landscape? How to remember the .... they flit ... like figures ... digits on the flashing ASX. Where is is the landscape? Where is the face? Asleep without memories. Alone.

 

21 March 2001 for Dylan Volkhardt - exhibition catalogue ‘know your place’

 

 

i           T S Eliot, Four Quartets, ‘Burnt Norton’, ‘The Dry Salvages’, (respectively), Faber and Faber, London, 1963.

ii          James Gleeson, ‘Painting in Australia since 1945’, Art and Australia, May             1963, (2 - 17, 48)

iii         Viral personas, blurred identities that have spread their cloned virtual realities around the globe.

 

 

 

This essay is informed by Rita Carter’s Mapping the Mind, Phoenix, London, 1998.

 

James Clifford writes about travel and its cultural implications: see for example ‘Notes on Travel and Theory’ Inscription 5, 1989.

 

Written and revisited by Anna Sande for

ANNA SANDE - PHOTOGRAPHS   2013

[Words in parenthesis are 2013]

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

ORDER AND SENTIMWNT - THE AMBIGUOUS PLACE OF THE FLAG

 

 

 

I love God and my country,

I honour the flag;

I will serve the King

and cheerfully obey my parents,

teachers and the laws.[i]

 

What textile is it that drapes the dead, warns of pestilence, rises in celebration, confers rank, is at the fore in war, is inverted in distress, lowered in respect, dipped in deference, planted in possession and principally worn or borne by men? Flags dress the body of the nation. They promote cause and presence. Flags are the precursors of logos and branding, those frontline images that lurk in the subconscious and only flirt with the realities of the whole.

 

The flag is underrated. Yet it is a textile of power and versatility like no other, with a history like no other, a diamond among the soft and lustrous spill and slither of so many other textile forms. Hard, ordered, terrifyingly powerful, the flag can incite murder, plunder, mayhem, perhaps conjure hell; it can also signal release, success, victory, rejoice, freedom, pleasure, peace!

 

Colours, standards, banners, ensigns, pendants, pennants, pennons, guidons and burgees may all be described by the generic term ‘flag’, this multiplicity of ‘handles’ signalling, as it were, the expansive purpose and multitude of things that might be called ‘flag’. No other textile is quite so meaningful, assertive and yet so open to ambiguity.

 

Popular history says the flag has its origin in India and China. In 1122 the Chou are recorded as bearing a white flag as a sign of respect; to touch the flag was a crime. The Saracens are reputed to have carried the flag to Europe.

 

Flags began life as vexilloids, cast or carved images mounted atop a pole. Totemic but difficult to ‘read’ from any distance, they were often decorated with free-floating materials, any thing from yaks’ tails to textile strips.

 

The English language is coloured by flag-inspired metaphor, consider: flag someone or something down (stop/waylay someone), wave the flag (show fidelity), show your true colours (express plainly), under the flag (aligned with), plant the flag (take possession), fly the flag (show support) ....

 

Despite its multiplicity of forms and functions the flag is also universal, conventional, attendant at the foundation of so much, a prerequisite for history’s critical dioramas: moments from the splendid and sober to those of mayhem and savagery, from crownings and inaugurations to wild concerts, the flag is there, writhing with Madonna, poised above the Queen, torn and rippling on the field of war.

 

Traditionally flags have been made piece by piece by hand, from bunting, a coarse dedicated fabric. Simple as it may seem the flag is in fact a demanding design and textile construction requiring considerable patience in its assembly. Whatever form it takes, be it pennant, banner or common flag, it needs to flutter freely, without tuck or schirr marring its motion. What might be deemed simply applique, join or embroidery needs be executed in such a way that the final appearance is seamless, the weight and flow even - a democratic whole, each part balanced by the other, visually and physically. The purpose of the flag is to be clearly read, cogent.

 

Now, more often than not, flags are made by machine, whipped out from under the silk screen. A significant recent exception to their mass production was the glorious Lines of Place installation at the Melbourne Museum, (2000 - 2001). A collaboration conceived and created by local artist Glenn Romanis and British-born, Angus Watt, the Lines of Place banner installation was to be in situ for 60 days, (in fact it remained longer).

