I chanced upon an artist talk on a cold wet saturday in Melbourne, by sculptor Ron Robertson-Swann at Charles Nodrum Gallery in Richmond.
This unassuming, diminutive man produced the infamous large sculpture “The Vault ” or as it was famously labelled ” The Yellow Peril”.
The piece was a winner of a competition staged by the Melbourne City Council who were looking for a distinctive signature piece for City Square. It won and was installed in May 1980 , just prior to the then State Government sacking the Melbourne City Council.
The work , initially called ” The Thing ” by Roberston-Swann and “Steelhenge ” by the workers who made it , was critically labelled ” The Yellow Peril ” by newspapers of the day . In September 1980 Robertson-Swann called the work ” The Vault ” but to many the work has remained known as ” The Yellow Peril ”
In 1981, the Vault was re-erected at Batman Park, a less prominent part of the city. At the time Robertson-Swann was interviewed about its relocation which he described as it being placed in a wasteground of a holding yard for the railways. It remained there until 2002 when it was moved to a position outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Southbank.
In 2017, the sculpture was recommended for heritage protection, through inclusion in the City of Melbourne Planning Scheme Heritage Overlay, following a heritage study of the Southbank Area.
“The Vault” has been inspirational for some built and propositional architectural projects designed in Melbourne. Several of Denton Corker Marshall‘s works have “adopted peril’s yellow almost as a point of pride and solidarity” while its form has been manipulated in some works by ARM Architecture (Ashton Raggatt McDougall).
I took much away from the artists talk. It gave me an opportunity to view the works of his expansive practice and realise that no one piece defines or contains a creative practice. Also that once a piece is sold the creator loses control of the piece and its new placement which can challenge the artists integrity . Also it may be preferable to give work a title to avoid the labelling of the work by an uncomplimentary tag.
“Beware of Falling” is the title of my final performance piece of my second year Bachelor Of Fine Art. It concluded my 2017 study year at Monash University, Melbourne.
The formative work began as a response to a studio project entitled ” A Narrative Tale”. Initially I decided to photograph my wardrobe. This took some time and involved the photographing of four hundred and two items of clothing. All my clothes are sourced from flea markets, vintage sales, opportunity or charity shops, garage sales and online second hand sites. I habitually buy only second hand items. This is a personal habit formed over many years. Financial circumstances made recycling an initial lifestyle choice. As a visual artist I employ an ongoing aesthetic of repurposing the found object . This combined with my love of the old, quirky and undervalued has continued to inform my purchasing choices. As a weekly volunteer at a local op shop and keen sewer I have great resources and the ability to refashion rehoused items.
A thirteen hour photo shot started the process which took on many iterations over the course of the 2017 year. Photographic displays, artist books, diagrams and sculptural pieces, drawings and collages extended the theme. Further work included using large quantities of fabric to create installation pieces, which were hand dyed, silk screened, torn, stiffened or embellished in some manner, all bearing the hand of the artist. I played with fifty metres, twenty metres and ten metres of fabric in various configurations in the stairwell at Monash University Building D. It rapidly became my work space, informed my methodology and forced me to address questions of scale and spatial practice.
My final iteration of the work took the form of a performance piece at the end of year show. I recruited several helpers who were to drop their specific bag of colour coded fabric into the stairwell onto the swathe of a sixty metre piece of orange fabric hung there . It was a total of four hundred and two pieces of fabric to replicate the original four hundred and two pieces of my wardrobe.
The overall process involved a huge amount of physical labour, manual manipulation and lengthy thought process. It involved a prodigious following through of the original concept . Much collaboration was required, reliance on participants labour and skills. Uncertain as to the outcome it addressed my interest in public performance, trained me to address spatial concepts and fed my imagination. Never satisfied or appeased my restless search in my practice is continuing. What do viewers take away from a performance? How is the non static judged? How important is it to leave or maintain a permanent record of work.
