The much-anticipated new art museum is opening in the United Arab Emirates later this year; here’s why it should be considered a global art envoy rather than an agent of the West.
By Associate Professor Christopher Marshall, School of Culture and Communication, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open its doors to the public in November 2017 following ten long years of planning. It marks the latest international cultural franchising deal, where big name museums and galleries lend their brand to overseas institutions.This ambitious and controversial project has attracted criticism aimed at everything from employing a migrant construction labour force under harsh conditions, to undermining the dignity of French culture (similar to the Guggenheim franchises being labelled ‘McGuggenheims’).
But perhaps the biggest criticism, led by Professor Andrew McClellan (Tufts University, author of The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao) is one of cultural imperialism; that the new museum will impose Western notions of art, culture and history in the Gulf Region.
After the oil
The Louvre Abu Dhabi forms the centre-piece of a 27 square kilometre man-made island off the coast of Abu Dhabi that has been conceived as a commercial, tourist, and cultural hub for the entire Gulf region; part of the United Arab Emirate’s economic strategy for when the oil runs dry.
When complete, Saadiyat Island will comprise a network of iconic cultural developments. Besides the Louvre Abu Dhabi there will be a new Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry, a museum dedicated to the founding president of the UAE formulated by Norman Foster, a maritime museum by Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, and a performing arts centre designed by the celebrated late Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid.
The island will also contain a series of luxury hotels together with a golf-course, a beach club and shopping malls lined with international luxury outlets.
As the opening flagship attraction for the development, there is clearly much at stake in achieving a smooth launch for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
A new institution in its own right
Writing in The Journal of Curatorial Studies, Professor McClellan questions the curatorial rational of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, arguing that it “appears set to re-inscribe the familiar western story of art” into the Gulf Region and that this will result in the Louvre “essentially reproducing itself in the Persian Gulf while claiming to do something new and different.”
But the new art museum is not simply another Louvre; it is a new institution in itself, which is ‘borrowing’ the Louvre brand for 20 years (to the tune of 1.3 billion USD, or 1.6 billion AUD).
The so-called ‘universal survey’ approach adopted by the Louvre and other museums in the past has undoubtedly resulted in a markedly pro-Western bias within many museum collections. Though founded on the ideal of a supposedly ‘universal survey’ of culture, in practice this has always meant that the vast encyclopaedic museums of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have reinforced a peculiarly Western notion of cultural distinction from Ancient Greece through to the European Renaissance and so on.
This concern may well have been valid during the project’s early years, when much about it was still to be defined. It has become harder to sustain, however, following the publication of Louvre Abu Dhabi: Birth of a Museum, a lavishly illustrated catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the same title held in 2014.
This catalogue outlines the recent acquisitions made for the museum’s permanent collection that are funded from its staggeringly impressive annual accessions budget of USD 56 million (70 million AUD).
Far from following a policy of obvious ‘name brand’ acquisitions, the catalogue demonstrates the extent to which the curators have searched far and wide to locate strikingly distinctive and unusual objects that can be used to offer up fresh and intriguing cross-cultural comparisons between artefacts sharing certain affinities and similarities across time and space.
The earthy materiality of an ancient Bactrian sculpture of a female figure is juxtaposed with the neo-primitivist vigour of Yves Klein’s 1960 Anthropometry, a white canvas imprinted with the blue outlines of the bodies of two models who were contracted by the artist to cover themselves in paint before rolling onto the canvas as a form of ‘living paintbrush’.
The curators have also selected a series of striking, standalone works that powerfully evoke ideas of cross-cultural hybridity within themselves including, for example, an eighteenth century portrait of a European ambassador to the court of Constantinople by the Swiss Rococo artist Jean Étienne Liotard. The painting presents the ambassador clad in extravagant European attire while standing in a meticulously detailed Arab interior. It also demonstrates the artist’s simultaneous interest in introducing into the composition the flattened and surface-oriented emphasis of Islamic art more generally.
So too, a sixteenth century mother of pearl ewer from Gujarat in Western India has been selected for its intriguing afterlife in Baroque Naples. Here the ewer was taken and adapted for a new purpose via the addition of elaborate Neapolitan gold-smith work so that it now appears to hover somewhere between an Indian princely possession and an object of finely worked exotica to be displayed in an Italian Baroque cabinet of curiosity.
Confirmation of the success or otherwise of this novel approach, of course, will not be evident until the new museum opens its doors to the public later this year.
Still, the catalogue offers up the tantalising possibility that the Louvre Abu Dhabi may well be poised on the brink of presenting a new model for the universal survey museum for the twenty-first century.
This new curatorial agenda of cross-cultural exchange and comparison has the potential, in turn, to break down the old polarities existing between Eastern and Western understandings and to replace them with a new more inclusive form of art historical survey museum that is, at last, truly global in scope.
Banner image: Louvre Abu Dhabi
Construction of the $104.5 million Ian Potter Southbank Centre will begin with an official “breaking ground” event on Wednesday 2 August.
Attended by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley, and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, the event will include speeches, a brass ensemble fanfare and photo opportunities for media.
Professor Glyn Davis said the new building was one of the largest enhancements in the Faculty’s history and would confirm the Faculty internationally as a pre-eminent school of art and music.
“The realisation of this project is the culmination of years of collaboration with our project partners, and the exceeding generosity of our donors,” Professor Davis said.
Professor Barry Conyngham said the project was a once-in-a century event that would produce Australia’s next generation of musicians and bring together the VCA and MCM.
“The University of Melbourne was one of the first Australian universities to offer formal studies in music, and the new headquarters for the Conservatorium will see that legacy continued and amplified alongside all arts disciplines on our Southbank campus,” Professor Conyngham said.
Minister Foley said the Victorian Government was proud to partner with the University – and with its philanthropic supporters – to make the project happen.
“The new Melbourne Conservatorium will be a transformative link in our arts precinct that will boost our cultural and educational offering and attract the best and brightest talent to our creative state. It will further help build Southbank's Sturt street as the cultural hub of Melbourne.”
Cr Doyle said Melbourne’s vibrant arts community had been a drawcard for the world’s most-liveable city.
“The introduction of the new Conservatorium further confirms Melbourne’s reputation as a hub for the arts,” Cr Doyle said.
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre joins the current $42 million redevelopment of the Dodds Street Stables into a visual arts wing, and the introduction of the Buxton Contemporary Museum.
Banner image: Artist’s impression of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Image courtesy of John Wardle Architects.
Would you drink from a cup made from blood once infected with HIV? The inaugural exhibition from Science Gallery Melbourne challenges our deeply held beliefs about blood.
By Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne
Human blood can be made into bio-plastic. It is dried, powdered, moulded into a shape, heated to 200 degrees Celsius and put under 10 tonnes of pressure. It might become an ornament or a bowl or a drinking cup.
But what if a person with the HIV virus had donated the blood in the bio-plastic? Would you touch it, eat from it, drink from it?
Science says you shouldn’t be at all bothered. The bio-plastic will be completely sterilised once heated to 120 degrees. But would you hesitate?
Plastic objects made out of HIV and Hepatitis B infected blood are the creation of German artist Basse Stittgen and are just one of the many intriguing, confronting and beautiful artworks on display in Science Gallery Melbourne’s inaugural exhibition, Blood: Repel and Attract. Here science and art meet in a way guaranteed to disturb and enlighten.
At the exhibition you will be able to not only feel blood, but also smell it and even taste it. You will be able to detect blood with light, have your blood type determined, and add the pulse in your finger to a fugue of pulses sounding through the gallery.
