Oct 26, 2009

Ricky Swallow - The Bricoleur

Killing Time (detail), Maple Bracing, 2003-2004, 108 x 184 x 118 cm

Ricky Swallow works in exchanges; exchanges of materials, time and space. Relationships between things, between lives, and the stuff that makes up daily life. Memorials are pieced together from the narratives of human existence; the discarded, once valued but now forgotten. Like the bricoleur put into popular usage by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his book The Savage Mind, Ricky Swallow draws from his immediate surroundings, but in a form of second order bricoleur, where things are elegantly crafted from wood, plaster and bronze.

Fig. 1, English Lime wood, 2008, 24 x 20  14 cm

The visible remnants of a passage of time, and the physical work involved in sculpture seeps from the works. It can be seen in the intricate rendering of fish and crustaceans strewn across a model of the family table of Swallow’s youth in Killing Time (2003-04), or in the recreation of the feathers and fur strung up, the prize of a hunt in Salad days (2005). The paper sheath cloaking a hidden scull in Fig 1. (2008) is as delicate and translucent as the real thing. Amazing. Awe inspiring.

Wood is a living material, it expands, contracts, and ages with time just like the relationships we have with objects. It is not static, just as our memories are not static. They morph, grow and sometimes disappear. They form the by products of our lives, a testimony to the person we have become. And our memories are forever bottled-up in the things we collect, the things that we cannot let go.

Rife with autobiographical associations, Swallow reclaims the still life genre in these pieces to explore his own personal narrative. Recapturing a memory through the strong associations forever inextricably linked with objects, Swallow makes a point of salvaging and honouring the things that continue to resonate strongly in his life. This long train of objects and images are documented in a daily dose on his blog Ready for the House. From animals to wood, via fishing, lamps, loot and love, it’s easy to see how the oddest things strike a chord somewhere within us.

Back between the white walls of the Ian Potter, walking amongst these forms it’s hard not to feel the longing tied up in the wood, the bronze and the plaster. Although the works are merely recreations of actual objects, you can feel their longing to be part of the real world, to be more than just a container for something bigger than themselves. Instead the works manage to unify the description of all that we imbue in an object into one complete experience. They are a pace away from real life, but you can’t help but feel that without them real life might slip away.

"It’s overly romantic, but there is some kind of emotional struggle to make anything in the studio work. If I think something is really moving, I want everyone that’s close to me to have experienced the same thing... it’s something about a lasting impression and the sculptures are supposed to be a lasting impression of something else."

- Ricky Swallow talks to Lesley Vance of North Drive Press June 2005.

The Bricoleur is showing at the Ian Potter Centre until 28 February 2010.

Oct 22, 2009

Alice Byrne - Into the Wald

The Fox's Sun, oil on linen, 122 x 168 cm

Luminous verdure encircles completive abodes in Alice Byrne’s new series of works Into the Wald. Glowing oils and delicate, intimate watercolours hang side by side on the walls of the James Makin Gallery in Collingwood, cushioning the viewer who enters this space from the galleries urban surroundings.

Alice Byrne is a Melbourne artist who has long sought out houses for subject matter, deconstructing architectural forms into their essential elements and transforming landscape into portraiture. In soft glazes of oil paint, Byrne blurs the edges of luminous fields of colour to explore intriguing compositional possibilities that once lay dormant.

This exhibition sees an introduction of new elements, disturbing the peace that was once so important in certain previous works, and bringing a sense of the unknown. Returning to a small disused school-house in rural Victoria, Byrne investigates both its remoteness and seeming absorption into its rich wooded surroundings. The high German word wald used in the title of this exhibition alludes to an idyllic, unspoilt wilderness that both captivates and forbids. It’s associated with ideas of a European forest as imagined in literature and folklore, representing the uncontrolled and unfamiliar. By using the term wald to describe the place depicted, Byrne immediately conjures a mythic world heavy with mysterious connotations.

