Entries from August 2009 ↓

cosmology plus


Canberra readers have just tonight and Saturday to experience Hanna Hoyne’s installation and video performance at Cosmic Recharge in The Multi-Faith Chapel at Burgmann College (Building 45B, Daley Road, ANU campus). She was the Sun Girl a few weeks ago, remember? Well this is how it all ended up…



is the title of an exhibition of digital photographs at the National Film and Sound Archive. The images are derived from David MacDougall’s latest film Gandhi’s Children – the Canberra premiere of which will be held at 2.00pm this Sunday at Arc Cinema. Gandhi’s Children was filmed in late 2005 at the Prayas Children’s Home for Boys, in Jahangirpuri, New Delhi.

Boys Eating Meal_668

What do we think of when we talk of “stills”, and how we might think of the framed prints on the wall, extracted from the imagery on screen? There’s still a photography gallery in Sydney called “Stills”. Seems to me it’s almost an outdated concept. “Still photography” still invokes the mystique of “the decisive moment” – being in the right place at the right time – remembering to have your camera with you – alert to the circumstances, finger on the button. But recently, this has become a less auratic concept, now that Robert Capa’s famous image of the death of a young Republican militiaman in the Spanish civil war has been proven – seventy years later – to be a work of fiction.

That will never be the case with these images. Here we are experiencing the distinctively 21st century condition of photography, where digital technology enables an editor to distinguish between images at the rate of 25 frames per second. Despite the capacities of Photoshop to distort the truth of an image, in this instance the authenticity of the original will never be in question. The original is no longer just “in the can” but on half a dozen servers.

What David has done in this exhibition is to reverse the mad contemporary proliferation of images, in a world where Flickr expands exponentially, in a world where most of us are carrying a video camera in our pocket. As of last night there are two billion images on Flickr, all of which have been recorded (or uploaded, made accessible) since it started less than five years ago.

Sometimes, for an artist, the trick is to learn how to surf the wave. However art also happens when you swim against the tide. So how has someone like MacDougall reversed the direction of this digital tsunami, slowed down the flow of data, in order to produce images we can comprehend, that we can reflect on? In a form that enables reflection, rather than just momentary exposure?

Analogue film, 35mm film, had it built in. You could separate the frames with a pair of scissors. Video is much more slippery. There is still the editing process, by which you agonize over the formal conjunction of transitional frames, in that subtle and almost invisible formalist play of transitions. But these images are not edit points in that sense at all – they are rather images which are chosen to evoke the before and after, the continuity of the moment, confirmation for us of the sequence, the flow from which they have been selected, the continuity of both the author’s and the subject’s common experience.

Waiting for Food_668

Recognition of the flow has a quite different aesthetic consequence to that of the decisive moment. The image taken from the flow connotes Realism in its original art-historical sense – imagery which says, this is how it was, not just how it looked. It is through these images that David’s subjects tell us about more than the look, rather they convey the context, the existence of each individual subject, the moment, and all it connotes – fragility, survival, yet also hope and a future, and a certain post-traumatic dignity.

The ethic at work in David’s films, and now in these photographs, is one which is moving, compelling and convincing.  Somehow David has extracted from the mass of his video data a series of individual frames which has slowed down experience to the point where we might take heart from the resilience of these children, and children anywhere.

P.S. for the curious, the print size is about 285 x 505, printed on A2 Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper at the ANU School of Art. They are video stills from HDV (high definition video) recordings, exported via Quicktime to Photoshop and de-interlaced, colour-corrected, level-adjusted, etc. before printing.  None are cropped — they are all the original full frames.

The Not Morandi Affect


Am I alone in feeling overwhelmed by the proliferation of the Morandi effect/affect in contemporary art? Despite her own acknowledgement and admiration for Morandi – and there’s nothing wrong with acts of homage – the work of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott attracts the most attention. The current exhibition, at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, is in a small room raked by the bright light of a Canberra winter, with about 20 of GHP’s trademark still life ensembles, all encased in rather clinical plastic vitrines.  Unfortunately, in this display, it is as if the air, the space itself, has been sucked out of these plastic boxes, such that the potential of these forms to make music with each other has been vacuumed away into silence. Each grouping of beautifully formed and glazed ceramic wares, sometimes so clustered together that the virtual frame between them gets a bit fuzzy, now seems so arbitrary it has become more like the exercise of taste than some magical tension of forms in space. And there’s too many of them. You look and try to understand what is meaningful about the arrangements – which tend to occupy a flattened linear space along their shelves – and you can’t help but make the pictorial associations with the master. But I don’t arrive at any conclusion! Are the spatial arrangements meaningful in any particular way? How are the variations between sets to be understood? How critical is the space between the elements of a set? And how would you feel if you owned a set, and got them muddled?

If Rosalie Gascoigne achieved her breakthrough as an artist by working away from the delicate art of ikebana – assisted in no small part by the discovery of the modernist grid – then it seems that GHP has moved in the opposite direction. It is as if by aspiring to the pictorial paradigm of the still life – thus effecting a conceptual migration from fine craft to fine art – she ends up detracting from her original aspirations to perfect form. But the Morandi effect is unrepeatable, except perhaps in the white heat of her kiln. And certainly not in the rather medical ambience of this display. Am I alone?