For Professor Sharon Lewin, a University of Melbourne infectious diseases physician and director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, who helped to select the artwork, Blood is a unique opportunity for art and science to confront the mysteries and fears that surround blood, and inform us along the way.
“I think if you asked people in the community whether they are at risk of catching HIV from sharing a cup they would say they are, and many others will feel slightly uncomfortable at the prospect. But there is no risk at all,” says Professor Lewin.
She says misconceptions, stoked by emotion and fear, drive the stigmas that are so often attached to people living with infections such as HIV.
“To lose that emotional reaction you have to understand and trust the evidence,” she says. “That is why science literacy is so important in understanding how it is we come to conclusions on what is safe or unsafe, and then trust the science. But I think in science we still have a long way to go in better communicating these messages.”
She notes that in healthcare it has been recognised that exposure to blood puts people at risk of many potential blood-borne diseases, not just HIV. The adoption of universal precautions means all blood is treated the same when it comes to safety. The approach has also been adopted in sport where, under the blood rule, players bleeding from an injury must immediately seek treatment off the field.
“To a healthcare worker it should make no difference if a person is HIV positive or not because we treat all blood as infectious and take the necessary precautions,” Professor Lewin explains.
The risk of contracting HIV is limited to infection through unprotected sex and or by blood exposure such as sharing needles or having a blood transfusion. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, the risk of HIV infection from a needle stick penetrating the skin is just 23 out of every 10,000 people, or 0.23 per cent.
Blood is the inaugural exhibition of the University of Melbourne’s Science Gallery Melbourne – part of the world-wide Science Gallery Internationalnetwork of university-linked galleries that are dedicated to promoting public engagement with art and science. Blood, which has been curated by creative director Dr Ryan Jefferies, was inspired by the 2015 exhibition of the same name hosted by Science Gallery Dublin at Trinity College. Science Gallery London at King’s College is hosting its own Blood program this year.
One of Professor Lewin’s favourite works in the Science Gallery’s exhibition is One drop of blood by Queensland artist Daniel Elborne, who has made 20,000 porcelain white blood cells the size of pebbles. That is the approximate number of infection-fighting white blood cells in a single drop of blood in someone with a high-ranging white blood cell count. Viewers of the work are invited to take away the white pebbles in a symbolic representation of the falling white blood-cell count that cancer patients suffer when they undergo chemotherapy.
The work was inspired by Mr Elborne’s own mother’s fight with cancer, and the pebbles can only be taken in exchange for a donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“It is a beautiful and haunting representation of what happens to people during chemotherapy,” says Professor Lewin.
But just as science is uncovering the mystery and truth about blood, artist Robert Walton says that in many ways art had already anticipated the science. Ritualistic ideas around sharing blood, such as in the idea of blood brothers or the Christian ritual to symbolically share Christ’s blood, have in a sense been realised in the form of blood transfusions and blood donations.
“Through thousands of years of cultural practice and art we have always known how important blood is,” says Mr Walton, who lectures at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatory of Music at the University of Melbourne and was also on the selection panel for Blood.
“The mystery of blood prefigures the scientific discoveries, and those mysteries have proven to be in many ways true.
“Blood is something that we share with others, it is something that can give life to others, and it does tell us about who we are in that that it holds our genetic inheritance,” says Mr Walton, whose own core art practice is as a director of experimental theatre and live art.
He says our reaction to blood is fascinating because it both repulses us and connects us. He suggests that the sight of blood disturbs us partly because we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as separate and sealed off from the world and others. But when we bleed we are graphically reminded of our own bodies and our vulnerability.
“Our cultures sometimes make us forget that we are part of the animal kingdom, and make us think that we are detached from our bodies. But when blood spurts out of a wound it becomes the liquid that connects us to the outside world, and it is horrifying. We imagine our life trickling away,” he says.
But blood is also a vehicle for building empathy and awareness. The empathetic powers of blood, he says, have been famously explored by such performance artists such as Franko B, Ron Athey, Kira O’Reilly, and Marina Abramović who have purposely made themselves bleed in front of a close-up audience.
“When we see someone bleeding it creates a huge amount of empathy when we realise that like us, blood courses through another being’s veins. The reality of inhabiting a fragile, bloody body, connects us,” he says. “And then that awareness can prompt us further to think of the bigger picture, and how all creatures are connected.”
Walton says one of blood’s most enduring powers is the way it has come to symbolise our common humanity in the face of cultural prejudices towards stigmatised groups.
Perhaps one of the most well know examples in English are the lines of Shylock the Jew in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“A lot of performance artists with blood borne diseases like HIV use blood to remind us again and again that we all share an experience of existing as a living, breathing, bleeding body,” says Mr Walton.
“We all feel pain, and we all need love and warmth. It is the human condition.”
The Doherty Institute is a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Science Gallery’s Blood: Attract and Repel exhibition opens 2 August and runs through to 22 September at the Frank Tate Building at the University of Melbourne, Parkville.
Banner image: You Beaut, Hotham Street Ladies, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist
Is Jenny Watson Australia’s equivalent to Tracey Emin? Watson is about a decade older; she is less concerned with listing everyone that she has ever slept with and more obsessed with horses, but shares Emin’s interest in punk and street culture, feminism, the conceptual dimension of art and the use of unconventional materials. Both artists are also fine draughtsmen in the conventional sense of the word, but choose to break the rules and cultivate an intense, awkward line.
These reflections on the art of Watson have been provoked by a substantial retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is her largest show to date, with over 100 pieces spanning over 40 years and accompanied by an excellent catalogue largely written by the curator of the exhibition, Anna Davis.
Watson was born and trained in Melbourne, initially at the National Gallery School (subsequently known as the Victorian College of the Arts) and then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad, mainly in London, Paris and New York. She is quoted in the catalogue as saying, "I turned from the observation of the outside world to recording an inner space … I wanted to shatter the techniques I had learnt … to let a random uncontrollableness take hold of the work."
Jenny Watson, White horse with Telescope 2012, synthetic polymer paint on rabbit skin glue primed cotton. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery ©the artist.
Developing an interest in combining text and image; embracing techniques of collage and bricolage, and engaging with feminism and punk culture certainly gave her art of the 1980s and 1990s a sophistication and internationalism that was uncharacteristic for Australian art at the time and made it highly attractive to curators who wished to work on the international scene.
In Watson’s CV there is one entry that stands out from the rest: “1993 Jenny Watson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale”. To represent Australia at the Venice Biennale is the highlight of any artist’s career and Watson had that opportunity thrust upon her at the age of 42. The circumstances for her selection may not be relevant for us today, but she felt at the time, and has told me on a number of occasions, that it would have been better if this had occurred a bit later in her life. However, the chance was not to be missed.
Her exhibition at Venice, Paintings with Veils and False Tails, was quirky, unusual and controversial. Most of the oil paintings were of horses or girls with ribbons and false horsetails on red velvet and accompanied by inscriptions. One reads, “She realised she was in love with him after he visited the other girl for afternoon tea”, while another, “I feel like when Mum caught us smoking as kids”.
The combination of childish innocence, autobiography intertwined with fiction, adolescence and obsessions with horses, the “fab four” and pop culture of the 1960s, Twiggy and movie stars were part of the fabric that prepared the way for this significant exhibition.
Watson likes to think of herself as a rebel for whom a prohibition and a declaration that something cannot be done is sufficient incentive to try to do it – she is a compulsive rule breaker. Her major preoccupation in Venice was, in her words, “My decision to filter the life of a suburban girl through a conceptual lens [which] was a slow developing but key moment”. This remains a preoccupation throughout her art.