Way Through, water colour on paper, 25.9 x 37.6 cm

The rich, overgrown surroundings are painted with relish, twisted foliage and organic forms encroach on the solitary building, and striking combinations of colour play out against each other. Light filters through the branches and leaves, leaving behind dazzling reflections that glimmer on the forest floor. What is created is a place both comforting and alluring – yet containing a perceptible threat perched on the edge of the subconsciousness. This unidentifiable presence, this menace to the gentle peacefulness of nature, is the thing you feel when alone in the wild. This presence gives the works their subtle tension and their potential to stretch the imagination.

Grounded, oil on linen, 113.5 x 85 cm

Shadows appear, and figures can be made out in the sidelines. Like the buildings, these figures both belong and intrude on their surroundings, and their surroundings both accept and deny their presence. The figures mark the entrance of the human form in Byrne’s work, taking the work a step closer to narrative. Ultimately Byrne leaves the viewer to infer what they will, and this open ended quality transports the viewer into the wald created, making them a part of the process of creating. This house can be a shelter and comfort, or just the illusion of refuge that promises something else.

Into the Wald is showing at James Makin Gallery until 7 November 2009.

Oct 20, 2009

+ one more

starting another blog has made me think a bit about why i blog, who i blog for, and to what end. what i always come back to is how much i like having a space to write in, share, and think out loud (even if my words sometimes just float around in space). it also gives me a reason to take photos of my breakfast and other random things (feet, sky, trees). this is strange i know, but its the best way to document day to day life. just the ordinary. and to see what other people are doing, people that live on the other side of the world, people in melbourne (who you might just sit next to on the tram everyday). blogging makes the world a little bit smaller. thats what i like about it. ill still be here from time to time, but more often here. so i hope we bump into each other again soon.

Oct 19, 2009

my final word (on twitter)

well I'm putting an end to my twitter experiment. it was fun but sadly not for me. i gave it a fair shot i think, and maybe i'll come back to it sometime. 

for all of you who want some reasons to keep twittering (don't let me hold you back!) here are some convincing points, i've edited them a bit ...
(via this article via mistakes being marked)

1. you get access to different points of view.
2. the people you follow can point you to great resources you wouldn't find otherwise.
3. you can spread word about your brand, what you do, and then hear what people think about it.
4. twitter can make you a better writer.

the last one is the most interesting i think. writing succinctly is an art, and to have a space that you feel obliged to write for everyday is well, good practice. sharing thoughts is why i like blogging, and i guess twitter is just another way of doing this.  

Oct 11, 2009

24-hour art (assignment 3)

Memory of the child-woman 1932

The National Gallery of Victoria is staying open all night in a big-bang finale to the blockbuster Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire exhibition. For its final week the gallery will be open until 9pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and will stay open all night on Saturday, October 3, closing its doors for the final time at 5pm on Sunday, October 4.

It’s an interesting marketing ploy, aimed at bringing young Melbournians into the gallery, an audience the NGV typically struggles to attract. NGV director Gerard Vaughan says “This is an experiment. We're looking at as many ways as possible to open the gallery up a bit. Anything we can do to break through those nine-to-five opening hours creates another level of access.”

Night-time culture is not a new idea. Europe has long been on the band wagon, with museums and galleries opening from dusk until dawn on certain days each year, and offering hundreds of free activities to boot. The idea began ten years ago in Berlin, and was quickly adopted in Paris and Amsterdam, before spreading through Europe. Events such as La Nuit Blanche, an annual all-night cultural festival launched in Paris in 2002, has now spread to more than twenty cities world-wide, from Canada to Israel. So its about time Melbourne joined in the fun.

Daddy Longlegs of the evening – Hope! 1940

Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire is the sixth exhibition in the NGV’s Winter Masterpieces series and has been one of the most popular to date, with almost 240,000 people through the doors since it opened in June. The all-night opening seems like a natural progression from the gallery’s Wednesday evenings Art After Dark that began in 2004 with the Impressionists exhibition.

