Thursday, 27 June 2013

5 Questions With... Artist Gabriella Hirst

Gabriella Hirst, credit Christopher Thomas and Art Proper

Your work explores the nature of memory and mythology - why these two things in particular?

I think that these two merged interests arise from growing up and working in Australia, and reflecting upon what it means to have Australia as one's 'homeland'. I'm interested in how contemporary Australians of migrant heritage relate to the Australian physical landscape, with the absence of access to a neatly inherited land-mythology. The post-colonialist Australian by the large lacks access to indigenous land mythologies, and yet imported land-mythologies from the western or Asian canon are not easily adjusted to our landscape. Perhaps my interest in putting the nostalgic, the fleeting and the slippery on a pedestal is a reaction to this absence of set mythology. I like the idea of sanctifying and spiritualising fleeting memories, building my own mythology system out of personal fragments. Something sacred out of scraps.

Gabriella Hirst, Mnemosyne III (Altar/Alter) 550 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2 x 2 x 3.5 m, 2013. Photography credits: Christopher Thomas. Project patron: Judith Kristensen.
Gabriella Hirst , Mnemosyne II , 600 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2m x 2m x 4m , 2012, 600 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2m x 2m x 4m. Photography credits: Gabriella Hirst.

Gabriella Hirst , Mnemosyne II 600 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2m x 2m x 4m , 2012600 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2m x 2m x 4m. Photography credits: Gabriella Hirst.
I was fortunate enough to see your work Mnemosyne II, III,III last year and thought it was stunning - how did that work come about?

Thank you! I don't know exactly where the idea for that work came about but probably through a web of influences, artists whose works create a sense of wonderment and illusion (like Motohiko Odani, Roger Hiornes), and those whose work has a real sense of fun (like Ragnar Kjartensson). I'm always attracted to novelty things, home science and stuff that seemed to cast a real illusion of magic when I was a child. I was playing around with a whole bunch of weird personally-nostalgic materials, images and processes and once I had the idea for the work, this growing, deteriorating, salt crystal landscape, my experimentation narrowed and I began problem solving. The salt crystals are fun and exciting to work with because no matter how much you attempt to lord over and manipulate the sculpture, the medium inevitably takes over, makes you relinquish that control. though I guess you could say that for many more traditional mediums too...

Gabriella Hirst, Mnemosyne III (Altar/Alter) 550 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2 x 2 x 3.5 m, 2013. Photography credits: Christopher Thomas. Project patron: Judith Kristensen.

Gabriella Hirst, Mnemosyne III (Altar/Alter) 550 crystal trees, nylon, salt, steel, 2 x 2 x 3.5 m, 2013. Photography credits: Christopher Thomas. Project patron: Judith Kristensen.

Mnemosyne II, III,III presents the home as a temporal, impermanent illusion - where does this notion of the unstable home steam from?

This links to what I was saying earlier about the lack of easily inherited mythology for non-indigenous Australians  so i'll be careful not to repeat myself. This work talks about a notion of home as constructed largely of fleeting personal memories and fragments of nostalgia. of course, as memory is in a constant state of flux and nostalgia's potency is subject to ebbs and flows, a sensation of home dependent on theses constituents will inevitably feel flimsy and untenable. This work takes a toy which strongly resonates with my memories of Australian childhood, a fragment of nostalgia, and multiplies it in an attempt to create an amplified, tenable recreation of that fragment. That this toy disintegrates mirrors the impermanent nature of memory and the impermanent notion of home, constructed from memories.

Where do you see your practice going and do you have any plans for the future?

I'm very lucky, i'm about to hop on a plane for a trip to New York followed by Reykjavik then Europe. During June- September I have a residency at the Cite des Arts in Paris through the Sydney Power Institute studio. I'm interested to see how it is developing work in a foreign context without the support network i'm used to in Sydney, and without the familiar cultural context of Australia  from which I've been drawing influence over the last year and a half. After September I'm hoping to set up a studio practice in Germany for a few months then head back home in 2014. Further down the track, masters somewhere, travel, making work. It's all fairly uncertain. I see my practice leaning more and more towards sculpture and video but I have an enduring love of painting and hope to always find an eminent place for it in my art processes. 

Describe your artistic practice in five words.

theatrical. playful. anxious. fragile. non-specific.

All images supplied by the artist.