The other challenge that she has taken upon herself is not simply to succeed as an Australian artist, but as an artist on the world stage, who was born in Australia. The Venice Biennale gave her a brilliant platform from which to be picked up by international galleries.
Two of them did precisely that and Watson showed with some success and to some acclaim in Europe, America and Japan. Things generally came undone with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 when sales largely evaporated and Australia and Australians once again became her primary market and audience.
Jenny Watson, I’ve got a dirty pig on my mind 2013 oil paint on cotton, grounded with rabbit skin glue frame.
Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Transit, Mechelen and Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst und Theorie ©the artist Photograph: Bert de Leenheer.
Jenny Watson is, in some ways, a maverick artist in the Australian art scene. Although she is sometimes associated with Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer through her extensive use of text, her strange and unconventional creations on cloth are immediately recognisable as uniquely her work.
Her love of the horses that surround her on her property in Samford, some 21 kilometres north west of Brisbane, keep her grounded, while her imagination still explores reality through the eyes of the little girl in the backblocks of Melbourne who sees and questions the structures of the physical world and its intersection with the world of the imagination.
Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney until 2 October.
Banner image: Detail from Jenny Watson’s The Pretty Face of Domesticity, 2014, oil and synthetic polymer paint on velvet striped shantung. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Transit, Mechelen ©the artist.
Julius Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald Prize finalists in recent years. If he wins, he'll be the youngest ever artist to take the prize.
By Sarah Hall
When third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Julius Killerby asked the former Essendon Football Club Chairman Paul Little to sit for a portrait, he did not expect to become a finalist in Australia’s most popular portraiture competition, the Archibald Prize. But, as was announced today, that's exactly what's happened.
“I sort of used the Archibald as an excuse to approach Little so I could paint his portrait,” said Killerby, who is currently working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the VCA. “I'm pretty surprised to find out it has made it into the finals – even though, of course, I was secretly hoping it would get picked.”
Killerby’s work will be judged alongside 43 finalists, including VCA Art alumnae Prudence Flint, Yvette Coppersmith, Sophia Hewson and Kate Beynon, former VCA Art staff Jon Campbell and current staff member Richard Lewer. At 22, Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald finalists in recent years. Should he win, he will be the youngest ever artist to take the prize (as it stands Nora Heysen is the youngest ever winner– who was 27 when she took the prize in 1938). The winner, to be announced on 28 July, will receive $100,000 and significant media recognition.
Killerby’s oil painting casts Little in shadows against a black background – indicative, possibly, of the dark times Little led the Essendon Football Club through in recent years.
Killerby described making it to the finals of the competition as a validating experience, and said his art was in tune with the style of the Archibald. “I don’t think I was compromising my work at all by entering it for consideration.”
Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw said she was delighted by Killerby’s inclusion in the prestigious competition.
“Julius has been diligently working on this portrait of Paul Little for a number of weeks,” she said. “He is such a generous and hardworking student, and has committed to making some serious gains in his work this year.”
Killerby’s art practice involves spending six to eight hours in the studio every day. “You can’t be an artist casually,” he told Precinct, likening the creation of a painting to a "slow battle".
Already an admirer of the work Little has done as a philanthropist and businessman, Killerby said it was important for him to get to know him on a more personal level before painting his portrait. They met in May this year and became acquainted before Killerby spent approximately 100 hours working on the oil painting in his studio at the VCA.
“I was just exceedingly happy to paint Little’s portrait regardless of the prize itself and really enjoyed the process,” he told Precinct.
“Becoming a finalist was just the cherry on the cake.”
Banner image: Olga Filonenko/ Flickr
The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales You can see the work of the 2017 finalists on the Gallery of New South Wales’ website.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room is a one-day symposium featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and thinkers, chaired by the Victorian College of the Arts’ Dr Sean Lowry and the University of Adelaide’s Professor Jenny McMahon. We asked a handful of the participants to enlighten us on their philosophy on art.
By Sarah Hall.
Q: What would the world be like without art?
Answered by Rowan McNaught, MFA candidate, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Without art our physiologies would adapt to have gigantic eyes. They let too much light in. We can’t go near others because of the risk that they will elaborate an impossible darkness. But all the stuff that people have in their houses is really much more beautiful. Esperanto is a success but was not invented, and June Huh cannot prove the Rota conjecture despite his best efforts. There is the same number of wars. In our dreams we can see figures from history but only as they rush by, wearing the clothes of today, made of technical materials."
Q: What role does art have beyond aesthetics?
Answered by Sophie Takách, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.
“Art has the potential to exceed; to exceed appearances, exceed expectations, exceed habitual responses. It can (and should) affect our way of thinking about possibilities and reality, make us feel the world.
“Art can bring us closer to the world, to materials and forces. It is possible that this affect is reached through aesthetic appeal, and I believe there is no reason that art should distance itself from aesthetics in pursuit of meaningfulness. On one hand, if it is only about looking, and not feeling or thinking, art can be too easily consumed and assimilated, lessening its power. On the other hand, if there is nothing in art to invoke sensation, how does it reach beyond the narrow confines of an already interested audience?
“The power of art to effect change in the world is through an intensification of sensation, by commanding attention, by engaging with people. I believe that the role art has in the world is to break established habits of consumption and action, and by doing away with established notions of beauty in the pursuit of the new it is possible to define a new aesthetics. So art does not leave aesthetics behind by going beyond them, instead it pushes aesthetics before itself as a cresting wave.”
Q: How does studying art help or hinder our understanding of it?
Answered by Dr Sean Lowry, Conference convenor, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Art education can radically extend expectations for ‘understanding’ art.”
Q: Does an artwork still exist if nobody is there to appreciate it? Why?
Answered by Dr Kate Just, Graduate Coursework Coordinator, VCA Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
"My work's engagement with people is central to its purpose. However, a work of art can also exist or emerge as a gesture of love and devotion. An act of love does not need to be seen or reciprocated in order to exist. It can just emanate."
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room takes place on 11 July, 2017, 9.30am–5pm, at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event, but booking is essential. More details.
Main image: 03 Immanuel Kant 03, by Willie Sturges. Flickr.
On July 6, 2017, Richard Frankland, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the University of Melbourne, will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre with The Letter String Quartet. Ahead of the show, Richard was interviewed for, and performed songs on, Radio National's Books and Arts program.
In the words of Michael Cathcart, the host: "He's worked as a soldier, a fisherman, a field officer during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These days we know him as an author and playwright and filmmaker, an activist, an academic, a musician ..." The list goes on. You can listen to the full audio of Richard's interview below.
Image: Richard Frankland performs at Wilin Week, 2016. By Jorge de Araujo.
Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.
Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development.
On 15 June 2017, on the eve of the opening of the Victorian College of the Arts' landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition, Curator Dr Elizabeth Gower and participating 9 X 5 NOW artist Tai Snaith spoke with RRR Smartarts presenter Richard Watts about the show.
More than 300 visual artists have contributed original works for the exhibition, which runs from 16–25 June at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne. Proceeds from the sale of the works, most of which will be sold for between $500 and $1,500, will go to establishing the new ART150 Fellowship to support emerging artists.
Image: David Rosetsky's 9 X 5 NOW work. LYV (partial version). C-type photo collage.
New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Kirsty Budge is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, recipient of the 2014 Stirling Collective Award for Painting and recent nominee for the 2017 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize. This month, she will exhibit alongside more than 300 contemporary artists in the landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition.
How would you put together a playlist that captured something of Vincent Van Gogh for a major Australian exhibition? With great care, of course.