 

The installation involved 120 banners in total: each day a banner was replaced so that by the conclusion of the 60 days a completely new installation fluttered in place of the initial work. In motion between the Melbourne Museum and the Exhibition Building - architecture a century apart - the banners formed a bridge of subtle sound and colour across a chasm-like runway, spanned the divide between old and new; spoke of paths, old and new, like so many urgent flagella, signalling, whispering, straining the senses for some resolution, some truce, but above all rallying and alluring the senses, animating that cold space.

 

The initial 60 banner images were derived from a contemporary CBD map of Melbourne and those that gradually replaced them, from the landscape of that maps’ ‘fore-geography’, a litoral transition from groundplan to images of stylized land, a birdseye view tilted 90 degrees and rippling, reminiscent somehow of the tilted and inverted ‘landscapes’ experienced by space travellers.

 

Angus Watt has made his name in public art with banner-based installations, often with the collaboration of his sister Shona. Watt describes his work as a form of kinesthesia ‘based on colour and the inter-action of light’. He wants to establish a greater ‘integration’ with architecture, a moving light-filled counterpoint, one imagines, to motionless bulk.

 

Romanis’ visual projects have likewise been singularly public, plein air, off-beat, typically communal. Romanis is a singer and musician, as well as an artist, he plays percussion and didgeridu. Aural and oral dimensions appear to influence his projects and contribute to a surprising and happily unpredictable range of manifestations. Romanis describes himself as ‘an indigenous person who works in the arts’ and this ‘open’ description is indicative of his non-proscriptive and democratic approach to art and has seen him work with ‘materials’ as diverse as sheep’s fleece and sunlight.

 

Romanis’ Blue Sheep - Wathaurong Country (Geelong), was one of a series of Regional Arts Victoria projects created under the guidance of Artistic Director Donna Jackson, in a program which sought to involve local artists and their communities in large scale image-making on the theme of cultural icons. Using 100 blue and 300 white sheep in aerially-documented interaction Romanis sought to comment on the interaction of the indigenous culture and sheep, or sheep-farmers.

 

Other of Romanis’ projects have been collaborations with schools and fellow artists on works of a scale and placement that clearly define them as public. Lines of Place is no exception and very much a public work. By its very nature the flag is public, but rarely does it get an ‘outing’ like this, with a day by day agenda and an aesthetic that embraces political, cultural and design concerns devoid of a commercial or national mission.

 

The rub of the flag is the ambiguity of its role: its place on the continuum between order and sentiment might one minute signal zealotry, zenophobia, nationalism (picture acres of swastikas, hear the crunch of thousands of boots on gravel), and the next - light-hearted celebration, joyous sentiment (carnivale). In this play on emotions and nervy range of signals the flag is distinct from the contemporary logo which, as pervasive as its may be, nonetheless only works associatively, its purpose to tag social strata.

 

A flag is planted. It flies. It grows for all - like it or leave it. What an extrordinarily versatile message, one to vie with the ubiquitous T-shirt, the flag is utterly contemporary, prescient indeed of online branding, commerical colonization, logo lust. The flag has been staking its claim in the unconscious for more than three millenia, longevity-wise, a venerable history.

 

The flag connotes fidelity, identity, location, possession in the most emotive and poetic form, the form and motion often at odds with message and intent. In terms of signalling, before the flag there was the hand, and following the hand the twig, or branch, (that humble simple sign of possession, one one can still observe in Third World countries - a small branch laid upon a roadside pile of timber or fruit, a gently protective sign of possession.)

 

Flags reach out. Like nothing else. Affect all senses: we see them, millions of us similtaneously [the 2000 Olympics and those before], smell them [musty, crisp, acetone-toting], feel them unfurl, [hands on or not, we cannot help but feel the tug, the rip, the billow, the kite], we hear them slap, snap, whimper, whisper, a reminder of salt and sails, adventure, power, the elements, and we taste them [popcorn-fumed, dust-hurling, monoxide-toxic, cordite-scented]: the flag, the fabric, the flagella, the anticipation of a whip in the face.

 

Did you know that the Australian flag, the blue ensign, did not have official status until 1953? Its use was gazetted but not legislatively adopted until 1953.

 

We wrap the dead, we wrap the newborn, each wrapping, each bunting, a flag of sorts. The flag intends achievement and demise. The flag attends achievement and demise. The flag is a fragile and abiguous sign. What more can one say, except to echo the observation that apparently nowadays the average person recognizes 1000 logos and 10 plants, (and how many flags?).

