Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ingenious art or clever gimmick...?


Brook Andrew
The Cell
Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation: 9 July- 18 September 2010

Running late to the Sherman opening of Brook Andrew's installation, The Cell, I entered with no preconceived ideas. Having no idea what to expect or even what the work was, ensured the maximum impact when I walked through the doors and came face- to- face with the largest jumping castle I had ever seen. Whatever I had expected- this was not it. Suddenly the quote (seen above) which greets visitors begins to make sense.

Circling the work, its brightly coloured patterns and circular windows, I find myself suddenly engulfed by cameras and media people as well as several security officers. It seems that despite my tardiness I was not fortunate enough to miss the esteemed Governor General who had been enlisted to perform the opening speeches. It's not as if I have any particular issue with the GG, but I do have a problem with her security who proceeded to order me out of the way while simultaneously blocking my exit making their request impossible. It was only after they left that I was able to enjoy the work more fully which, in this unique case, meant donning a stripped jumpsuit, crawling through a tunnel, and entering the world created by Andrew.

The inside of the cell is as brightly patterned as the outside and the jumpsuited spectators blend in to the walls and floor, almost becoming one with the work. Asked by a videographer what my first impressions were of the work, I inarticulately respond that I felt 12 years old again. Possibly not the response he was after. But that was exactly what it was like. Despite the knowledge that Andrew's vision for the work held deeper connotations of asylum seekers and prison inmates you can't escape the fact that it's just plain fun.


Walking away from the installation the cynic inside me can't help but wonder at the artist's motives. While I think conceptually this work is very evocative, it's execution lacks something of the seriousness of its foundations. Feeling slightly more like a publicity stunt, The Cell is, according to Andrew, "a space for quiet contemplation, disorientation and spectacle" and all these things it was- but is it good art? As I read the room sheet desparately searching for some clue, my eyes rest on the final paragraph-

'If you would like to take the experience of The Cell home with you- limited edition signed red costumes are available for purchase...'

I guess I have my answer.
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One gallery, two openings ...

Arampini: Artists from the Tiwi Islands
National Art School: 8 July- 11 August 2010

Radial: Recent Acqusitions from the National Art School
National Art School: 8 July- 11 August 2010

In recent years the National Art School (NAS) has made headlines for their vocal objections to joining with the College of Fine Arts due, in part, to the varying teaching styles of each institution. Therefore it was with great surprise and pleasure to see it making headlines for an entirely different reason. Thursday night saw the opening of two very distinct and separate exhibitions in the NAS Gallery. Arampini: Artists from the Tiwi Islands incorporates ceramics, painting, sculpture and works on paper from a selection of indigenous artists from the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory.



Installation view.

The work reflects community and family, a connectedness to the things around you. However, there is an infinite difference which unerpins the work, a separateness and uniqueness which makes each work stand alone.

In direct contrast to this, on the second floor of the gallery is Radial: Recent Aquisitions from the National Art School, a collection of aquisitions made over recent years, including objects and artefacts from the gaol period (1841-1914).


Walking around the exhibition, it's easy to forget that NAS was at one time Darlinghurst Gaol. From the wardens batton to the ball and chain once used on prisoners, this walk down memory lane is facinating and the representations from such artists as Wendy Sharpe, Dorothy Napangardi and Arthur McIntyre as well as NAS graduates, are insightful. Add to all this the fact that the National Art School provided an abundance of wine and food ( a rare occurence at even the most elite gallery openings) this was a great night of evocative art.

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Gallery Adagio closes its doors...

