Entries from June 2009 ↓

reading the land


Plus listening to the land… Iconophilia reminds Canberra readers you have just this Saturday to catch Jan Hogan’s exhibition Becoming at the ANU School of Art Gallery – open from 12.00 to 5.00. This is an exhibition of prints and drawings which are the culmination of the artist’s various modes of engagement with and imprints from the land of Gundaroo Common made during her candidature as a PhD student at the School. The work above is Becoming, 2009 (woodblock matrix on floor, Japanese woodblock with Sumi ink and builder’s pigment on Kozo paper affixed to wall with rice glue, 448 x 732cm).

Jan has written about her approach to representing the land in Art Monthly Australia (June 2009): “My aim is not to draw a landscape but to find a new way of drawing the land.  I think of it as an open dialogue with materials, thoughts, the elements and the process of drawing all contributing.  The land and I need to come to some sort of understanding.  I want to feel my way in using all my senses rather than looking at the land using my perception and analytical skills.  Is it possible to convey the smell, the wind playing with the hair on my arms, the shifting shadows and the weight of the land in a drawing?


The work above is from the Emergence series, 2006-9, (Sumi ink, charcoal and Gundaroo dirt on Rives BFK, 80 x 80cm). “I lay the paper on the ground in the shadows of a large Yellow Box Tree.  The damp paper moulds itself to the indentations left by cows wallowing in the shade.  The roots of the tree make their presence felt under the paper and the shadows of the branches make extraordinary patterns on the surface.  The white paper no longer stares back awaiting a mark.  Instead it acts like a mark in the land.  My foreign piece of paper has gone and made the first step in the dialogue.  It reveals the traces of other presences and the encompassing nature of the tree…

“The paper retains traces of the land, the tree, the cattle, and the events of the day but what about human traces?  This is meant to be a dialogue after all, with as much input from the all elements as possible.  I start to put fingerprints on the paper.  I rub my finger on some compressed charcoal and then press on to the paper, accentuating the dark areas.  Gradually the fingerprints build to a multitude, acting like great crowds of people drifting across the land.  The ghostly quality of the prints as they shift in tone suggests that this is a reflection over time.  The drawing has made the past present in the now.  Generations of people have come and gone and left traces on the land.

“Something has begun to happen in the drawing, I am becoming aware that this piece of land has been traversed for centuries and continues to provide sustenance for both the community of people and the wider community of the environment.  The fingerprints amongst the dirt are poignant reminders of our eventual decline back into the earth.  What traces will be left of us?”


For Saturday only (12.00 to 5.00), Jim Cotter, the renowned Composition lecturer at the ANU School of Music, will present the sound work “Piece for Merry-go-round” (1976), at the ANU School of Art Gallery, in conjunction with Jan Hogan’s exhibition.

The piece was written for the merry-go-round in Civic to obtain a moving audience for a 4 track work. The work eventually became “The Weird Night Music” for The Man from Mukinupin after Dorothy Hewitt “fell in love with the piece”.

Coincidentally much of the original construction of the work (on paper) was undertaken in Gundaroo. The final realisation of the score was made with the first digital synthesiser in the world – the “Quasar” which was an Australian invention of the engineer Tony Furse and at the time was on loan to Jim Cotter as part of an Australia Council Grant.

Jim says he was “so impressed by the exhibition that I congratulated Jan and mentioned toungue-in-cheek that the only thing that could have improved the showing would have been some music by me! Then Nigel called me to account in an email last night – so here we are…”

Thanks to Lee Grant for the photographs…

incoming! (fox terrier)


Morphett Street calm…


Morphett Street panic…

House of Ngukurr


In the interests of extending our understanding of the range and diversity of the Ngukurr phenomenon, here’s three more images from Ngukurr that missed the cut for Cath Bowdler’s show. The image above is an acrylic on bark, (640 x 340) attributed by Cath as an early Djambu Barra Barra, perhaps painted together with Amy Jirwulurr Johnson, probably around 1987-9. (When you get your catalogue, compare some of the figures with those in Hollow Log 1993 on page 62).

The image below is acrylic and ochres on canvas (100 x 115) by the great Wagilag ceremonial leader Roy Ashley, painted in 2004. Roy is always said to be “too busy to paint”. Which is a great pity. Look closely and you’ll see it appears to be an image looking down into a waterhole, with the “Quiet Snake” and a multitude of fish and tortoises somewhere beneath the surface. I only know of one other painting like this, a strangely  hybridised Mimih figure, but equally scintillating in the detail of its rarrk. The “stone country” Wagilag people occupy a great swathe of southern Arnhem Land, from Ngilipidgi to Ngukurr to Ramingining, so it’s not so surprising that Roy’s hybrid “style” bridges many regional characteristics.