 

 

Photocredit: (Flags)

 

Glenn Romanis and Angus Watt

Lines of Place

Collaborative installation south of the runway of the Melbourne Museum

2000 - 2001, bamboo and printed textile, 120 flags in total.Photo: Anna Sande 2000

 

[i]     Education Department Victoria, Victorian Education Gazette, October 1901,    supplement, P 2.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

ART MONTHLY ONLINE – Dec 2000

 

The Pixel and the PoreDaniel Libeskind at the NGV

Lab Architectural Studio

  

 

What is it about skin?

Skin is always in. Predictably fashionable. Pure or applied, skin has chemistry, charisma, charm, come hither. If you wear it it makes more sense in winter; if you shelter under it, season in season out, it needs offer more ubiquitous appeal.

 

Skin: what is the basis of its attraction? Is it simply a vestige of primeval visceral urge? media-driven fashionability? something to do with economies of scale and extinction? the common desire to ape the drape and shape of power, of the rich and famous? a tactile thing - an age-old nostalgia for infant sensations of surface? a homage to the simple universal power of earliest adornments and materials that, millenia on, still have us gape, gawp, gawk at certain surfaces?

 

Skin itself has a quality adornment doesn’t: our reflexes twitch, our urge to touch swells - be it bare skin, bear, ‘roo, leopard, lizard, snake or faux - our reaching out impulse readies, to touch, stroke, connect. Lately the urge has taken on a new scale - of architectural proportions - buildings now self-consciously have skins.

 

Pores, pixels, quills, rivets, hairs, pixels, scales, tiles, nails pixels... discreet elements. I have it on good authority and from first hand experience that some of our most highly acknowledged architects do not dream in pixels. Nor do they draw or sketch in pixels. But sadly now the pox comes to all of us, at a certain stage in the evolution of ideas the pixel inevitably enters the picture.

 

Could it be that this rash of building skins is an instinctive counter, dot for dot, pore for pixel, to the omnipotence of the digital? Might models and conceptual implications likewise be a desirable distraction from the dustless delineations, demarcations and ‘dis-tinct’ images of the screen?

 

The NGV has promoted Polish-born Daniel Libeskind’s exhibition of models, drawings and tracts, Lineage, (2000) as ‘a new direction for the NGV in terms of diversifying (its) exhibition program (and) .. exploring the role of architecture and design in all their various forms in the 21st century’. - Is this another way of saying architecture needs stroking? In curator Shane Murray’s catalogue essay for Pause, the architectural adjunct to the 1999 Melbourne Bienniale, he questions the ‘monological process’of recent architecture. Murray ‘suggests that architecture might also include that space between conception and realisation.’ Clearly there is a discomfort with the autocratic architectural act. I read architects running for cover under skins, as an aspect of that discomfort. Or is ‘the skin thing’ a professional virus similar to the Pompidou extrusions that seemed to reach out and span the globe in the 70s, 80s and are sadly still active in Melbourne?

 

Is it an unconscious accident that Versace, that virtuoso of surface, and Liebskind are showing at the NGV concurrently? Fashion in human adornment can afford to change, indeed fashion empires are paradoxically founded on change. What then of architectural adornment, skins that cannot be shed so easily but need weather, age and inspire for decades at the very least?

 

The very scale of architectural enterprise requires justification and accountability of a kind fashion does not. But in the latter half of the last century architecture appears to have been in a vortex of fashionability changing as fast as the clothes we wear - intrinsically speedy, with a clear use by date, a splashy superficiality, an impression rather than contiguous organic substance that has built on the past.

 

What do I mean by architectural skins? I mean what seems to currently amount to a fetish for surface - metal scales, rusty planks, slaggy concrete slabs and whatever it is that Federation Square seems bound to be draped in, (for me a terrifying return to the Castlemaine rock crazy paving of the 50s). Were these architects deprived of other than rigorous rigid by the clock breast feeding - a routine that has them returning to surface so slavishly? I’m appalled and fascinated. How long is our digital generation going to insist on surface, in what is, I believe, a reaction to the pixel, the clean, clear-cut, loveless, unambiguous digital?. And how loveable, touchable, get-at-able are these modern surfaces anyway? Think now of the worn basalt stairs of the Trades Hall, the brass handle or rail that gleams from human touch. And how long will fashionable contemporary surface hide the developers’ and bureacrats’ agenda, one so insistent on thrusting bulk and disfunctional economies, that it needs be disguised by seductive skin?