While out for dinner with friends recently the topic of conversation happened to fall on the recession. "That's so 2008" remarked a friend, dismissively. Perhaps a generalisation, this flippant comment spoken candidly amoungst friends is demonstrative of Sydney's general opinion towards the recession which saw business's close down and more than a few people unemployed. While it is true that Australia fared better than most during the economic crisis (the UK being one of the worst hit and my home at the time) it seems as if the constant reassurances of the Rudd government that Australia escaped the recession lulled people into a false sense of security. To assume the recession is completely over is naive. Such a global economic uproar was bound to cause a type of snowball effect and in some cases it is only now, almost 2 years on, that the full impact is felt.
One such instance is Gallery Adagio who held their final exhibition opening on Saturday. Brisbane artist Nick Leahy will be the last artist to exhibit in the space in Glebe before they close their doors for the last time and the building goes up for auction- no doubt to be transformed in to yet another restaurant. Patroliana, a term used for vintage car related products, provides a snapshot into the oil- dominated past where emphasis was on prosperity at the expense of the environment. Quirky and slightly kitsch, Leahy's work has a very distinct undertone of nostalgia and an awareness of times gone by- fitting really that it should be the show for which Gallery Adagio will be remembered.

While I was not personally in Sydney during the 2008 recession, it has been interesting to return home and see the after-effects. While the art industry is arguably one of the worst hit, given its expendability, this is not the only area where noticeable cutbacks have been made. Even retail giants such as Target and K- Mart have visibly reduced the amount of stock in their stores- widening aisles and spreading out merchandise. That being said, on first appearances it dose not seem as if people are spending any less money on material possessions (if the amount of people sporting an iPhone is anything to go by) so perhaps things aren't as bad as they seem. However, tell that to the staff and artists of Gallery Adagio who, 2 years on, are feeling the full effects of "the recession we had to have" (Rudd)

Gallery Adagio
Petroliana a solo exhibition by Nick Leahy
3 - 25 July
91 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, 2037
Tuesday- Sunday 11-6pm
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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Interviewed for Incubate



Troving the Streets of Birmingham

By Tracey Clement


Timing is everything. When Naomi Gall left Sydney and headed to the UK on a two- year working visa, she couldn’t have known that the world was about to slide into the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.


After the requisite few months travelling Europe, Gall found herself unemployed in Birmingham. Despite two degrees from COFA and two years experience writing and doing arts administration for COFA’s marketing department, her employment prospects looked grim. Jobs in general were few and far between and arts jobs in particular were scarce. Instead of cursing the fates, or the shortsightedness of bankers, Gall decided to make her own luck. Along with curator Charlie Levine and artist David Miller, she founded an artist run initiative (ARI) called TROVE.


Unlike many ARIs, TROVE doesn’t have a permanent gallery space. Instead, Gall and her colleagues make the most of the economic downturn by taking over the city’s vacant spaces to host one- night only events. TROVE supports both local and international emerging artists who are encouraged to respond directly to the ARI’s unconventional venues; eclectic locations that range from the back of a van to an abandoned warehouse or garden.


Frustrated by the lack of exposure for Australian artists in Birmingham, Gall invited fellow COFA grad Sam Smith to present his video work through TROVE. Smith is without a doubt a young Aussie artist worth watching. He fully embraces the potential of digital technology and the subject of his videos is often the artifice of movie- making itself and the possibilities film conventions offer for manipulating perceptions of time and space. His complex installations frequently combine moving image work with finely crafted large- scale sculptures.


In the seven short years of his impressive career, Smith has exhibited extensively throughout Australia as well as in Japan, China, Thailand, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Spain and New Zealand. Smith won the prestigious Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship 2007, which allowed him to spend six months in early 2009 undertaking mentorship in New York with American artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. While there, he created two new artworks, one of which, Into The Void, debuted in his TROVE exhibition of the same name. Smith’s first UK show was a hit for both the artist and the ARI. Local critic Elizabeth Short wrote, “Birmingham needs initiatives like TROVE who never fail to deliver, and Sam Smith’s show is the perfect example of this.”


Smith wasn’t able to travel to Birmingham for his show at TROVE and, even though he plans to travel to London following a solo exhibition at Artspace in March 2010, it’s unlikely he and Gall will get to reminisce face to face, over the success of their joint venture, anytime soon. For despite having gained fulltime employment managing a commercial gallery, who were no doubt impressed by her initiative, Gall’s work visa runs out in March. She’ll be heading home to make something happen here. Timing really is everything, but Birmingham’s loss will be Sydney’s gain.


Article originally published by Incubate Magazine, Issue 4: 2009/10: 54-55.



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