Last week I collaborated in a Group Show at Intermission Gallery on the Caulfield Campus at Monash University . It is a new ground floor gallery space in the recently renovated D Building which is part of the MADA, Monash Art Design and Architecture School.
My piece ” Dress ” was a Wedding Dress found in an Op Shop several years ago. I deconstructed the dress and treated it with a chemical stiffener laundry product sourced after much trial and error and experimentation with various products.
It addresses a narrative tale based on the discovery of my mother’s 1950’s wedding dress I found hidden in a cupboard after my mothers demise to dementia. The dress was in a rather dishevelled state replicating my mothers frail and unravelling health of her later years.
As a homage to this memory I recreated a rather visceral, evocative piece. Her original wedding dress remains in my safe keeping, one of the few tangible possessions I have of my mum and something I will perhaps gift to my three daughters.
The work was hung in a small, seperate room of the gallery, strung by wire from the complicated pipe system overhead. Six small beads from the bodice were placed on the floorboards beneath. A brightly jewelled, delicate chrysalis of a bloodwood sap ball was placed on the wall above.
Spotlit and extended the ” Dress” occupied the gallery area filling the space successfully. Only two of the beads remained at the de-install. Were they collected
or had they attached themselves to the sole of a viewers shoe ?
I am exhibiting in this collaborative show @five_walls titled “Unfinished Search for the Miraculous” . It is a curatorial project based around Dutch artist , Bas Van Ader’s life work, in which he pursued the concept of when is an artwork finished.
It was a challenging exercise and taught me about working to a theme, collaborating with mentors, peers, and younger practitioners and expanding my skills. Five workers in the visual art field who resonated well in the five walls project space, it seemed appropriate somehow.
We installed the show, orchestrated the opening night and gallery sat. All valuable skills. The install taught me basic woodworking applications and trained me in spatial and location techniques. Opening night displayed the importance of networking and getting as many people as possible to your show. Gallery sitting became a valuable lesson in marketing the work, making it accessible to visitors and facilitating the experience by being able to talk about the work.
I am grateful for the opportunity and will be sad but feeling empowered when the exhibition ends on 7th October.
I saw this exhibition of 38 finalists work which delves into the myriad different ways that paper can be employed in making art. In 2017 the conceptual theme
for Banyule Council’s Arts and Culture Program is ‘water’. The award features a wide assortment of works on paper and various techniques of production. Extensive printmaking processes feature including linocut, screenprint, mezzotint, etching, intaglio, letterpress and woodblock. Other making techniques include drawing, painting,photography, digital prints, artist’s books, and paper sculptures.
The former is a Tasmanian female photographer who is a powerful manipulator of imagery of the female figure which has been partially collaged with other images. Eg a woman walking across a pathway with a paper bag where her head should be.
David Rosetzky is a Melbourne based artist who works at Monash University, and also uses the human form of portraiture but lays into the face of the subject other contrasting images. An example would be the face of a young man with a dove flying across it. Well curated , films /audios placed inside large cubicles for easy viewing and soundproofing and like items exhibited together. There was a diverse range of work but all referenced the human figure in some way.
I was intrigued to hear him talk about his creative practice and the work he does at MADA as I find him and his practice irreverent, fun and enjoyable. He puts the childish, high spirited and delightful playfulness into a serious artistic journey.
The front room exhibition space faces the street and has a large vista from the street and visibility for foot traffic, passers by in cars, and tram passengers. His diminutive figure is a self portrait or parody of the adult Ronnie dressed in a child’s batman onesie holding a microphone. The caption is YOU reinforced on a timber laser cutout board placed in a direct behind his head at the back of the front room.
His legs as placed in a spread eagled stance, one hand clutching a microphone, gaze directly ahead, a rather confrontational pose with the body protruding slightly forward. From distance the body looks childlike but is a grotesque self parody of the young Ronnie with the current older head. The hair is reddish hue, the eyes sea like blue, but steely. It implies a sense of fun with this small figure claiming attention by shouting YOU but its very presence in an obvious space. I laughed. It made me feel great. Its inviting you want to approach the figure and see why he is so angry, then you get a shock when you realise its an old persons face and mannerisms on a young person’s body.