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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

GUEST POST: New talent - Recent Graduates at Robin Gibson Gallery


Mirra Whale
Caitlin Casey, Simon Hodgson, Eugenia Ivanissevich, Allison Marie Low, Elizabeth Rankin, Angela Welyczko and Mirra Whale
New Talent
Robin Gibson Gallery: June 1 - 26, 2013

Each year Robin Gibson selects a handful of students from the art school graduation exhibitions and puts them on show in his Darlinghurst gallery. This year the chosen few are Caitlin Casey, Simon Hodgson, Eugenia Ivanissevich, Allison Marie Low, Elizabeth Rankin, Angela Welyczko and Mirra Whale. They have been drawn from College of Fine Arts (UNSW), Royal College of Art, London and the National Art School, Sydney.


While the exhibition has no overarching theme, what is clear is that these emerging artists all have interesting ideas. Additionally they all understand how to use technical skills and formal qualities of composition, colour, shape, size to express these ideas.

Mirra Whale examines the everyday and the overlooked in her detailed prints and etchings. Allison Marie Low series of drawings, Oddlings, looks at the experiences of childhood and reminded me of Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children. Elizabeth Rankin’s paintings deal with memories of women during the 1930s and 1940s. Simon Hodgson’s sculptures play on the gallery maxim of ‘look, don’t touch’. They somehow manage to invite you to play on and in them, like a set of playground monkeybars, while their gallery setting prevents any physical contact.

Caitlin Casey, Eugenia Ivanissevich and Angela Welyczko all use photography in different ways. Eugenia Ivanissevich creates collages and small scale installations which she then photographs. Angela Welyczko’s images examine the world of collecting and document preservation, and appealed to my inner archivist, while Casey examines the use of photographs as a document of a journey in Untitled # 1 (An Englishman’s Journey).


Alison Marie Low

Alison Marie Low

Angela Welczko


Angela Welczko

Mirra Whale

Simon Hodgson

Elizabeth Little has a B. Art Theory (Hons)and M Art Admin, COFA UNSW. She lives and works in Sydney.

All images supplied by the writer.




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Friday, 21 June 2013

The unsociability of social media

This week I attended a conference centred around 'Investigating the Future of Social Media'. It ran over two days (work commitments meant I stayed a day and a half) and I think there may have been workshops on a third day.

I'm not entirely sure on the level of experience in the room, think it most likely varied from completely unsure of social media to pretty savvy so the talks also varied to reflect this. There were some great presentations, in particular I thought the talk by Paul Kellenbach, Partner, Minter Ellison Lawyers, on the very real legal risks and possible pitfalls of wrongly applied social media was valuable. Case studies on what not to do are always a good idea. (If you want to know more I tweeted during the conference and can be found under #web3conf)

There were some ways in which the event could have been improved, such as having Wifi that actually worked, making the conference hashtag available prior to the morning of, providing delegates with the twitter handles of the speakers especially if you are encouraging them to tweet at the event, try not to run an hour over time, have power boards on hand to charge devices throughout the day and perhaps ask speakers to provide their presentation on a usb to avoid stuffing around with laptops between talks. Given it was a social media conference I was surprised there wasn't more people tweeting it. This made me think that perhaps those in attendance weren't entirely comfortable with social.

Afterwards it got me thinking, I've worked in digital now for about four years at three very different organisations but of all the people I know I'm possibly the most critical of its impact. The other week I was going through some of my parents old photos in an effort to clean out their garage and realised that if I ever have kids they won't ever do this. I stopped printing photographs about ten years ago, opting instead to burn the images to a disk or put them on a hard drive and while this is a great space saver alternative what will I leave behind once I'm gone? CDs and hard drives won't work forever so is there a piece of technology I can store my life's memories on that will work in the next 10 years? The next 30?

Some of the most treasured possessions my mother has are letters written between her mother and father (both deceased) which she has preserved and archived. I feel closer to my Pop, who passed away when I was only 5, by reading his letters. I don't remember him but seeing his handwriting makes me feel comfort around the loss somehow. I stopped writing letters the moment I hit High School. Historically, letters and photographs are how we learn about the past, they're great indicators for social history and give an insight into how people thought and lived. Tweets don't last forever and Facebook pages are easily deactivated so what imprint will this generation leave on the ones to come? Is it that we simply don't think it's necessary anymore or we don't care? What will we leave behind once we're gone?