 

Think of William Butterfield’s brick embroidery of the 19th century: does it offer some insight to the present surface fetish? What was Butterfield up to? Questionable restoration, neo-distraction, camouflage of some kind, or dreaming, not of pixels, but of a world without churning mills? What of present speed and change? Robin Dunbar (Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language [1997], 205) writes: ‘The information superhighway’s only real benefit in the end will be the speed with which ideas are disseminated. (You might call it overload or confusion.)* .. As a result, negotiations in large amorphous populations are more likely to be conducted under the strightjacket of the rule book rather than by intuition. And where it is really important, we will resort to the trusted age-old machinery of direct personal contact. The old-boy and old-girl networks will never have seemed so important.’ And so they are in architecture with its sleek, slick, speed and thrust, and dissembling skin.

 

Libeskind refers to Isfahan to explain the lineage of his surfaces, a gracious glittering mirage-like presence and precedent that seems much at odds with the literal nature of the derivation of his structures. For example the Manchester Imperial War Museum of the North derives from global shards. If you can imagine peeling off pieces of the earth crust, as you would an orange skin, then you have the shards, of which there are three. ‘Together these shards signify the battles which have been fought on the earth, in the sky and at sea.// The Museum articulates a new vision of history in the contemporary world and reinforces the regeneration of cultural and economic life in the Manchester region.’ (NGV Catalogue, Lineage The Architecture of Daniel Libeskind - Education Resource, Melbourne, 2000) Other of his work is explained for example, by a reformulation of the Star of David (Jewish Museum, Berlin), or ‘muse lines’ (SKY deTOURS, Tours), or the spiral (the Victoria and Albert Museum).

 

Locally perhaps we're informed or prepared for Libeskind’s work by that of two artists both of whom exhibited at the Melbourne Biennale (1999) and whose work is contingent on the perception of contruction in space. Each creates model ‘worlds’ where strange, or perhaps not so strange, things happen. Ricky Swallow’s immaculate scale models, something of a mimesis of museum diorama, certainly reference the museum (and the play of boys?) have us think about spatial consequences set in train by strange interactions. Scot, Chad McCail’s intricate aerial studies reference architectural plan drawings and have us witness to the consequences of chaos in communities. Each artist plays with notions of ‘what happens if’ in much the same way one imagines an architect moving around building blocks, each move affecting another and likewise raising the question ‘what happens if?’ Increasingly the practice of artist and architect impinge on eachother. Katsilidis ‘mural space’ in Melbourne is a provocative example.

 

Perhaps more of an artist than an architect, Libeskind’s work is unusually individual. Not exactly a one-man-band, nonetheless there is a distinctly auteur-ial sense about his practice, perhaps the natural outcome of his former studies and practice in music and mathematics, studies which may also explain what seems an over self-consciousness behind, or beneath, his designs. In Melbourne, his influence, particularly in terms of surface, is clearly evident in Federation Square. The tiles of Isfahan may be a long way from Castlemaine rock, and any connection with reptiles, but the sensitivities of Libeskind are there writ large. The question is do we read them, can we read them, how do we read them? This is a public work. What is it saying and to whom? How will it impact on local sensitivities and the evolution of our culture? Libeskind is reported as saying that ‘The only way to have tradition is to propel it into the future in a new context.’ (The Age, Melbourne, 1.10.00) What this does to a city can be questionable, especially when the guru is from out of town, his influence maimed (by loss of shard) and the evidence of his work seems only skin deep. Yet Libeskind professes a tenderness for cities: ‘The city is the greatest spiritual creation of humanity - intrinsically mysterious. It develops more like a dream than a piece of equipment.’ (NGV Lineage, 2000)

 

Men dreaming of skins! What is going on under this fetish for surface? Is there a Speirs lurking beneath our city’s skins? At the very least can we passersby get close enough to touch, to leave our imprint, to add our caress to the formation of a patina, the gleam of a relationship to surface?

 

 18. 12. 00

 

 

* Writer’s parenthesis.