The textile language is a strong piece of the work, in that the batman onesie reinforces the stereotype of what a juvenile might wear but the old head juxtaposes this young imagery.
Brilliantly executed the gallery space is a clever and appropriate placement for the work and attracts much attention and garners interest from passers-by. When I went a young woman who was caring for a child walked at the front of the gallery stopped, and exhorted the child to visit it as deserving of closer attention. A walk in and inspection incited her curiosity and and invited comment from the child. She talked to me about the work, asked the child her reaction and offered to take my photo with it. I believe the successful curation made the work engage more fully with the public and made this work address and achieve the desired purpose of the maker as signified by the title “YOU”. It was a bit of whimsical fun in a hectic, part of town and made scurrying city folk stop and embrace the work.
I survived day one ground Monash. Battling incomprehensible acrynoms timetable confusion, a room full of strangers, and unintelligible requests from the academic cohort, I staggered blindly around the Monash Fine Art Department for most of the day.
Studios are cramped, my timetable is not user friendly and my first subject choice denied but I’ll work it out. I got to spend the day with inspirational arts practitioners who will train me, and I colloborated on a joint project the results of which are seen here. The piece was inspired by a visit to Francis UPritchard’s exhibition imaginatively titled ” Jealous Saboteurs ” and the piece we chose was part of the ” What Happens Next” installation of clay figures. Whilst not specifically the end product I would have desired, it made me think in a team mentality, utilise others skills, and assess how I think and work. It also made me talk about and question my aims of production.
We viewed a unique exhibition by Francis UPritchard at MUMA. It was a retrospective show which included work from her student days. I particularly loved the installation piece of seven identical glasses cases. They were possibly gleaned from an elderly relative over a period of time and assembled devoid of glasses but fitted with tiny volcanic ranges of green velvet echoing her New Zealand home.
Its a definitive exhibition of many pieces, sculptural figures, refashioned found objects, childhood possessions transformed and dainty watercolours and incorporation of textiles. Her colour use is superb and the sense of scale challenging, as the pieces are diminutive but perfectly formed in a crouching, defensive position.
What I loved is the specific gathering of objects, but the casual way they are treated, indicating Francis UPritchard is not precious about her collection but rather sees it as a living, ephemeral body prevailed upon by human intervention and interpretation.
An enlightening footnote was the discovery of a pendulous, spindly spider web on the sculpture ” The Tourist”. The spider had invaded the gallery and added its own signature to the piece, perhaps unconsciously reinforcing the aims of the artist. It was specifically relevant to our piece, “what happens next”. The webs presence caused much consternation amongst the gallery curatorial staff, as did, apparently the renegade spiders presence in the gallery space the day before.
1. What brought you to Detroit/why did you choose to do your residency here?
The work of my visual practice explores the theme of abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit was an ideal environment for me to pursue this.
2. Can you describe the focus of your work leading up to Detroit and what impact visiting the city has had on what you produce since?
The focus of my work leading up to Detroit has been addressing the central theme of abandonment in a post industrial environment. I have produced a body of work addressing this through a series of relief prints of the abandoned cockatoo Island Shipyards, NSW. A body of oil paintings, collages, drawings, photgraphs, prints and assemblages addressing the themes of discarded and superceded childrens games, eg Monoploy, of the 1950’s and 60’s, art deco teasets of the 1930’s , 1960’s comics , damaged tin toys , old dolls and outmoded educational aides eg Cuisanair rods.
My work since returning from Detroit focuses on abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit has many deployed workers. I got to view up close a city decimated by industry closures and its effect on the people. It challenges me to go deeper into the human psyche ie think about the history and the events behind the closures. Presently I am creating a series of paintings based on the blue windows of Fisher Plant no 21, designed by Albert Kahn, blue helped the workers feel positive . It is challenging me to look at the human psyche, and think about production lines in a grid contextual concept.