If history teaches us anything it's that we should learn from our mistakes. How will coming generations learn of the mistakes this generation has made? Indeed, is social media one of them. I fully acknowledge it's attributes, I am able to stay in touch and up to date with all my friends overseas and the physical distance that was once felt is significantly reduced. But what wouldn't we know about our history if previous generations did not write or print photographs. If soldiers in World War I and II did not keep journals of what life was like, if they had not written home. Interestingly in cases of war there are still war photographers and war artists so it seems that in some cases we do recognise the importance of keeping a physical record. 

Anyway, these were just some of my thoughts after a day and a half of nothing but social media talk. I know there are a lot of people out there that don't agree with me and perhaps by continuing to work in the digital industry I'm doing nothing but adding and abetting but I don't think social media is the be all and end all, it does not control my life and I do not live through it, that at least is a comfort.  
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Sunday, 16 June 2013

ISEA2013 searches outside the box. Then animates it.

Ian Haig, Night of the Living Hippy, 2013

ISEA2013
Ian Haig, Nandita Kumar, Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris
Verge Gallery: June 8 - 18, 2013


ISEA2013 is the 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art which showcases the best media artworks from around the world. Combining a three day conference, numerous exhibitions, performances, public talks and workshops held at various venues across Sydney, ISEA2013 inspires dynamic dialogues and provoking debates.

Verge Gallery presents the work of Ian Haig, Nandita Kumar, Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris. With a penchant for classic horror films, the title of Haig's work intrigued me. Night of the Living Hippy directly references artist Paul Thek's 1967 work The Tomb where the artist placed himself as the dead hippy. The grotesque skeleton laid out on the table is decomposing and fairly gut-wrenching. Through modern technology the artist is able to reanimate parts of the skeleton - fingers move stiffly up and down, toes stretch side to side - in a strangely perverse dance of the dead.

Also reflected in this work is notions of death, the value we place on life and the art world strange relationship to death. Artists are more famous, their work more valuable after they die, we are quick to throw phrases such as 'Painting is dead' with the advent of any new technology. Ironically and somewhat appropriately I overheard a man comment at the opening of the show that 'Digital is dead'. Why do we feel the need to replace one form of expression with another? Why can't the two live harmoniously together?     

Ian Haig, Night of the Living Hippy, 2013
Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013
Downwind, a project by Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, explores differences in 'olfactory sensitivity due to the genetic basis of human olfactory variability'. I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure what that all means but I feel it has something to do with our sense of smell triggering memories or emotions. As individuals we carry specific and very individual odours and these are reliant on numerous environmental factors. The artists are currently working with scientific research in olfaction to explore how smell can lead to behavioural changes. 

The room is scattered with paper lanterns that are fitted with motion detectors. As you move past they pop out and omit a distinctive odour that is not discernible at first but sneaks up on you gradually. There are two sugar installations - the first is a silver dish mounted on the wall with a lid that moves up and down, you are instructed to use the spoon and put some sugar on your tongue, this is meant to heighten your sense of smell. The other sugar device is located in the corner of the room and is a funnel that is pushing sugar into a silver dish below. These sculptures are strangely beautiful with an 'other-worldly' quality. Even without the aid of sugar the smell becomes pungent and thick. This is probably intensified by the sheer number of people in the gallery.      

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013
I was very much looking forward to seeing the work of Nandita Kumar as I had previously been shown images of her detailed dioramas. Inside a large glass bottle the artist has created a another world from sound and sensory electronic equipment. These created worlds look almost organic, almost natural in there private eco-climate and perhaps this is the point. Historically technology and nature have existed in opposition to one another but what if this wasn't the case. As Kumar asks, 'What if rather than reshaping the world to suit man's nature, technology was turned to reshaping that nature - to reshaping man himself?'  
Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013
eLEMENTS: EARTH presents a world where technology and nature are harmonised. There is a sensory element so that when you motion past the glass it omits a sound. These sounds are 'nature based' and resemble birds chirping, rain, wind ect. with no sound being played twice. The sheer detail and delicacy of the work is astounding, with people unable to walk away. If this is what nature and technology look like when they work together then it is as beautiful as a sunrise and as stimulating as a smart phone. My only disappointment was that there was not more of them. All those people crowded around a small plinth made it difficult to view and appreciate to its complete potential. Nonetheless, pretty spectacular.  
Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013

Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013

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Monday, 10 June 2013

Sydney Film Festival 2013: Before Midnight


Before Midnight
State Theatre: June 8, 2013
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

WARNING: Contains spoilers

The much anticipated sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight is a continuation of the story of Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine's (Julie Delphi) relationship. For anyone who hasn't seen the first two films here's a quick catch-up:

Before Sunrise: Jessie and Celine meet on a train going to Paris. She decides to get off with him in Vienna and they spend the whole evening walking and talking until he needs to get a flight back to America and she gets on a train to Paris. They promise to meet in exactly 6 months time on the very same train platform. 