 


 

 

ARCHIMEDE'S TOMB MEETS STAR WARS

a conversation with three metalsmiths about the allure of the handmade

 

 

Once upon a time, (when we were young and the world had just begun), perfection was possible, often abundant. Jewels and fairytales emanated unblemished sparkle, and touched off terrors and longings, nightmares.. and visions.

 

Talismans of that world of often unconditional pleasure sometimes remain: a brooch that grandma wore on her fragrant bosom, a tie-pin, a spoon, a napkin ring - a ring! - each of a material, a texture, a shape, a colour, perhaps a smell that connects now with an earlier moment of pleasure, perfection, patina, and a vital nostalgia.

 

In broad daylight the talisman is tarnished, the nostalgia compromised. But the ring? Well, the ring has retained its ‘ringness’ - indeed to slip it on, extend the arm, tilt head or hand, or both, is magic, precious - at once we exist.

 

Be it simple or ostentatious, somehow the ring holds its charm and arouses a relationship with ritual or moment, a vow held or betrayed, a life empowered or enslaved. What is it about the ring?

 

A focus on the work of three contemporary jewellers, Emma Goodsir, Susan Cohn and Caz Guiney may suggest some answers and prompt ideas about the potent connection between metal, ring, and possibly, perfection.

 

Personally I have to admit to long being besotted by metal. I was almost expelled from school for wearing an old stable ring on my wrist.* I included a fine large piece of rusty metal in my final year art folio. I remain extraordinarily fond of metal and its multitude personas, particularly those that suggest ‘wear’, or at the other end of the scale abandonment. Metal is a great storyteller.

 

As I write I am wearing five rings on my middle finger. They are anodized aluminium wire: one purplish, three pale gold olive, one a faded green. All are scratched. The maker is anonymous. They were six for $15.

 

Are you wondering where Star Wars figures in this, and Archimede’s tomb? They announce the physics and magic that play a part in the wanting to make, the making, the wearing and the marking of the ring. They are there to represent the creative spectrum: the unique at one end and the illusory and elusive, perfect and digital at the other end.

 

Star Wars is ‘the’ contemporary fairytale, made possible by the digital manipulation of images - a digi magic so slick it has its own much-mentioned metaphor in the film, ‘the force’. Star Wars is a fairytale that makes us wonder, even as adults, just what is real and what is the work of the manipulators’s magic. Where does it begin and end? ‘The force’ in turn leads to Archimede’s tomb, the vitalist philosophy of Leibniz and his resurrection of the Greek notion of entelechy, or perfection.

 

The sphere, which was said to be a part of Archimede’s tomb and is referred to by Leibniz as unique, actual and individual, can be understood as the result of an intelligible fusion of unities and multiplicity, mind and body - specific notion and individual substance, formal and actual qualities demonstrating entelechy, that phenomenon which harmonizes parts and creates identity by an unendlich resonance? For Leibniz, the relentless waste and repair of substance means that a body, an object, may not be materially identical for two consecutive moments. Identity lies in the continuity of successive states (and the trust, instinct, lively perception, rhythm and repetition that has us believe in its existence). What then of precision, perfection, permanence, degrees of worth, those extremes that imply limitation and an ultimate finite degree of achievement which deny the ongoing flux? 

 

If entelechy (perfection) is understood as an attempt to give definite expression to the metaphysics of living activity - the actions of the body expressing the purpose of the soul - then digital imagery is no metaphor for ‘the force’ in its wider sense, rather it is merely the outcome of a desire to tie action and image down to the measurable mechanistic pixel, in fact to limit and confine achievement, accident, spirit.

 

In a muscular article in flash,[i] Jorge Lopez is emphatic about the ‘Ugly Aesthetic’ of digital images. Lopez’ passion, as I read it, laments the loss of spontaneity, accident and the ‘fresh physiognomy’ of matter when it is reduced to precise, replicated, co-ordinated pixels on an unrelenting binary grid.

With him, I lament the loss of the tremour, in atmosphere, hand, temper that marks the unique, that suggests human presence, activity and spirit and abhor the thought of the preconstructed, constricting, predicting ideal.

 

Can it really be that the digital evades the magnetic resonances that come, I believe, from materials themselves? Does it knell the final remove of the hand that makes the mark of the mind? Does it erase that ineffable connection between material and spirit, an invisible yet somehow shimmering vibration of energy that attracts us to some objects and materials and repels us from others? I fear so.

