fur s t a l k s
in the dead of winter
one f r i g i d January.
H o m e i s b a r r e n;
too few deer dwell in the forest
to feed such f e r o c i o u s appetites.
T h i s f i e r c e & f r i g i d J a n u a r y,
Golden Eyes have known
h u n g e r & d e s p e r a t i o n & d e f i a n c e,
& now they will know f e a r. Forty lives worth.
The time has come. The walls they built
brought c a t a s t r o p h e, but the walls have w i t h e r e d.
The pack has starved & the pack has learned:
prey can walk on t w o legs.
Every night of that f r i g i d January, she leads
them as they haunt & hunt the alleyways,
s p u r n e d by the scent
of warm flesh & cold d r e a d.
The city is s e i z e d in a chokehold
of blind t e r r o r,
it will not last,
(blood will spill on the steps
of our Lady of Paris)
but for now, Golden Eyes
& Dark Fur rule the
City of Light
one f r i g i d
Claude Monet is arguably the most influential Impressionist painter of all time. The National Gallery of Australia exhibition Monet: Impression, Sunrise certainly indicates this! The exhibition displays Monet’s works alongside those of several other Impressionist painters who have followed in the French artist’s footsteps. If only one thing is clear from the popularity of this exhibition, it is that the impact of Impressionism on art past and present will likely never die.
When I was lucky enough to attend this exhibition recently, I was amazed by the unique technicality of Impressionism. From leaves on trees to reflections in water, the attention to detail is remarkable. Monet and his protégés left nothing to the imagination. Every brush stroke, every shade of colour, every bit of texture is right there before our eyes. It is almost hard to believe that these paintings are, in fact, paintings at all; the artists represent each scene so literally that they almost appear like photographs. Perhaps it’s not even a stretch to imagine that the invention of photography as we know it today was influenced by Impressionism!
At times, I made the mistake of looking too closely at the paintings. In some ways, this ruined the artistic impact for me: it was almost like discovering how a magician performs their trick without experiencing the awe of the trick beforehand. On the other hand, however, standing close enough to a painting to see how the painter achieved the effects of the artwork provided me with a new insight into the creative process. I was able to observe how the literality of the paintings were created, and appreciate the time and effort that this must have required. One painting in particular stood out to me in this way: Monet’s Les Tuileries, a landscape artwork which represents a 16th century Parisian garden. When I looked close enough at this painting, I was able to experience the bird’s-eye-view that Monet was presumably trying to achieve.
This is what I think was the true impact of this exhibition: perspective. In seeing each painting up-close, one can empathise with the artist’s technical and creative vision. In displaying Monet’s artwork in addition to artwork that followed, one can imagine how the Impressionist movement began and evolved over time. In placing Monet at the centre of the exhibition, one can easily believe that he was the man who started it all.
Close to a century after his death, Monet continues to make an impression on the ever-evolving artistic landscape. The fact that an exhibition like this has been created and transported around the world demonstrates that since the publication of his works, art and culture have never been the same. I know that the next time I observe and analyse a work of art, I will not be able to help but compare it to what I saw in Monet: Impression, Sunrise. Therein lies the power of timeless art.
Monet: Impression, Sunrise is at the National Gallery of Australia until September 1.
Comments Off on Let’s Talk About the Matriarchy Instead
Whilst trying to ‘overthrow the patriarchy,’ are we actually giving it undeserved airtime? In a world that tends to recognise negativity over positivity, perhaps it’s time to shift our perspectives and look back to the pre-colonial era at some traditional egalitarian societies. Maybe then, we might be able to discover where it all went wrong.
Contemporary Indigenous artist Wendy Red Star uses her own image to creatively approach the sensitive subjects of race, gender and indigeneity. Her playful, bright photographic utopias gently present feminism; they are easy for viewers to digest, without compromising artistic intent. Red Star is a descendant of the Crow tribe, which is one of the eight remaining matriarchal clans in which heritage descends through the maternal line. Here, women determine the lineage and bloodlines, proving the power of women outside of post-colonial gender structures.