By Dr Rachel Orzech, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Van Gogh and the Seasons is the current Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (until 9 July). Since 2015, I have been commissioned to create playlists for these annual exhibitions, each one focused around a major collection of significant artworks that would not normally be exhibited in Australia.
For a musicologist specialising in 19th- and 20th-century Western classical music, these assignments are a dream. Each year, I study the list of artworks to be exhibited, talk to the curators at the NGV, and undertake some research into the lives and work of the featured artists.
I then make a shortlist of related musical works and try to figure out how they might best work together as a soundtrack for the exhibition. In the process, I’ve discovered many wonderful (and sometimes obscure) pieces of music that I hadn’t previously been familiar with.
Visual artists are frequently part of much broader cultural networks that encompass music, theatre and dance, so it's usually easy to find clear connections between artworks in a gallery and musical works. Sometimes those connections are made because the artist knew the composer, or was inspired by the music, or because the artist and composer shared similar ideologies or philosophies.
In 2016, the NGV's Winter Masterpieces exhibition centred on the work of Edgar Degas, who painted a number of works featuring ballet and opera scenes in Paris; the link between music and painting in that instance was clear.
In 2015, the NGV exhibited items from the collection of Catherine the Great, and I created a playlist using music composed at Catherine’s court, and pieces that complemented artworks in her impressive and diverse collection.
But Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) presented a unique challenge. Relatively isolated during his brief career as a painter, he did not form important connections with any musicians or composers, as far as we know. Nor did he show a great interest in any particular musical genres.
I began by trawling through his letters, which have all been digitised and translated into English. I found very few references to music; the exceptions were some mentions of Richard Wagner, and a reference to Charles Gounod’s 1864 opera Mireille.
As a Wagner scholar, I could not resist the temptation to include a few excerpts from his operas, particularly those which were performed frequently in concerts in Paris at the time. The playlist opens with the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin, first performed in 1850 – a perfect beginning:
The second item on the list is an aria from Mireille – a work I had never heard before undertaking this research:
In reading Van Gogh’s letters, I also came across a mention of the World Exhibition which was to be held in Paris in 1889; we don’t know whether Van Gogh attended, but he was certainly aware that it would be taking place.
These exhibitions were an opportunity for nations around the world to exhibit their national culture and for France to promote its own national culture to visiting nations. Musicologist Annegret Fauser’s fascinating 2005 book Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World's Fair revealed the musical life that flourished at the Exhibition, and gave me some ideas for items to add to the playlist.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Ascanio (1890) was to be the centrepiece of the Paris Opéra’s contribution to the Exhibition, and although things didn’t quite work out that way (it wasn’t premiered until the following year), I included one of its "Airs de ballet" in the playlist.
More successful at the Exhibition (this time from the Opéra-Comique) was Massenet’s Esclarmonde (1889). Australia’s Joan Sutherland sang the title role in one of the work’s few revivals in the 1970s, so it seemed fitting to include it on the playlist.
The aria I chose, however, is sung by the character Roland, a knight who loves Esclarmonde, the Empress of Byzantium:
The final playlist betrays a heavy bias towards French opera and Wagner, which of course does not encompass or reflect all aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work. Yet the lack of direct connections between Van Gogh and music provided me with the opportunity to expose listeners to the music that interests me and informs my work, as well as the chance for me to discover works such as Esclarmonde that I had never heard.
See also: Van Gogh gets some music therapy.
Van Gogh and The Seasons is at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, until 9 July 2017. More information.
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Image: Sophie Duran.
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As part of Reconciliation Week, the Faculty of the VCA & MCM is supporting a benefit concert in order to raise money and increase awareness about the suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As part of the event, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development Richard J Frankland will perform a one-hour set with his band, the Wandering Minstrels. Here's why.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno.
Richard, an incredibly high percentage of Indigenous Australians are affected by suicide. Why do you think that’s the case?
As the late scholar Patrick Wolfe once put it, invasion is a structure not an event. Trauma exists at a very high rate for Aboriginal and Islander people, and the trauma that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people face comes from discrimination, dispossession and from the destruction of a social order that is more than 2,000 generations old.
We now live with an extremely high suicide rate, mortality rate, chronic illness, unemployment, incarceration rate ... the list goes on. These are extremely difficult things to live with on a daily basis. Many of our young people are in despair and live with a poverty of spirit. There is hope, though. We have many warriors standing up, we have many strong organisations and we have many leaders. We will defeat the poverty of spirit.
Has suicide had a direct effect on you? How so?
I have lost family to suicide. I have lost friends to suicide. I have seen it and the grief it leaves behind. I have written the outline of a program that I have passed on to the ATSI support organisation Culture is Life and I am hoping that further develop and implement the program.
Can you tell us a bit about Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels?
Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels are deadly (grouse). You can expect a few laughs, a few yarns and a few tears ... LOL. The Wandering Minstrels are Biddy Connor, John Wayne Parsons, Tiriki Onus, Michael Julian, Rob Finch and Angus Grey. All are or were involved in VCA & MCM. The music will be a bit folky, a little bit of blues, some rock – no doof-doof, sorry.
What does Reconciliation Week (27 May–3 June) mean to you?
Reconciliation Week is basically about trying to find the pathway that will help us all get it right. The other day, I heard my son and his non-Aboriginal mate Ally Mitchell do a Welcome to Country in language: my language. Wow, what a feeling – to me, that's a rung on the ladder toward a vision for victory. Those kinds of actions make me believe that we will defeat discrimination; that we are already changing a nation.
Why should people come along to the benefit concert on 2 June?
People want to contribute to making Australia a better place, a stronger place, but sometimes they don’t know how to contribute. Attending the benefit concert is a way to do that. People should come and learn the stories, hear the yarns, hear the songs, and network. And, of course, if they can afford it, they should throw a quid into the bucket.
The Reconciliation Week Preventative Suicide Program & Benefit Concert is on 2 June 2017, 6pm–8pm, at Magnet Galleries, Melbourne. Free admission (but bookings essential). See the VCA & MCM events listing for more information.
The not-for-profit organisation Culture is Life supports and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions to affirm and strengthen culture and to prevent youth suicide. Visit Culture is Life for more information.
Beyondblue offers a range of services around suicide and suicide prevention. Visit beyondblue or call 1300 22 4636 (24 hours/seven days a week).
Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the Faculty of VCA & MCM.
Banner image: yaruman5/Flickr.
On 23 May 2017, RN's Books and Arts aired a one-hour broadcast from the Victorian College of the Arts on what it's like to go to art school, to coincide with this year's ongoing ART150 celebrations.
Guests included: graduates Dannika Horvat, Linton Wilkinson, Nicholas Pearce and Louisa Wall, classical guitar student Louis Virgil Smith, Director of the VCA Professor Su Baker, Head of Music Theatre Margot Fenley, Music Theatre students Sian Crowe, Olivia Morison and Chloe Honig, and VCA Enterprise Professor and internationally-acclaimed visual artist Patricia Piccinini.
You can listen to the full broadcast here:
Read more ART150 stories.
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Image: RN Books and Arts presenter Michael Cathcart with, left to right, Sian Crowe, Chloe Honig, Olivia Morison, and Chris Nolan on keys. Picture: Sue Thornton.
Restless, at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne, exhibits recent works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists as a counterpoint to the "welt" paintings by Gordon Bennett (1955–2014). Bennett's chilling imagery can be understood as a declaration of new possibilities, responsibilities and sensitivities for Australian artists and curators. The following transcript is from an interview between Ashley Perry, Honours Fine Arts (Visual Arts) student at the Victorian College of the Arts and Dr David Sequeira, Curator, Restless.