 

Is the digital loss of vibration the new perfection? If so what template will we now use if we must measure perfection in the work of the human mark-maker, particularly the person working with metal - that natural material, which in its hardness and mystifyingly chimeric dissemblances is understood to bring man as close as possible to attaining perfection?

 

Metal brings with it a backlog of myth and influence that will not lie down, nor easily be dismissed or marshalled by the new digital order. Precious metal remains a fiscal measure. Races have slaved, migrated and died in pursuit of it, in devotion to it. Metal is alchemical, mystical, compelling, rare, extraordinary, ordinary, beautiful, fearful. Whole landscapes are overturned and poisoned, laid waste and abandoned for it. Fragile humans descend miles into the earth for it. Tall buildings couldn’t exist without it. Its discovery named an age, changed the course of history. It has killed millions and millions. The same cannot be said of wood or clay or glass. Metal is mysteriously hauntingly powerful, omnipresent, magnetic, and perhaps particularly among natural materials, associated with perfection.

 

What is it then that lures people to work with cold hard, dirty and obdurate metal? The challenge to transform? Its many guises and purposes? Why do we wear rings of metal and not stone or wood? Strange this association of metal with perfection. Is it implicit that the hardness, durability and the apparently calculable accuracy of metal associates it with perfection?

 

When the proposition of an association of metal with perfection was put to Guiney, Cohn and Goodsir ‘in one voice’ their response was not affirmative. They spoke of the idea behind an object as the ‘substance’ of perfection. Guiney put it plainly: ‘the idea is where the perfection is going to stem from’.[ii] For Cohn it’s definitely ‘the idea first and then the material. ... It’s the concept that predominates’.[iii] Goodsir observes that perfection is about intent, (or is it recognition of a desire?), ‘it may only be a moment’.[iv] After that initial moment of recognition then you make the choices, about materials, means, meaning, historical context and you face the frissons of creative risk.

 

Guiney’s ‘signature’ to date is her explorative approach to materials. Her 1998 exhibition, ordinary, orthodox and absurd, [v] was focussed on the ring, the ‘circle around vacant space’, as she describes it. The materials she used to create the rings, all identical in scale and shape, ranged from the precious to the ephemeral, gold to ice. In between were the mundane, humourous, absurd: viagra to soap, sand to chocolate.

 

Cohn speaks about metal as an ingredient, which she smells, hears, feels and sees - a visceral thing - that prompts action. Her sense of smell she strongly links to her survival in the world jungle. Smell is a prowling unsleeping antenna, tuned to inner urban contingencies, information intake and action.[vi] There is humour, urgency, desire for provocation in Cohn’s work, as in Guiney’s. Perfection is there in the making but not in the intent. (Do men have visions where women have senses?)

 

Goodsir, like Cohn, mainly works with metal. They have a commitment to it, an affection for it, a relationship with it. Metal is more than a means to an end, it’s an ongoing sensitivity, an affair. ‘My love is metal’ states Cohn.

 

Of the three artists, Goodsir’s work is the least on-the-street, in-your-face. Her work speaks of nostalgias, harks back to the compelling simplicity of early Australian jewellery, fine examples of which are held by the NGV: a simple rectangular gold bar brooch (Stevenson Brothers (c1900, NGV); gold and pearl earrings (Henry Steiner c1870, NGV); Edward Fischer’s circular gold brooch with a central ruby (c1888, Geelong).[vii]

 

The simple shapes of Goodsir’s rings, and those of much early jewellery, allow for evidence of affection - wear, use - and construction. Goodsir relates her work’s inspiration to her everyday world, to architectural and domestic detail. Although she works with simple forms, ‘they are never regular. There’s always an impression of the making.’[viii] There is about Goodsir’s rings a harmony and balance, a proportion and form that is utterly, reassuringly fundamental, satisfyingly structural. At e.g.etal,[ix] she and Ali Limb exhibit the genius of skilful and provocative contemporary jewellers , achieving, as they do, the difficult task of making and presenting work.