Here’s the conventional account:


20 August–20 September

“Gwyn Hanssen Pigott is an internationally celebrated artist whose years of dedication to ceramics and her deep study of particularly the oriental traditions of pottery have produced highly refined surfaces and forms and delicately nuanced glaze colours. Her harmonious still life groups are beautiful in themselves, but they also work to subvert at a very sophisticated level the old art/function dichotomy that has traditionally so divided the visual arts community. She does this by creating sets that have great wholeness and yet are composed of individual vessels that are manifestly both useable and of the highest aesthetic quality.”

Key words: celebrated, dedication, deep study, highly refined, delicately nuanced, harmonious, beautiful in themselves, subvert, sophisticated, the old art/function dichotomy, great wholeness, highest aesthetic quality.

Dead Heart

Who owns the soulforsaken piece of territory at the heart of our National Capital? I mean, really, who is responsible for the wasteland that symbolically lies between the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings? Clearly, nobody takes responsibility for its bleak, run-down appearance. What does it say about our Civic pride, our aspiration to cosmopolitan sophistication? It says: don’t stop, keep driving, turn around, go back..


Two years ago ArtWranglers jokingly nominated these aniconic steel structures as “readymade monuments”, as if they were a part of the A.C.T. Government’s Canberra Public Art Program.

The joke’s turned sour. They’re STILL THERE! Clearly whoever was contracted to provide the four perky sign posts proclaiming the “City Centre” this way, or that way, somewhere, went broke after the first one. But nobody has the responsibility to fix the left-over foundations, or rip them out. They now compete with the thousands of empty rings on poles which we look at for six months of every year waiting for the next crop of nasturtiums in plastic bowls. Very attractive. Very sophisticated. Very ambitious. Not.

Dear Chief Minister, Forget your Gateway Sculptures! Fix the Dead Heart! And you can’t say we haven’t tried! ArtWranglers invited Frank Gehry, but nothing came of it.  And just look at what St Louis has done to fix the same kind of problem…



A family cleans up after voting in Herat – the moment caught by phonecam.

Update: Tehran Modern


Two visitors look at Warhol’s Mao Zedong in Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Photograph: Kaveh Kazemi/Corbis

A sharp correspondent reveals how vulnerable one is to false projection: not unlike the line taken by The Guardian in 2007 (the source of the image above). But apparently the pile of modern art collected by the Pahlavis has just been on show – for the second time. And hardly a reflection of an era of liberalism! One could have argued this in relation to its first showing during the time of President Khatami  – but now? The contradictions are salutory.

Buried Treasure in Tehran


The wife of the Shah of Iran had a big budget. She also had aspirations to be an architect and an artist, as many are wont to do when it comes to public art. But in this case this is a truly impressive sculpture/meditative space which anticipates much of the late minimalist work of the 80s and 90s, (pace James Turrell) and which is located in the grounds of the Carpet Museum. Both the building and the sculpture are attributed to Farrah Pahlavi, and were completed just in time, in the late 1970s. If she was in fact the artist, she sure knew how to use the zip…


In her spare time she also assembled an extraordinary collection of pre-1980s International and American art. Visitors to Tehran’s  Museum of Contemporary Art next door may still be surprised to happen on a Don Judd looking a little out of place among the current crop of ideologically correct Iranian art and design. What you don’t get to see is what is in the basement. But if you click here you will see what abc news reporter Sara Setrakian was able to record, and be amazed… And clearly, given the current circumstances, some of it may be considered “decadent” for many years to come…

tehran bacon

(Many thanks to Ehsan for the link). (Now read the update above).

the duck/rabbit/tank conundrum


Look vaguely familiar? Sound familiar? We saw it last here thanks to Kathy Temin at the NGA. Thanks to the principle of progressive abstraction, and its contribution to the world of ambiguous signs, here we find the conundrum embedded in this commemorative Afghan carpet with a lifelike portrait of the assassinated late President Daoud. Dig into our research blog if you need to see more.


London’s continuing love affair with Pavilions


See the story on ArtDaily. Canberra take notice! And what we really like about these last three (search for “pavilion” here and on ArtWranglers to follow the thread) is the fluid asymmetry of the design forms that have emerged from the use of new technologies…

if you had to pick one

work out of the the great show of mobilia titled Reflex at M16 (curated by Geoff Farquhar-Still, which opened last weekend and runs until until 16th August), for me it would be this work by Chloe Bussenschutt Water 6.30am.


The mechanism rotates the words FLOATING and FOG in and out of focus, interrupting her two projected photographs. Both photographs were taken on foggy mornings on Lake Burley Griffin and the Murrumbidgee River, and their watery atmospherics (very evocative at this time of the year) are interrupted by the rotating texts, which shifts your focus back and forth, from the image to the mechanism, pulling the eye back to the whole apparatus of the paired slide-show projectors.


ArtWranglers liked her last work, at Sculpture on the Edge, and iconophilia will be interested to see what happens next. Click across to TransitLane to see more snaps from the show…