David Sequeira: I remember the opening of Gordon Bennett’s exhibition A Black History in 1993 as an intense and unsettling experience. That Saturday afternoon, on the way to the exhibition, I saw a man lying in the middle of one of the backstreets of Fitzroy. He looked drunk and barely conscious, and there was no-one else in the street. I stopped the car to help him – to at least get him onto the footpath.
Gagging from the stench of alcohol, cigarettes, urine and body odour, I lifted him up and the blood from his head-wound smeared on my shirt and hands. He had just enough energy to call me a filthy black cunt before he passed out in my arms. I sat on the footpath with him, stressed and shaken by the fragility and ugliness that I had experienced.
Finally, a police patrol van stopped and took him away. Restless, I bought a new shirt and went on to the opening. I had never seen works of art that challenged the privilege of white history so uncompromisingly. As I looked down at the room sheet, I noticed that some of the stranger’s blood remained on my hands.
Ashley Perry: What interested you in Gordon Bennett’s exhibition A Black History at Sutton Gallery in 1993?
Not only did A Black History highlight the cruelties of Australia’s colonial values – more importantly for me, the work pointed towards contemporary manifestations of these values. These manifestations seemed everywhere – in our schools, museums and galleries. Until this exhibition I had never seen contemporary art that had been so critical of dominant histories. Bennett’s work seemed to interrogate my understanding of art history and expose its weaknesses – that it was relatively unquestioned and that it had been constructed from "white" values.
What was it about this show and these works that resonated in your mind until now?
I was especially interested in a suite of small works on canvas, some of which are included in Restless. Uniform in size and painted mostly in black and blue, these works were hung in a small room separate from the larger paintings. Parts of each canvas were painted in relief, in which cuts reveal a red interior. Bennett referred to these works as "welt" paintings, and I was struck by his symbolic use of the canvas as a scarred and unhealed skin. Across the floor of this entire room, Bennett had written the words "a black history" repeatedly. I became aware of myself engaged in the process of erasing "a black history" as I walked across the room to look at each of these works.
From that, why now? Why re-address or revisit this work today, almost 25 years on from the initial exhibition?
In 2017 the welt paintings still articulate both personal and shared experiences, and shine a light on the processes of revealing and concealing the past. My assertion is that Bennett’s work (particularly from this period) made a profound contribution to museology and curatorship in Australia. Through these works I learnt to question the hierarchies within museums and examine their role in the construction of identity and history.
I became aware of how the placement of art objects within museums impacted my understandings of them. In addition to Bennett’s unpacking of the complexities of history, his chilling imagery was a declaration of new possibilities and responsibilities for Australian artists and curators. Restless can be considered an exploration of those possibilities.
You have drawn together a range of practices for this exhibition. Could you talk about the context in which the artists produced their works, compared to when Bennett made his show?
None of the works by other artists in Restless reference Bennett – it is unlikely that these artists would be overly familiar with his work. This is not the focus of the exhibition. The main point of Restless is to highlight the types of art and curatorship that can emerge from the ideas that Bennett so powerfully articulated.
In the early 1990s it was mostly Indigenous artists who claimed the issues that Bennett brought to light. Now, issues around race, history, representation and colonisation are central to a broad range of Australian artists. There seems to be a shared responsibility about being an Australian artist that I find deeply moving.
Artist information for Restless
Implicit in Nick Devlin’s series of altered Australian flags is a critique of the fabric of Australian-ness. Exploiting the traditional emblematic use of the national flag, Devlin’s alterations question the type of Australia that the flag represents. These works suggest those Australian values recently identified by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull such as mutual-respect, democracy, freedom, rule of law and a-fair-go are not experienced by all Australians.
Karla Dickens assemblages refer to the rarely discussed sexual violence associated with colonisation. Her haunting imagery, which incorporates branding irons, stockman’s whips, bullock horns and Akubra hats, shatters the romance of the outback as a place of tranquility. Dickens’ work addresses the rape and massacre of Indigenous Australians that remains largely eclipsed by the mythology around the colonial pioneer.
Megan Evans' work results from over 30 years of investigation into what displaces a sense of belonging in Australia. Although her Scottish family history in Australia can be traced back to the early 1800's, her late husband’s Aboriginal culture is far more ancient. Evans’ "bleeding" sculptures – original 19th-century heritage objects that she has beaded and embroidered – can be understood as articulations of acute awareness that the establishment of her family in Australia took place at the expense of his.
The dark humorous quality of Jordan Marani’s work points to the absurdity and offensiveness of Australia’s recent history. His White Horse Trailer Policy (a pun on White Australia Policy) mocks the arrogance of Australia’s first parliament who promoted a homogenous population of northern European descent. The 1901 policy that was not completely dismantled until 1973 was designed with the assumption that someone with white skin was superior to someone with dark skin.
Restless runs until 10 June 2017 at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. Event details.
Find out more about the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.
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Banner image: Megan Evans, Fox, found taxidermy fox, glass beads, cotton, steel star pickets; and Hero, found antique ship in case, glass beads, cotton, steel star pickets. Photo: Vicki Jones.
Masters students from the Victorian College of the Arts recently took part in a fieldwork intensive in the Bass Coast region of South Gippsland. Their aim? To explore how how indigenous knowledge sensitises us to the historical and contemporary complexities of regional sites.
By Dr Danny Butt, Lecturer (Master of Arts and Community Practice), Victorian College of the Arts
How can art help us understand a place? If that place is somewhere new to us, how can we go about orienting ourselves to it? And how can indigenous knowledge sensitise us to the historical and contemporary complexities of regional sites?
These were some of the questions explored by Masters students from the Victorian College of the Arts in a fieldwork intensive I coordinated in the Bass Coast region of South Gippsland in April 2017. The four-day visit was centred on the event Luminous Streets, a component of the Regional Arts Victoria Small Town Transformations initiative The Edge of Us, which links artistic works in five small towns along Westernport Bay.
With only a short period of time to get to know the area, students used a range of strategies to engage the event – some artists, such as Rich Keville, produced their own artistic response to the site in the form of luminous "graffiti" attached to the pier; while James Howard composed audio works based on field recordings taken at the site.
Other students took a more documentary approach, with Jared Kuvent taking long-exposure still photography, while Cath Rutten used interview techniques to generate data that produced a musical score – making a creative response to the typical evaluation strategies used in her work as a cultural planner.
The idea of “fieldwork” is best known in anthropology, and so the question of indigenous knowledge was central to student learning of both the site and the opportunities that fieldwork methods might present. I invited renowned Māori artist, curator and academic Dr Huhana Smith, Head of the School of Art at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, to act as guest faculty for the site visit.
Dr Smith presented her community-based action research project Manaaki Taha Moana: Enhancing Coastal Ecosystems for Mäori in a seminar at the Faculty of VCA & MCM's Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development before joining the students out on the fieldwork site, where they were welcomed to country by Boon Wurrung artist Steve Parker and participated in a smoking ceremony.
Working with my colleagues in the arts collective Local Time, who also joined the intensive, I’ve spent the last ten years researching how artists can engage questions of indigenous knowledge and political struggles for self-determination in a respectful fashion, to enhance our sensitivity to intergenerational local knowledge of habitat and the ecosystem.
Across the world, local communities and indigenous researchers such as Dr Smith are actively working to undo the impact of colonisation on customary methods of caring for the land. Indigenous knowledge now has urgent relevance as we seek sustainable ways of life in an era of widespread environmental degradation and climate change.