 

Cohn, a contemporary Persephone, practices in a subterranean workshop, literally, physically closer to the origin of her materials. Her favoured metal, aluminium, is dirty and greasy in the working and challenges those who would mess with it. But for Cohn it ‘suits a lot of ideas’; has a copious ‘virginity’; can be moved into more dimensions and larger scales than heavier metals; takes colour yet still looks like metal; is industrial and democratic. ‘The more you work with something the more you get to know it’ and for Cohn that ongoing ‘conversation you have with materials’ is fundamental. ‘They have personalities: whereas gold is easy-going and forgiving, alumimium is brash’. Aluminium speaks firmly: ‘You’ll have to treat me nicely before I’ll do that.’[x] Cohn’s wit cajoles the metal and together they create startling and provocative work.

 

Aluminium is a non-precious metal, until it has been in Cohn’s hands. She believes preciousness relates to what an object means rather than what it’s made of. (I suspect her choice of aluminium is another aspect of the wit and wilfulness I ardently admire.) “I choose to be more provocative and maybe a little bit naughty. Life’s too short to just let everything slide past you ...”[xi]

 

Of her exhibition way past real [xii], an installation of 153 bracelet rings precisely positioned on polished metal tiles, Cohn says she knew every ‘ring’ individually. Although it is clear she had satisfaction in disguising their uniqueness in a mass, referring as she did so to series production she counteracted that with the notion of ‘families’. The rings were of four families each teasing the issue of what is, and what is not, precious;[xiii] reminding us of how we can be seduced, deceived and indeed attracted by ‘fakes’, which ironically by their very ‘fakery’ imply elite consumption, (a cult object has to be mass-produced), and, further irony, similtaneously camouflage the unique and the precious. Cohn toys with us. Has us guessing, betting, hoping, involved - it’s fun and serious.

 

Guiney and Cohn both see their work and choice of material as exploration, something of a reaction against ponderous college-bred notions of the precious and chill measured precision. Each is a consumate artist but more concerned with exploring ideas, challenging mores and cultural assumptions and provoking response, than creating work that sits in a display case or is locked away in a vault. Their work is out there to work.

 

Although it is accepted practice, and all three artists can competently design on computer, they choose not to.[xiv] One has to ask why. Goodsir is firm that the computer interface ‘interferes with intentions’. Cohn’s feeling is that the nuances of hand-drawn shapes are more informative than the perfect computer-generated line. Perfection for her is a concept - a goal - valuable for what it ‘pushes you to, what you see .. the way it keeps expanding your experiences’. Guiney’s thinking is in accord; however diversity of materials guides her discursions and explorations to such an extent that she is currently working on a 2D computer-generated work!

 

Cohn does not ‘try for perfection’ but seeks and feels joy in something as well made as possible, something that might indeed look as if a machine had made it, but is in fact handmade and ‘comes alive when you wear it’.[xv] Goodsir concurs and draws attention to the ongoing life of jewellery: ‘There’s room for the wearer to contribute their use to the whole effect.’

 

Rings that are marked over time by scratches and abrasions please Cohn. They speak of life. Her latest series of rings was developed from a mourning ring. Cohn interprets the scratches on it as signs of a return to life. She mentions a couple, professionally keyboard-bound; they regularly examine their rings to compare the quotient of their physical labour - the scratches that register visceral connections and testify to Leibniz’ observation that a body is not identical for two consecutive moments. Perfection must be an idea not a reality, a moment perhaps, a continuum of change which acknowledges, indeed registers life and suggests the spirit which keeps the possibility of desire alive.

 

Guiney states clearly that she wants her work to make people think outside, in fact step outside, the traditional ideas of perfection and worth. It is this desire that has her exploring materials beyond metal. She finds people’s association of metal and worth frustrating but it helps her enjoy the process of working out when metal is appropriate. ‘It is important for a material to be chosen in relation to an idea, rather than just chosen for itself.’[xvi] Guiney desires to subvert preciousness and to challenge accumulation and explore the material ambiguities that this challenge throws up. ‘Perfection has a long history that can be restricting.’

 

However, like Cohn, Guiney speaks of metal as ‘forgiving’ (unlike wood you can melt it down and start again). She also puts her desire to range among materials down to a need to overcome her own personal rigidities, both learned and innate, (much like Cohn’s desire to push boundaries, and be a bit ‘naughty’.) Guiney claims humour is ‘a huge part of what I do. Metal can be serious. I like looking at it lightly.’