And what better way to spend a sleepless night than with the master of surrealism? Wander past his early Impressionist paintings, pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming up his famous lobster telephone sculpture, and while away the hours with some bizarre but always amusing cinema from Dali’s collaborations with Jean Cocteau, Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock.

The retrospective is the first to be staged in Australia, and brings together over 200 works from the two largest collections of Salvador Dali in the world, the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain and the Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida. And with a two for one ticket offer on adult tickets purchased between midnight October 3, and 10am October 4, there’s no excuse to miss out!

We can only hope that this will be a trend to stick. Why confine ourselves to daylight hours, when there are 24 hours worth of possible cultural time in every day?

reframing darwin (assignment 3)

Emmanuel Frémiet, ‘Gorilla carrying off a woman’ 1887

What does it mean to be human and how do we interact with our surroundings? From the very first settlers to reach Australian shores, to contemporary explorations of humanity, time and place, Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia at the Ian Potter Museum, examines the complex relationships we have with each other and the world we live in. Guest curator Professor Jeanette Hoorn has compiled a fascinating look at the persistence of Darwinian thought in Australia, teasing out and exploring traces of Darwin in art.

On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and with it Darwin was catapulted to scientific stardom. In this seminal work, Darwin introduced the idea that populations evolve over time through natural selection, and included research undertaken on the voyage of HMS Beagle in the 1830s. The exhibition begins with a vision of Sydney and Bathurst as Darwin encountered it on his arrival on the HMS Beagle through the works of on-board artists Conrad Martens, Augustus Earle and Syms Covington. This sets the scene for what is a truly comprehensive exploration of the influence of Darwinian thought on the artists that follow.

Through a collection of works from more than twenty-five institutions and private collectors across Australia (many never before exhibited publically), artistic interpretations of Darwin’s theory tie together our own local stories and histories. Thoughts relating to time and place shift, and with them our vision of the world around us. Artists Thomas Bock, Louisa Anne Meredith, John Gould, the University of Melbourne’s Baldwin Spencer, Melbourne artist Tom Roberts and those involved in the ‘Gorilla debates’ then being waged amongst Melbourne’s intellectuals, explore the impact of questions of the nature of human origins and the evolution of species on nineteenth-century artistic practice.

We are also given a look at how the work of today’s Australian artists extend the legacy of Darwinian thinking. Explorations of the integration of technology into our everyday lives, the continuing significance of natural selection, and our relationship to notions of a ‘natural’ body, link this seemingly historical view of the world to a view that has integrated itself into our thinking today. Ricky Swallow’s iMan Prototypes (imitation Apple Macs in the shape of human skulls) lie opposite John Wolseley’s sensitive renderings of the Australian landscape. What results is a mind-twisting view of how far we have come, or more correctly, how far we have come to arrive right back where we began. What this exhibition shows us is a glimpse into how our thinking can shift the way we perceive the world and our place in it, but that this is only a perception, merely a reflection of our ideals.

Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia is showing at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University until November 1. The exhibition will be accompanied by the publication of a book by the Miegunyah Press.

Oct 8, 2009


this article got me thinking. do you have reading habits - on the train/tram, instead of tv watching, before bed? I think that if I spent more of the time I waste say watching something i don't even like on tv or daydreaming on the train, actually reading a book, I would be so well read by now. maybe we all need some reading rules to keep us in check. these would be mine..

1) always have a book in my bag for train/tram/waiting reading opportunities.
2) stop staring at people on public transport and trying to imagine up crazy lives for them. read my book. my fellow passengers are probably completely unremarkable. and besides it's awkward when they stare back at me and I have to pretend I was looking out the window.
3) enjoy it. don't feel bad if I'm struggling with a particular book. give it a few chapters. if that fails set it aside and have a go at something completely different. don't let reading become a chore.