While a short visit to a regional arts project could only begin to point at the potential openings for artists into these questions, the experience highlighted for students the value of place-based learning and the benefits of a holistic approach to research and community engagement.
In the words of VCA student Cath Rutten: “It was a great field trip ... such great conversations and insights from everybody. It really reminds me of how important it is to work in proximity with others."
This wasn’t just a one-way flow of information, but a real exchange. Outside of their own learning, the students contributed significantly to the Luminous Streets event with their presence and engagement. They gained first-hand insight into how a large-scale community arts project works and I’m really excited to share their findings with the organisers.
Working with tutor and artist Amy Spiers, the students are currently finalising their research reports and responses. I will be sharing them with the Regional Arts Victoria project team to feed into the next iteration of the project in 2018.
Image: Boon Wurrung artist Steve Parker introducing the class to the material history of the Westernport area. Photo: Jared Kuvent.
The ongoing Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria was produced in collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and The University of Melbourne. Whether you’ve seen it or not, your views could help our researchers.
By Dr Amanda E Krause, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.
While popular conceptions of love tend to focus upon romantic love, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 exhibition presents depictions of love in its many variations, in painting, sculpture, prints and drawings, as well as non-representational and functional objects such as costume, furniture and religious artefacts.
Curated by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Angela Hesson of the University of Melbourne’s ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), it features more than 200 items from the NGV’s International Collection, some of which have never been displayed before.
But what does it teach us? What do you, as a gallery-goer, get out of visiting an exhibition of this kind?
Though the artworks in Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800 concern historical expressions of love, we are interested in how people experience those emotions today. With that aim, we are undertaking an audience-response research project, and would love – yes, love – you to get involved.
If you haven’t already, you can visit the exhibition at the NGV until 18 June, 2017. It’s located on the ground floor, free to enter, and the NGV is open 10am–5pm daily.
But even without visiting the NGV, you can assist us. Our online survey contains questions about visiting art galleries, and about yourself, and to respond to eight key works that are part of the Love exhibition. You can access it here – many thanks in advance!
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Image: The Garden of Love (c.1465–1470), Antonio Vivarini (studio of). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
The work of VCA Art alumna Penelope Davis blends art and science to form a commentary on the impact of climate change.
By Kate Stanton, University of Melbourne
The collective noun for a group of jellyfish is a smack or a fluther. But when the creatures come together in large groups, often in small areas, it’s called a bloom.
These blooms drift on the current, forming strange and ghostly clusters that can stretch kilometres through the ocean.
Artist Penelope Davis spotted her first bloom several years ago, when she was walking along the beach near her bayside home in Melbourne. Hundreds of jellyfish spent the summer in Port Phillip Bay and, after investigating further, she discovered the creatures were uniquely suited to the warmer, oxygen-deprived waters caused by climate change.
Sea-change (detail) by Penelope Davis made with silicon, nylon thread and plastic. Photo: Simon Strong/Artist supplied
“It was quite terrifying”, says Ms Davis, who studied at the University of Melbourne.
But she felt an aesthetic attraction to the other-wordly sea creatures.
“They were intriguing. I like their semi-transparency and how they capture light.”
A bloom of jellyfish is a natural occurrence, the result of changing ocean currents, seasons or the availability of prey. In recent years, however, some scientists have wondered whether jellyfish numbers are growing – and whether a warmer planet means more jellyfish.
Scientists are still unsure, but Ms Davis was struck by the imagery of a bloom as an evocative illustration of what oceans could look like on a planet ravaged by climate change: bodies of water congested with ethereally beautiful but poisonous animals.
That is the inspiration for Sea-change, Ms Davis’ latest work, which debuted last month at the MARS Gallery in Melbourne as part of the continuing festival Art+Climate=Change 2017. The festival was convened by the not-for-profit organisation CLIMARTE, which aims to use art to spark discussions about climate change, bringing together artistic and scientific communities for exhibitions, talks and other public programs.
For Sea-change, Ms Davis collected discarded plastics and other ephemera, cast them in silicon moulds and hand-sewed the pieces together into 46 creations designed to resemble jellyfish. Suspended from the ceiling, they look just like a bloom, delicate and eerie, floating beneath the surface of the ocean.
Look closer, however, and you will recognise the shapes of the components: tap heads, plastic tops off tomato sauce bottles, mobile phone chargers, camera lenses, fishing lines and other castoffs that recall consumption, consumerism and waste.
Ms Davis says she did not set out to explore climate science in her work, but it was the natural by-product of her three-month artists’ residency last year at LAB-14, a hub of studios and working spaces for creatives, engineers, researchers and start-ups in the Carlton Connect innovation precinct which is anchored by the University of Melbourne.
Ms Davis says LAB-14 had a buzzing, purposeful atmosphere that was an inspiring contrast to her artists collaborative in St Kilda.
“I’m usually surrounded by a bunch of other artists and we talk a lot about the Melbourne art world. To go somewhere where that’s totally irrelevant and there’s all these enormous issues that people are working on, it really made me step up,” she says.
Sea-change at the MARS Art Gallery in Melbourne. Photo: Simon Strong
Ms Davis says she would meet with the building’s other residents to explain her jellyfish, and to engage with them on the issues underpinning the work. She even asked for some of them to contribute their scraps to her project.
Carlton Connect was designed to produce such interactions, says Dr Renee Beale, the precinct’s Creative Community Animator.
Dr Beale sees herself as the bridge between people of different and often segregated disciplines, such as art and science, in the hope of forcing new conversations about the world’s biggest problems. She connects scientists with artists who might need research to inform their art.
The people behind the Carlton Connect project believe that real innovation and solutions come from these interactions. A new Science Gallery, set to open there in 2018, will regularly host exhibitions that use art to help visitors engage with science.
Dr Beale also curates exhibitions, such as last year’s Absolutely Famished, which brought scientists, food experts and artists together to talk about future food trends, including robotic farming and 3D food printing.
“We recognise the importance of the creative arts in opening up new ways of thinking,” she says.
Dr Beale says many scientists are interested the emotional power of art to prompt action on research and data that isn’t always inspiring in its raw form.
Dr Peter Christoff, a CLIMARTE board member, has spent much of his career communicating the intricacies of scientific data – to politicians when he worked on the Victorian Ministerial Reference Council on Climate Change Adaptation and to students as an Associate Professor of Climate Politics and Policy at the University of Melbourne.
“The challenge has been trying to represent the information and also the arguments behind climate change in ways that are extremely accessible,” he says. “Not only accessible intellectually but also accessible emotionally.
“I think a lot of people have realised there’s only so far you can go with facts.”
Dr Christoff says the public is tiring of conversations about climate change if the same facts and images are repeated over and over. It’s important, he says, for artists such as Penelope Davis to think of new ways to connect people to the dangers of climate change.
Penelope Davis’ work in progress at Carlton Connect, LAB-14. Photo: Artist supplied
“She’s created this extraordinarily beautiful and menacing future world that is the product of all our misdemeanours,” he says of the artist’s jellyfish bloom.
“That’s one of the ambiguities of this sort of art,” he says. “It can almost entice you with that future.”
Ms Davis says she started to think about ways artists could work with scientists during her residency at LAB-14, noting that a lot of their research goes unnoticed by the public.
“I think science has this problem, they’ve known all this calamitous information for an awfully long time. But it’s very hard for them to communicate it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people and make them shut off,” she says.
A good communications strategy is an imperative for climate scientists, who are alarmed by apathetic attitudes to a warming planet.
“Climate change is not really a scientific issue any more, it’s a public issue,” says Professor Ary Hoffman, leader of the Hoffman Group at the University’s Bio21 Molecular Science and BioTechnology Institute. He studies the ways organisms adapt to environmental change.