Within groups like the Crow, women are not seen as ‘uniquely privileged,’ as the matrilineal principle is based on co-operation and support. The key to success is the allocation of practical and behavioural roles within the clan, dispersed evenly amongst members. Men and women’s responsibilities were equally significant for the success of the tribe. Unfortunately, the latter part of the 19th century saw an attack on these traditional gender roles. The US and Canadian governments implemented schemes to abolish tradition and create a society resembling the familiar Eurocentric concept of a ‘nuclear family’ and ‘civilised’ society. Unfortunately, this shift continues today. However, through the work of artists and activists such as Wendy Red Star, the memory of the Crow’s egalitarian society and cultural heritage prevails.
Red Star’s double portrait series Apsáalooke Feminist features herself and Beatrice, her eight-year-old daughter, posed and gazing steadily at the viewer.
In these images, Red Star’s daughter represents the enduring ancestry of the Crow tribe and her descendance through the female bloodline. Every pose Red Star makes, her daughter copies, but with an added air of child-like playful disobedience; where Red Star’s hands are neatly clasped, Beatrice adopts a mischievous smile and slumped shoulders. Within these playful scenes of colour and familial comfort, female strength is celebrated. Beatrice and her mother direct unwavering outward gazes at the viewer, challenging and defying the colonial notion of Indigenous peoples as passive objects. In this way, Red Star dictates the importance of maternal teaching, lineage and female power.
Alongside their portrayal of feminine power and identity, these images satirise colonial misinterpretations. Firstly, the artist’s use of vibrant red and blue along with patterns on the clothing are eye-catching, creating a theatrical aesthetic of the stereotyped ‘American Indian.’ Those of you familiar with the work of Aboriginal artist Tracey Moffatt, can see a clear similarity with the use of a theatrical diorama or backdrop to display colonial assumptions and misunderstandings.
Furthermore, Red Star and her daughter are set against psychedelic wallpaper, which engulfs them in a hypnotic, dream-like atmosphere, as if they are apparitions instead of living people. This is, in fact, their living room at home. By setting the photo series in her own home, Red Star enforces the continuing resilience of Native Americans alongside the paramount importance of family and bloodlines.
Contrasting with the theatrical backdrop, Red Star and her daughter are dressed in traditional elk-tooth dresses, shawls and beaded bags, highlighting the importance of female identity within the Crow society. Dresses carry great significance for women and girls within many Native American tribes, as they represent their connection to ancestry, community and family. Within the Crow community, men’s roles constituted more dangerous operations such as hunting, warfare, weapons manufacture and political matters. The elk-teeth, therefore, tell the story of a traditional custom in which a man would collect teeth over years of hunting and then save them for his mother or sister to sew onto the dress of his prospective wife.
On the other hand, women would take charge of physical labour, including agriculture, building tipis and foraging for wild plants, alongside household and child-rearing responsibilities. At a glance, it could be argued that the gender ratio here remains unequal. However, these women held a unique political position due to their place in a matriarchal society. They were allowed to divorce, unlike contemporary American women at the time, and to keep the land and house, as they were in ownership of them. Additionally, women were revered for their healing powers and craftwork, and were enlisted to care for sacred objects: an esteemed responsibility. Interestingly, art was something both men and women were involved in, whether it be embroidery, carvings, music or storytelling.
Through examining the structure of pre-colonial societies such as the Crow, we can begin to understand the importance of unique historical roots and traditions. Wendy Red Star uses her artistic flair alongside familial connections to heritage to create a powerful, engaging piece of work that gently provokes thought and understanding. Crow society no longer works entirely as it used to. However, all is certainly not lost thanks to the endurance of memory and representation of history by visual artists such as Wendy Red Star.