3. How would you describe the artists’ community in Detroit? And how does it compare to your experiences as an artist in Australia/ other countries you’ve visited?
The artist community in Detroit was alive, embracing , vital, energetic and welcoming. I believe as a community they have lost so much, have hit rock bottom and will come back up. I witnessed great positivity, sharing of time, resources and information .They were an extremely welcoming bunch, from the high end, swanky galleries, right down to the mural and street artists. It was most refreshing as though as a result of their economic downturn, the boundaries have shifted, its a looser community, not so bound by prejudices and social stigmas & class system, they have stripped all barriers away and are more embracive of creative output and prepared to take chances. Why, a fellow artist, Mike Sackey, gave me shoes, a hat, vest, and decals when i had no cash to pay for them at a factory relocation / garage sale.
Melbourne, Australia boasts a more traditional art scene and community with established galleries and local hierarchy, mind set and prejudices. Whilst it is constantly in evolution, there are established protocols, followers of tradition and favouring of certain art schools and promotion of specific artists. As we are a long way from established art centres there is the isolation mindset, combined with the colonial theme of ” are we good enough , compared to Europe “, possibly some negativity and tall poppy syndrome too. It is changing though and more up and coming artists are getting start projects off the ground, funding is becoming available and more money both private and government is being pumped into the arts.
4. Describe what your exhibition focuses on and what kind of reception it received.
It focused on a definitive, personal experience of Detroit whilst I believe still addressing the central theme of my work ie abandonment in a post industrial environment.
“Define Detroit “exhibition was a series of 11 A1 photographic images, both colour and b&w, of the post industrial sites I visited in Detroit, along with found objects found at these sites, assembled underneath eg tin lightshade, piece of wallpaper, empty, rusted letterbox slot and a child’s abandoned watercolour set and drawing. It contained words I had written to describe Detroit.
Building Detritus eg a tin box, copper wiring, pressed metal of a roof.
A series of 9 small watercolour paintings produced enroute whilst travelling around Detroit.Six old 33 1/3 vinyl records found on the side of the road in Detroit, which included motown iconic singers like Diana Ross and Ray Charles.
It was received favourably by most people. Those who know me believe it addresses my work succinctly . As it is housed in display cases in the entrance foyer it gets a reaction as people entering and exiting the large building see it . Some seem puzzled . When I was installing I got six favourable comments, & some puzzled glances but at least it is topical. Three D decals have already been stolen/ souvenired!
My talk went for 10/15 minutes was theatrical. It included removing my sparkly cheer leader skirt bought at a vintage store to reveal my ” detroit-still-exists tshirt dress underneath! I had their attention . Of my 20 or so listeners I was told I exuded passion, knew the artists and all the art I had seen , my memory and attention to detail was exceptional . In short I gave an inspirational talk which totally embraced my art .
Several questions , including, ” did I feel safe ?” were answered adroitly with ,”yes of course , I actually felt more unsafe in NYC.”
5. What would you tell someone who was considering visiting Detroit.
You’ll be surprised with what you will find.
Her creativity, passion, interest, beauty, old& battered facade are inspirational, and the natives couldn’t be more welcoming .
Vast quantities of vintage garments, dishevelled, abandoned sewing machines and garishly printed cotton. The only problem, it was all mens wear. Sigh.
I managed to bag a few small sized shirts which I will alter to fit my frame with the help of Mum’s old Singer sewing machine. A remnant of vivid seersucker also came home with me to be transformed into a nice frock.
The fittings and fixtures are straight from the 1950’s, and provided endless fascination to my creative eye. The building has been sold, I don’t know what will become of this treasure trove of fashion and nostalgia, her heady days as a doyen of the rag trade clearly behind her!