“How do we convince the public to take it seriously?” he says. “How do you make it meaningful for people so they take action, and at the moment, we are not seeing action being taken.
“It’s clear that we are making very slow progress.”
Professor Hoffman, who uses works of art to emphasise points in his lectures, does believe that good art has a place in the scientific community.
Dr Beale, of Carlton Connect, believes art and science should inform one another, a connection she hopes to encourage at LAB-14. It is there that a sculpturist might work alongside a 3D printing company, or a virtual reality designer alongside a painter.
“The idea of having artists juxtaposed with scientists means you have two very different ways of thinking coming together and when you have that, often new ideas spring from that,” she says.
“In a sense they’re similar,” says Dr Beale. “Both artists and scientists are very experimental, they’re open to new ideas, they work on creating things.”
Banner image: Sea-change. Photo: Simon Strong/Artist supplied
Prudence Flint graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1989. Since then she has held solo exhibitions across Australia. She was a finalist in the Archibald Portrait Prize in 2015 and 2016, won the Len Fox Painting Award 2016, the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2004, and the Portia Geach Memorial Award in 2010.
Professor Su Baker is Director of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), University of Melbourne with 25 years’ experience in teaching, research and senior management.
Su is a leading arts academic and artist, who is called upon for expert advice and has written on the shifting needs of arts education and the role of the Art School in the 21st Century, including “Art School 2.0 : Art Schools in the Information Age or Reciprocal Relations and the Art of the Possible”.
Su has exhibited nationally over the last 20 years in public and commercial galleries, including numerous solo and selected group exhibitions and national survey shows including in a number of curated exhibitions at state galleries and significant contemporary art venues.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
Fred Fowler – Master of Contemporary Art
I was pretty apprehensive about going to the VCA but at my first Lecture at the VCA, Bernhard Sachs spoke about this theory of Signifiers and he just put on a Lars Von Trier film and then walked out, and I was like great, this is going to be okay.
You have to have meaning in the work or else what is it? I think if you create the work with some greater intention, it may not be overt, but it will still come through in the energy of the work. Everyone reads into artwork differently.
I could never give up art, it’s a part of my personality. Making art is a way of creating your own language and creating your own culture.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
By Steven Wyld, Project Coordinator, VCA and MCM
As I fly into Indira Gandhi airport, it strikes me that it’s been twenty years since I was here last. I recall memories of staying in the chaos of Parharganj; oppressive heat, chai wallahs serving tea next to open-air urinals, cows arbitrarily sleeping in the middle of the road as rickshaws carefully made their way around the holy beasts, countless shops seemingly pl
aced on top of each other…and of course the endless beggars.
This time my destination is the nearby Connaught Place – the heart of New Delhi. And as I drive to my hotel I can tell that Delhi has changed. The streets are free from bovine and general debris, traffic moves more orderly, there are new large buildings, a diversity of local and European cars…and they have McDonalds (always a litmus test of any sophisticated civilisation). One can tell that wealth has come to India…but not for all.
I’m here to document the adventures of the VCA and MCM Global Atelier program, starting with visual art students from the School of Art. 2014 will see nine groups of students from the Faculty engage in international exchanges and discover through those journeys an artistic world beyond the shores of Australia.
India is not only rich in history, religion, language, architecture, food and culture…but is also challenging China as a dominant global financial power. It is a land of contradictions where the divide between rich and poor is constantly evident and on display, where the architecture is as magnificent and degraded as any extreme can be and where opportunity for its people is complicated and challenging. It is with this backdrop that these five visual arts students from the VCA, led by Dr Kate Daw, have experienced the exciting and dynamic emerging world of contemporary art in New Delhi.
The trip started with a visit to the India Art Fair 2014, an annual exhibition of contemporary art from India and around the world. There were visits to various contemporary art galleries and exhibitions including the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi where we were treated to an exhibition of Subodh Gupta’s work of sculpture pieces collected from everyday objects and bought to life through arrangement and sheen, often on a large scale.
The highlight for the students was the opportunity to engage with some of India’s finest contemporary artists: Gigi Scaria, Mithu Sen, Veer Munshi and Manisha Parekh. The chance to talk on an intimate level with these artists, visiting their workshops and often being invited into their homes, to discuss the histories and influences that inform these artists work on a personal level, has a potentially profound influence in helping to develop personal artistic voice. Their common experiential and political motives for creating art and becoming the artists they are lend legitimacy to a questioning and sometimes dissident voice in a new India – an India where the convergence of the traditional and modern give rise to a beyond post-modern paradox of future possibilities.
Of course if one can, any trip to India is not complete without a visit to that most iconic of mausoleums: the Taj Mahal. This magnificent building of intricate design and architecture is indicative of a culture that values art and artistic endeavor as central to its cultural identity and values. The ornate and complex façade and motif compliment splendid symmetry and topography. The Red Fort too is a marvel of mogul architecture – a perfect compliment to its next-door neighbor and a testament to the influence this civilisation still has on modern day India.
Other notable historic sites we visited included: Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, Old Delhi itself, Qatar Minar and the Tomb of Hussabalah. There is just so much to see and absorb in Delhi alone that you could spend months here and only just scratch the surface.
Leaving Delhi I feel invigorated at my re-acquaintance with this historically rich city. And so as much as things have changed in Delhi, much still remains the same. It has become more cosmopolitan and my impression from those that I have met is that there is a genuine desire for New Delhi – and indeed the whole of India – to shake off its ‘third world’ tag and become a player of equal standing within the contemporary world. And indeed this is evident in the rise of contemporary art as a significant cultural force in examining India’s past injustices, current ideologies and future aspirations. Poverty, among a myriad of issues around religion and politics, still remains a challenge for India. However you feel that the world’s biggest democracy is moving towards achieving its goals and the next generation will build on what has already started: a path towards political and economic prosperity.
Led by Dr Kate Daw, five visual art students were able to experience the contemporary art scene in New Delhi as part of the Faculty’s Global Atelier program. Global Atelier is made possible with the support of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
Watch the student’s experience on the Faculty of VCA&MCM Partnerships YouTube channel.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
By Alix Bromley
The former Victoria Police Hospital, opened in 1914 on the corner of St Kilda Road and Southbank Boulevard, was officially re-opened by Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis this month after a year-long refurbishment of the heritage-listed building.
The “Old Police Hospital”, as it is now called, provides accommodation for the Dean’s office and administrative units of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM) who are lucky to have it as a Faculty Hub.
The building is light and open. In fact there isn’t a space which doesn’t have access to natural light – atypical of a University workspace as is the building’s history, which now has meeting rooms with such names as The Dispensary and The Operating Theatre.
History of the Site
The former Victoria Police Hospital operated as a hospital for some 65 years from 1914 and was not only the first police hospital in Victoria, but is claimed to be the first in the world.
During the First World War it was used as a military hospital and then for the public during the Spanish influenza outbreak, with the police resuming control of the site in 1920.
Its design was based on the pavilion principle, which expressed the late 19th and early 20th century attitudes to hospital design. Intended to provide ample sunlight and ventilation for the convalescing patients, it also included a two-levelled verandah on the north and south elevations.
The police transferred their hospital to a new building nearby in 1980 and the site was taken over by the VCA, which had commenced occupation of the former Police Depot from 1973.
The building was subsequently converted to a print-making school and employed as such until 1992. Since then it has been used for offices and storage and allowed to fall into a dilapidated state.