Before Sunset: Nine years has passed. Jessie is a successful author on the final stop of his book tour in Paris. His novel recounts that fateful encounter nine years earlier. As it happens Celine is there the day of the signing and they spend the afternoon together, walking and talking. It turns out Jessie did turn up at the station 6 months after their initial meeting but she did not as it was her grandmothers funeral. He is (unhappily) married with a small son and she is in an (unhappy) relationship. The film ends at Celine's apartment, she is dancing and he is enchanted, she quips 'You're going to miss your plane' and he responds 'I know.'   


So, another nine years have passed and Jessie and Celine are far from the young, idealistic romantics they were in the first film. Jessie's marriage has ended badly when he decided to stay in Paris with Celine and he is struggling with being an absent parent to his son. It is the end of their summer in Greece, the couple are not married but have twin girls and the connection they once had is a mere flicker in the wind. 

There were elements of the previous films here, in particular the scene where the couple are driving back from the air port and their walk through the back streets of Greece rings true to the old model. These are the scenes that work the best. While I well appreciate the need to diversify with the inclusion of other characters into these lengthy conversations I feel they detract from the couples story, which, lets be honest, is why we're here. Those over the top, rambley conversations about life, hopes, dreams - that's what is so amazing about the first two films - the purity of it, of two people just talking.  

The character of Jessie really shines in this last film with his homour and quick wit while Celine is neurotic and argumentative. The romantic ideals of the first two films is gone and perhaps that is to be expected, after all they have been together 18 years now, but some of the old relationship would have been nice. The entire scene where Jessie and Celine argue in the hotel room really wasn't enhanced by the fact she had her breasts out. While the previous two films alluded to sex and nudity it did not rely on it for substance which the third film appears to. The magic is gone. 

Even the ending appears stale and lacking in the spark of its predecessors. Obviously there was a need to wrap up all loose ends but I didn't feel any great depth of love between them. She has just informed him she does not love him anymore and he is attempting to recapture something they once had as he approaches her in the cafe. While the final few minutes hint at a reconciliation as she finally pays in to his humour, there is not a beautiful moment, no connection where they share a laugh, a look, a smile, something that bellies the love they once shared. A love that stood the test of time and distance. 

Like the two before it, there is something unfinished in the ending of Before Midnight. Will they stay together? Will they move to Chicago to be closer to Jessie's son? Will he ever write all the books he keeps talking about? But I doubt we'll ever have the answer. Imagine, 9 years later, they'll be 50 and what will it be called - Before Retirement? It does feel like the end of an era and I confess it was a little disappointing. 


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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Molly Ringwald & Her Jazz Band plus some Vivid

Molly Ringwald signs copies of her book
Sydney Writers' Festival
Molly Ringwald & Her Jazz Band
Pier 2/3: May 26, 2013


I confess to being a Molly Ringwald fan. Growing up I wanted a best friend like Duckie in Pretty in Pink, I wanted Jake from Sixteen Candles to be sitting outside a church waiting for me and I wanted Judd Nelson to throw his fist in the air cause he got to kiss me just once. So imagine my delight when I discovered she would be the closing act of the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Molly Ringwald and Her Jazz Band were not what I expected. For starters, she was surprisingly good, not the best jazz I've ever heard but equally not the worst either. Secondly, it was thoroughly entertaining, with Ringwald captivating the crowd with anecdotes and surprising bouts of humour. The highlight had to be the finale when the strains of Don't you forget about me could barely be heard over the cheers from the crowd, a fitting homage to Ringwald's early film career.   


Vivid Sydney
It was difficult to ignore the fact that Vivid has recently launched around Sydney so I took a few snaps as I left the show. I really do love Vivid and it's ability to make people sit up and take notice of the city they usually simple exist in.

Vivid Sydney

Vivid Sydney

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