Comments Off on Be a part of art in Canberra Art, Not Apart
If you’ve moved to Canberra recently you’re probably becoming familiar with the pitying looks of friends from back home as they groan “but there’s nothing to do there”. There is a perception that Canberra is culturally backward and stagnant, cut off from the places where “things happen”. This couldn’t be further from the truth – Canberra’s arts and culture scene is thriving, supported by unique infrastructure such as the Canberra Glassworks and the ANU School of Art and Design, and amazing funding opportunities that just aren’t available in bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra’s arts sector may be smaller than those found in other parts of the country, but far from being a limitation, this has actually created a tight-knit community of art-makers, art-appreciators and creative types of all creeds.
Admittedly, however, Canberra’s art scene can be inaccessible. A byproduct of the closeness of the community is that as a newcomer to the city or to the arts, you might feel like an outsider when attending art venues or events. There are plenty of ways to appreciate the great art Canberra has to offer, whether by paying a visit to the National Gallery’s impressive standing collection, checking out Enlighten, or even seeing an exhibition at the ANU SoAD Gallery right here on campus. However, none of these options give you access to the beating heart of Canberra’s art scene; they don’t allow you to meet people who share your passion, see art being made and make it yourself, be a part of something exciting and innovative. If you want to not just look at, but get involved in the arts ecosystem, a great opportunity is coming up on March 16th – New Acton’s Art, Not Apart festival.
Festival Producer David Caffrey has described Art, Not Apart as a “reflection of local culture … like holding a mirror up to Canberra”. What he didn’t say, but holds true in my experience, is that the best part is that you can see yourself in that mirror, taking part in local culture. Art, Not Apart is essentially an anything-goes, all-singing-all-dancing crash-course in Canberra’s arts and culture scene. Participating in the festival last year showed me just how much an urban precinct can come to life. Every available space – from art gallery to community garden to lecture hall to private apartment – hosts boundary-pushing works. The focus is on performance, installation and interactive art, but many of the works featured defy these categories because they involve new and previously unimagined forms of art-making. This year Art, Not Apart looks set to deliver another indefatigably unorthodox program. The upshot of all this boundary-pushing and line-blurring is that Art, Not Apart isn’t too preoccupied with defining what’s art and what’s not; ultimately it’s about bringing people together – and this is an attitude we can all adopt to feel more connected to the community that makes Canberra a great place to live.
When I moved to Canberra to start my undergraduate degree it meant leaving a great community of young artists in Sydney, and at first it seemed impossible to replicate that network in a new city which is so decentralised and bureaucratic. If you’re new (or not so new) to Canberra, it can feel like a place that takes itself pretty seriously – but I promise, you get out what you put in. So get out there, let your hair down, and get involved with the creative life of the city!
“What we need more of is slow art – art that holds time as a vase holds water.” (Robert Hughes)
The Water Gallery is a narrow space hidden away on the lower ground level of the National Gallery of Australia. Floor to ceiling windows create the illusion that the pond, which laps against the building, is actually inside the space. Descending a staircase from the cavernous contemporary gallery into this intimate space makes coming here feel secret and special. I recently discovered that the works by contemporary Japanese ceramicists previously occupying this gallery is now gone, to be replaced by a new exhibition in December. I frequently visited this display, and its loss is one I feel keenly. For me, the space perfectly answered the call by art critic Robert Hughes for “slow art” as a response to the increasingly fast-paced commercial art world.
Popular philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that art can offer therapeutic benefits which ought to be accessible to ‘ordinary’ people as well as artworld-initiated audiences. These benefits include providing hope, making us feel less lonely, and showing us the value in “everyday things”. When people look at art they intuitively seek something that can help them make sense of the world, connect with other people, see their own experiences reflected back at them, and deeply engage with new ideas – but often contemporary art fails to deliver on these expectations. A lot of the art that fills the ever-expanding art fairs and biennales across the world instead leaves its audience (including me) alienated, disengaged and confused.