The Balancing Act of Heritage Refurbishment
Luke Flanagan has been the project manager for the site since the beginning of 2013. He has been working on the design and build alongside lead architect Louise Goodman and senior architect Fleur Downey from Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT) and heritage specialists RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants.
For Flanagan, the greatest challenge of any heritage project is getting the balance right between retaining the original fabric, working within the heritage restraints set by Heritage Victoria, and achieving an acceptable standard with the functional and aesthetic requirements of the space.
“There’s always conflict and tension there. Every heritage building has its own characteristics and qualities and the trick is to exploit, amplify and take advantage of them – while at the same time ensuring any interventions or additions are made sensitively,” Flanagan says.
Architect Louise Goodman believes the success of the project has been in stripping back the building to its original plan.
“This allows the elegance of the new forms and materials of the building additions, which have a beauty in their own right, to complement the existing brickwork and proportions of the original hospital,” she says.
“Don’t overwhelm the original but compliment it. That’s the real challenge,” says Flanagan, “The end result justifies the pain and anguish because what you end up with is a building which is very unique.”
The Old Police Hospital brings together many of the new and existing elements, in a shared space, to be enjoyed by all of the staff.
One of the key design features of the site is the addition of a two-storey glass curtain wall extension, with terracotta louvres, to the Southbank Boulevard frontage.
The original verandah was replaced in the 1950s with a balcony and small extension on the ground floor. In removing these additions, the building resembled its original form. The new addition was designed to act as an enclosed verandah, referencing the symmetry of the vertical columns on the southern verandah.
The differing angled louvres filter the sun and provide privacy as well as breaking up the horizontal elements. The terracotta used for the louvres is a natural complement to the deep red of the existing brickwork.
The spiral staircase has been beautifully restored. The balustrade was originally built using rare red pine, which unfortunately didn’t meet the structural requirements. So the new timber is ironbark, a mix of two types to achieve the variance required, with a French polished finish.
The staircase didn’t meet current balustrade height requirements, so the balusters were replaced with longer lengths and the newel posts extended with new timber additions. The additions are designed to show a visible line between old and new.
There are tile features left over from another age tell their own story, and the new wall openings are defined by the use of a blackbutt timber portal to clearly distinguish new from existing building elements.
Outside, new steel and glass entry canopies to the north and south of the central entry tie in the language of the new building elements, and an eye-catching copper lift has made it to completion after initially being out of budget (before the price of copper plunged). The interpretative garden adjacent to the lift, designed by Oculus landscape architects, is intended to resemble the outbuilding which was located in the same place.
Southbank Boulevard connection
The new glass extension creates a significant impact on Southbank Boulevard and adds a touch of contemporary flair to the streetscape – “it has a bit of drama to it”, says Flanagan.
Given the plans for Southbank Boulevard, the building is situated in an important location. The City of Melbourne is looking at running a kilometre-long park from St Kilda Road down to Queen’s Bridge. Tram alignment will remain the same but the existing four lanes of traffic will be reduced to two with aim of increasing pedestrian traffic instead.
“The real driver there is to create a meaningful connection from the city into the art’s precinct,” says Flanagan.
All of this fits within the broader development of the VCA & MCM’s Southbank campus, a venture funded jointly by The Myer Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the State Government through Creative Victoria.
Last year, the Grant Street Theatre was reopened with Lionel’s cafe and bar, named after major supporter Lionel Gell. This year, the Brian Brown Recording Studio underwent a substantial renovation, and the old industrial Teaching Workshop has also been re-opened as a cutting edge research facility.
In 2016, the stables that were once occupied by police horses will be transformed into visual art studios. In 2017, a new purpose-built museum will be opened to showcase Michael Buxton’s contemporary Australian art collection, and plans for a new Conservatorium building are also slowly gaining momentum.
For staff and students at the VCA & MCM, it’s an exciting time. These new developments aim to set up the University’s Southbank campus with the best facilities to teach young artists for the next 50 years.
Banner Image: Ground floor of the two-storey glass curtain wall extension. Photographer: Ben Hosking.
By Alix Bromley
In a short six months, the Victorian College of the Arts’ (VCA) Teaching Workshop on the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus has transcended from an industrial blue-collar workshop to become a cutting edge research facility where manufacturing outcomes are unlimited.
Around 700 students from visual art, production, and film and television, who have not collaborated in the past, will now come together over the course of a year to share ideas and build in specific process spaces, including a central construction area, a welding and foundry room, a wet mould room, a wood machining shop including a special sanding room.
The students may be building for different artistic mediums, but pragmatically they often undertake very similar processes.
Workshops Manager Dr Tim Edwards, who’s been working on the project for four years, says after reading, thinking and talking to people about workshop design in the University environment, he believes there’s nothing else that exists like it.
The workshop staff were able to tell architect Steve Hatzellis exactly what they required in the space since they’ve been working there for years. From experience, they know exactly what does and doesn’t work.
Edwards, who began at the VCA as a casual lecturer in Sculpture and Spatial Practice in 2008, previously worked at the University of Tasmania where he was involved in designing the School of Visual and Performing Arts Sculpture Workshop. This meant he had a clear idea of the requirements and process of building a good workshop.
It was like a game of chess with room space size and placement.
The external skeleton of the old workshop has remained intact, but the roof trusses dictated where walls had to go. “Previously there was lots of wasted space and the rooms were too small to function very well, so combining them we were able to get more space and usability and make it much safer,” says Edwards.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) standards have a scale of low, medium and high risk activity. Just about everything that takes place in the workshop is high risk, so the underpinning design brief was to combine the different workshop spaces with best OHS practice.
In principle, you bring your materials through the 3 metre high soundproof doors, get them on to the table, mark out, measure, fit your safety protection gear from the OHS station, take the materials into the machine shops on the custom-built four-wheel tables, then wheel them back out into the construction area to assemble.
It’s all about workshop flow.
The wet area is for ceramics and mould making out of clay and is also part of the foundry where the initial object is made from wax. There is a specific wax working area with a granite benchtop and Bunsen burners.
In the hot metals room there is a new foundry furnace, a foundry kiln and a new ceramic kiln. There’s a long, thick solid steel bench which is completely dead flat.
“When you’re a metal sculptor, that welding bench is like a Louis Vuitton handbag!” says Edwards.
Welding creates highly toxic fumes, so rather than use ducts which pull the air across your body (as in 90% of other spaces), a bank has been made above the bench so all the smoke, dust and fumes are pulled away from you in the opposite direction.
In the wood machining shop there’s a computer-controlled router and various methods of carving and sanding. New ducting means the wood dust won’t be swirling around the space any more.
For a space with concrete floors and masses of wood, the acoustics have been dampened thanks to the wool insulation in the roof which was previously exposed tin.
“Everything is ramped right up,” says Edwards. “You can see how thick the walls are! The windows are triple glazed, the walls are triple thickness with insulation.”
There is very little sound bleed between each workshop. Because you can’t hear the students, the large windows were a key component of the design brief.
“We need to be able to see them at a glance, to make sure they’re okay,” say Edwards. The upstairs office, which creates a better use of space, also provides an opportunity to see what’s going on below.
From the lighting, heating and sound acoustics to the removable plywood panels on the walls (rather than leave a big hole in the wall in such a hard-wearing space, you can simply put a new panel on), Edwards is brimming with enthusiasm about the new workshop:
“You could come in with any kind of design and we’ll have the technology, skills and staff to work it out and build it.”
The Teaching Workshop fits within the broader development of the VCA & MCM’s Southbank campus, a venture funded jointly by The Myer Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the State Government through Creative Victoria.
Banner Image: The central construction area with an overhead office. Photographer: Ben Hosking.