 

Cohn speaks of her emotions much as of a tool, and of the need for her work to ‘say something’. The work of these women is an affective as well as a practical undertaking: choices and juxtaposition of materials, and colours, suggest intimate associations, represent individuals, secrets, codings, stories, lives, and the traceries and connections of the spontaneous too.

 

Whereas Goodsir’s work is disarmingly approachable, both Cohn and Guiney have an affinity for the tough, less alluring honesty of the ‘industrial’, where form and function are repeatedly tested in practice, use, marking, repetition, and characterized by purpose and a lack of glamour.

 

Although Goodsir and Limb don’t find it comfortable to say so, they often find themselves as ‘educators’, trying to break down the rigidities of thinking about jewellery, the putting of value before expression, preconceived image before exploration, desire for display before honest response.

 

Do you like looking at it? Does it feel good? Does it work for you? These jewellers converse one to one with metal and purpose, sense and instinct. Their interest in perfection is only as an ongoing dialogue, between choice, use, affection, evaluation. They seek through their work to foster a lively social dialogue that challenges preconceptions about the precious and the perfect, and over time they have learnt when to choose the forgiving or the brash, when to continue working and when to stop, where to learn from and what instincts to trust.

 

Perhaps it is as women that they understand that there is no such thing as perfect sameness, and so they instinctively skirt the safe drear and predictable, that measurable, monotonous world where the unique and spontaneous are feared and the perfect revered. Perhaps it is as women that they continue to see in the stuff of matter new narratives which have no measure of perfection, but which can be smelt, heard, caressed, seen and tasted!

 

______________________________________

 

 

[i]     flash, Centre for Contemporary Photography newsletter #99.1/feb - apr 99,Melbourne

[ii]    Caz Guiney, interview with Sande, 7 Sept.2000

[iii]   Susan Cohn, interview with Sande, 6 Sept.2000

[iv]    Emma Goodsir, interview with Sande, 22 Sept.2000

[v]     Alice Euphemia, Melbourne, 1998

[vi]    Exhibition: Survival Kits, Storey Hall, Melbourne, 1999 - Cohn’s exhibit in this show was concerned with the loss of urban smells.

[vii]   Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahy, Australian Jewellery, 19C and Early 20C, David     Ell Press P/L, Balmain, 1990, (limited ed.)

[viii]   Emma Goodsir, interview, 22 Sept.2000

[ix]    e.g.etal is Goodsir and Limb’s gallery in Little Collins Street, Melbourne

[x]     Susan Cohn, interview, 6 Sept.2000

[xi]    NGA, Techno Craft, The Work of Susan Cohn, 1980 - 2000, NGA Catalogue, Canberra, 1999 (?)

[xii]   Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, 1994

[xiii]   Families: (1) the gold family - 36 rings: 35 24 carat gold-plated, 1 pure              24 carat gold;

               (2) anodised gold - 45 rings, 44 rings by Workshop 3000, one by              Cohn herself;

               (3) raw aluminium - 36 rings, honest materials under illusory                lighting;

               (4) the honest family - 36 rings, various surface treatments -               all ‘gold’ - gold-leaf/paint/dust; happy to be copies.

[xiv]   Guiney is using computer generation (Photoshop/Illustrator) to prepare an    exhibit for the for the Jewellery and Metalsmith Group of Victoria’s annual      show on the theme of paper.

[xv]    Susan Cohn, interview, 6 Sept.2000

[xvi]   Caz Guiney, interview, 7 Sept.2000

 

 


 

 

THE WOODBLOCK PRINTS OF BARNABY SMITH

 

Barnaby Smith – Spiritual Soft-Drive Exhibition, 69 Smith Street Gallery, Fitzroy, 1999

 

“Looking into the heart of silence” T S Eliot

 

 

 

In the West the spiritual polarities of the dark and the light pulsate in the luminosity and chasms of Mark Rothko’s “spiritual almost tragic timeless emptiness”[i], twentieth century echoes of Turner’s demon. Closer to home the later work of Lloyd Rees initially appears evanescent but hints always at a dark underside, a yearning for release from the yoke of conscious proficiencies and knowledge. The bloom on the surface of Tim Maguire’s luscious fruits and flowers is a moment away from decay. The light under his bridges beckons fearfully. In the present world of the shiny fa

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