Art historian Julian Stallabrass criticised the young British artists (think Damien Hirst’s ‘shark’ or Tracey Emin’s ‘bed’) for producing work which ‘looked like’ contemporary art but failed to engage viewers deeply, describing this phenomenon as “High Art Lite”. Robert Hughes took aim at the work of Jeff Koons and other “fast art” for presenting mere novelty without really having anything “fresh and vital to say.” Often on the contemporary art circuit the hype around new media – be it consumer products, animal carcasses, video, or virtual reality – can disguise the absence of meaningful content. This ‘fast’ or ‘lite’ art fulfils the market’s demand for a fashionable product that has the look of contemporary art, but it does not follow through on showing us new ways to see, to live in and to understand our world. The outcome for audiences is that we go in looking for art which helps us make sense of things, but what we get instead is art which leaves as bewildered – or simply bored – instead.
The trend in contemporary art appears to be to emphasise the plurality of conflicting perspectives. Art focuses on the particularities of experience, which often require local knowledge to understand, and bombards audiences with a dizzying array of technological possibilities, moral conundrums and ambiguous political messages. Themes of alienation and the inability to communicate abound. Compulsory postmodern self-awareness perpetually deconstructs but offers us no alternative structures through which to make sense of our world.
Undoubtedly this hopeless confusion reflects the reality of the contemporary world, but the problem for audiences is that we already know that living in today’s global digital world can feel overwhelming and uninterpretable. Art which merely replicates this chaos becomes just another stream of conflicting information and imagery adding to those which already bombard us daily, and tells us nothing about how we might actually comprehend our lives.
The antidote advocated for by Robert Hughes is ‘slow art’. In 2004, he said that we need “art that holds time as a vase holds water” – a maxim I feel was embodied by the Water Gallery display. The contemporary Japanese ceramic works housed in this space do not “look new”, but they demonstrate that contemporary art needn’t rely on superficial novelty to continue to be relevant. They acknowledge the value of tradition, gradual refinement of artistic forms, and painstaking processes of creation. The pieces and their interaction with the space itself invited us to take pause from our fast-paced digitally-driven lives, be fully present in this meditative place, and contemplate the quiet works and moving reflections of water on the ceiling.
Take, for instance, Mihara Ken’s Kigen (Genesis) no 1. The work does not shout for our attention or instantly gratify us with spectacle, it emerges slowly. Standing before the work, you would notice the gravity of the form in relation to your own body – the sense that it would be heavy to lift. I think that now more than ever in the context of our increasingly digital world we intuitively respond to that which is tangible and handmade. A work like this is something of a relief in an art landscape dominated by video and virtual reality.
Although the elegant form seems timeless, the work also speaks to the contemporary art world’s desire to embrace the cultural specificity of local and personal experience. Shinto culture is a key inspiration for the piece, particularly the importance of ritual, which is echoed in Mihara’s repeated firing and grinding of the ceramic. The distinctive deep metallic tones come from the high iron content of the Izumo clay, local to Mihara’s native Shimane prefecture. The result is textural and architectural; the form gives us a tangible sense of the landscape from which it is formed, the physical hand of the artist in shaping it, and the repeated, ritualistic processes involved. The design of the Water Gallery display was an essay in sensitive curatorship. The gently rippling pond outside echoed the Shinto ritual of water purification and created a meditative atmosphere, which evoked the practice of worship at kami shrines that remains central to shrine-Shintoism in contemporary Japan.
Aided by careful curatorship, works like Mihara Ken’s allow us to deeply engage with new ways of thinking about the world and connect with the experiences of others instead of reminding us how disparate and disconnected we are. The Water Gallery offered respite from an alienating and confusing world. It was a space that showed us that there is more to life than our everyday concerns and needs – something that great art has always offered, and which will continue to be a relevant aim of contemporary art today and into the future. My sense of loss at no longer being able to visit this display demonstrates the success of the Water Gallery in facilitating a meaningful and personal experience of contemporary art. I can only hope that the new display will be just as moving.