And to add to the phenomenon of the diversity of Ngukurr art, here’s an artist who paints in several quite different styles! This is Faith Thompson Nelson’s “Snake Tracks”, 2003, (108 x 85), but see also her grand aerial perspective of the Limmin Bight landscape illustrated on p.84 of the catalogue. When you get your own copy.


If trees could speak…

If only trees could tell their stories. In many ways this may seem a strange topic for this blog, a bit off-topic for this iconophiliac, but when natural forms acquire the status of icons, there are connections worth writing about…


The backstory. Every second day or so I walk up Mount Ainslie, behind the Australian War Memorial. I walk and run, to push the old physiotype a bit… It’s a great experience, and the path takes you through beautiful passages of bush, the wildlife watches you as you pump past, and you pass through complex natural and cultural zones that are strangely compelling, once you get used to them. Some of the zones are totally artificial (cultural) impositions, like the series of excreable plaques that suggest you’re following (experiencing) the Kokoda Trail. By contrast, there’s the so-called Aboriginal Plaque, now adopted by the Australian War Memorial, but originally the private intervention of a Campbell citizen who wanted to quietly protest and memorialise the war-time contributions of Aboriginal people.


And of course, you can’t help but be aware the whole region was once trodden by Indigenous feet, hunting, farming the natural produce of this land. And then you also recognise the relics of other farmers, bits of broken down fencing which remind us this was once also a marginally economic zone for the settlers who preceded the establishment of Canberra and the development of the suburbia nearby.


Which brings me to the tree. There are other, grander eucalypts along this track, but it is this one that has become my favourite. It has somehow survived and re-grown the effects of a serious bushfire which ignited Mt Ainslie in the 1980s. Over the past two years I’ve been watching as the split between the live and dead remnants of its once significant trunk gradually widens.


But then, just today, I looked up and recognised that the stump of its burnt-hollow better half had been chainsawed down sometime in the years since the bushfire, and the solid bits rolled a little way down the hill. Perhaps it was a threat to joggers? Yet despite such traumas, it’s a survivor. These trees have the capacity to re-grow from the most unlikely remnant parts.

So, dear readers, do you have a favorite tree with a story to tell? If other bloggers can have road kill categories, surely we can have a Natural History theme for iconophilia?

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered On Relations with Trees, an elegant and evocative essay by Melissa Sweet, in which I discover I’ve innocently appropriated the title of a book: If Trees could Speak, by Bob Beale (Allen and Unwin, 2007). Here’s a sample. Will do some more backgrounding, and update…

The Extraordinary Art of Ngukurr

gertie_668Gertie Huddleston: Garden of Eden II 1999

Iconophilia proposes Cath Bowdler’s  Colour Country: art from Roper River at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery as a contender for the contemporary Aboriginal Art exhibition of the year. Why? Because it tells us so much about the potential of an art which develops outside the mainstream, and by contrast, some of the limitations of its near neighbours. Of all the remote communities which have participated in the Indigenous art renaissance of the past three decades, only Ngukurr has been able to develop in its own (myriad) directions, relatively free from the interventions and restrictions of the art advisors who have guided the aesthetic character of most remote art centres. True, some big city gallerists sought to corner the outputs of some of the original significant figures in the first generation of Ngukurr artists, however this exhibition shows how extraordinarily resilient that first generation proved to be.


Based on Cath Bowdler’s original scholarship, the fifty works in this exhibition trace the origins of this complex “movement” since 1987. The major figures of this first generation are artists such as Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Djambu Barra Barra (above), Willie Gudabi, Gertie Huddleston and Amy Jirwulurr Johnson. Many of the works in this exhibition have not been previously exhibited.


Roper River borders the southern boundary of Arnhem Land, and Ngukurr is the site of the original Anglican Mission. This is a community which has benefitted from its remoteness, even though it has not enjoyed the protections and independence of other Arnhem Land communities. Despite the absence of a high-profile arts centre,  Ngukurr Arts, the artist-run community art centre, has produced arguably the most consistently innovative forms and styles of any remote community.

Louise Hamby comments: “The week following the long weekend in June was a high point in openings for Aboriginal art. Some of the same people from the Melbourne opening of Lindy Allen’s Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic at the Potter made their way to Cath Bowdler’s opening of Colour Country at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. The art from the Roper River area of Arnhem Land was a strong contrast to the eloquent barks from eastern Arnhem Land from the 1930s.  I was instantly drawn to the lime green wall of the gallery. Hanging there the Sambo Sambo Burra Burra paintings were demanding attention. I have always had a soft spot for his work because of the inclusion of baskets in, on and inside the bodies of the figures he depicts. The other major draw card for me were the storyboard paintings of Gertie Huddlestone. Here the strong colours are more like threads and spots of colours stitched and quilted together. This exhibition is well worth a trip to Wagga Wagga to see such an unusual group of works all together making a different statement about colour and country.”

If these installation photographs prove too tempting, hike on down to the Wagga. If you miss it at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery (until August 2), see it at the Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide, the Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra or the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, finishing in July, 2010. A full-colour catalogue is also available.

Sleep like a Cubist


Iconophilia recommends that Canberra readers get themselves across to Gallery 4, which is outside CMAG, facing the Town Square (or out-of-towners can try exploring the labyrinthine CMAG website).  The installation Journey to Morning is by Blaide Lallemand and Hilary Cuerden-Clifford, together with Christopher Fulham. See also the hippy ANAT site which tracks similar works on tour in Portable Worlds, an exhibition which has been on tour since  2007 to regional galleries in S.A, NSW, Queensland and the N.T. It’s also been screened on mobile phones and as part of the international pocket film festival at the Pompidou Centre. In the artists’ own words:

“The subjects were photographed over the course of a night, with the camera placed directly above them and each exposure lasting for thirty minutes. The individual series of images have been subsequently translated into moving sequences… [each] playing on separate screens. The sleepers are both vulnerable and unassailable, in their own worlds and yet visible to us, the viewers; we are conscious that this is an experience we humans all share, even though it is when we are asleep thatwe are – perhaps – most unique, most ourselves.”

“In sleep, our movements are no longer directed by our conscious selves, other fundamental rhythms come into play, and other truths are brought to the surface.”

Since 2003, Blaide and Hilary have been photographing people of various ages, gender and cultural backgrounds in the state of sleep. Using black and while film, half hour exposures with the camera placed directly over the subject, the photographs map the movements of the naked sleeper. These are explorative portraits taken in a studio, where the person is left alone to sleep, no longer aware of the photographer as the image is building up. They are not consciously reacting to the camera and we are not seeing them frozen in time but travelling through it. It is as if the sleepers are both vulnerable and unassailable, in their own worlds and yet visible to the viewers.

Each work is a slow-moving dissolving/emerging study of an individual photographed naked, asleep, throughout the dark side of the diurnal rhthym. As they toss and turn throughout the night, their postures and form overlap, go in and out of focus, and coalesce in a manner not so different from Analytical Cubism. An iconophilia must see.



Sometimes iconophilia will just link to something that gives me pleasure. For example, almost everything I see from Paul McNamara Gallery. One of the artists I’ll be following is Ben Cauchi: this is his Chair and ghosted cloth, (stereo-tintype), from 2005. Get out your old stereo viewer, point it at the screen, and be scared!

And I’d be really pleased if, dear reader, you would like to send me images, links, or your commentary on things you think I might like…

synchronicity – of a kind


Just after Howard Morphy first encountered the exuberant expressionism of Sonia Kurrara from Noonkanbah and Fitzroy Crossing (at Mangkaja Arts) he started seeing fish everywhere! From action painting to absolute stillness…


Sonya has in fact been painting for years but until recently has been largely unrecognised — though as Howard observes things are beginning to change and she now fits into the category of an “emerging artist”.


Howard’s photographs were taken downstream from the old crossing at Fitzroy Crossing, and iconophilia is pleased to be able to launch his next career!


The NGA’s soft rabbit/soft duck problem


If you haven’t seen it yet, the exhibition Soft Sculpture, curated by Lucina Ward, at the National Gallery of Australia until 12 July, is full of surprises. This work Duck/Rabbit Problem 1991, by Kathy Temin, says it all, with a cute reference to a famous visual conundrum. But it’s a show without a theory, without a style, without a coherent historical reference point, without a thesis even, but with a theme which reveals the degree to which the NGA’s collection has been built  on inspired (if intuitive) aesthetic criteria. Iconophilia enjoyed bringing the Rauschenberg to life, just by walking past it! Yet it’s a show with which it’s difficult to engage. Sadly, the NGA website trivialises some great works with kiddywinks humour. So, is its significance as an exhibition (rabbit), or as a populist crowd-puller (duck)?

Perhaps the problem is the title. SOFT? In most cases, the works are anything but soft, especially given the prohibition of the tactile sensorium. HARD or SPIKEY would be equally relevant titles for some of the works on show. So the title is a tease! And “please don’t touch the artworks” is the poor guards’ mantra for the next month. Lucina Ward is on firmer ground when she writes about plasticity and anti-form, but it’s almost as it the NGA’s publicity machine has stolen her show…