In Northam, the sunset matches the land. Layers of red, pink and brown like an endless gradient seep in to the scrubby horizon. Silhouetted against the darkening sky is the tiny town’s biggest art installation, its shades of green and blue almost garish in this brush-soft landscape. The site of this art? Not, as you might expect, another of Australia’s giant objects. Instead, the 6,500-person town 100km north-east of Perth hosted artists Phlegm and HENSE in 2015, who were tasked with painting its 36m tall silos. Three and a half years later, a unique collaboration has seen six different silo artworks take shape across Western Australia’s south, inspiring many more in other states.
Tower silos are tall cylindrical structures for storing bulk materials – in this case, grain. They are used by farmers or country towns to collect grain, enabling it to be stored and protected until it is transported for export or processing. Already significant landmarks in many small towns, the idea to use them as canvases for giant works of art which could be used to bring togetherness and tourism to small and struggling communities was inspired.
WA’s six installations form the Public Silo Trail, which began as a collaboration between a grain grower cooperative (CBH Group) and FORM, an independent cultural organisation. Six towns and eight artists were carefully selected for the project, which was seen as an opportunity to create an open-air cultural tourism opportunity in frequently overlooked regional areas. While both the surfaces being painted on (steel or concrete? porous or smooth?) and the pieces themselves were vastly different, FORM aimed for each one to act as a representation of the local community.
For many struggling rural towns, these silos are the promise of economic rejuvenation. Rochester, in Victoria’s north, pinned its hope on Jimmy DVate and the kingfisher he painted on a Grain Corp silo near the Northern Highway. Two weeks from completion, the mural – which depicts the bright blue and yellow bird on the banks of a river, feeding on a local fish – had already made the town “almost chaotic” with weekend traffic. It wasn’t only locals who stood at the foot of the silo to watch it take shape. Many tourists and residents of regional towns stopped by to have lunch and see the mural, bringing hope for local businesses.
The owner of Goorombat’s Railway Hotel says that the barking owl mural she can see from her window – also by Jimmy DVate – has brought life back to the pub. Formerly spare weekday lunches have seen as many as 30 meals served, and customers have had to be turned away on weekends. In Brim, where the first mural in regional Victoria took shape, tourists have continued to stop. As many as 20 vans are still seen overnight at the caravan park – with more during Christmas and Easter. Thousands more stopped in the small town of Coonalpyn, in South Australia’s south-east, to watch a mural of a local schoolgirl take form in 2017. The newly opened Coonalpyn Silo Café has benefited significantly from the business, and the District Authority has had to institute a traffic management plan to deal with the number of trucks pulling over.
Innovative solutions have been harnessed to help the towns maximise their profits, such as solar panels to illuminate the silos at night. DVate sees these collaborations as reflective of a greater aim to the murals. To him, they are more than a money-making opportunity, but a way to increase the wellbeing of towns and bring them together. With mental health issues a severe problem in rural Australia, and often stemming from the isolation felt by those in farm environments, community togetherness is an important aim. Guido Van Helsen, the artist of the Coonalpyn schoolgirl, is fondly considered a “local” and has been taken out for activities from drinking to sheep-shearing with the farming populations he has painted for.
The presence and importance of silo art is increasingly being recognised around Australia. Now, a new series of four Australia Post $1 stamps are set to display the murals at Brim in Victoria, Ravensthorpe in Western Australia, Fallon in Queensland and Weethalle in NSW. Australia Post’s philatelic manager Michael Zsolt sees silo art as a symbol of rural communities, and the environment, history and industries at their heart.
The Public Silo Trail officially launches this month, and FORM will be installing interpretive signage and starting a website with pictures and artist information. Hope for the rejuvenation of these rural communities is sorely needed, and silo art has plenty to give.