Friday, January 23, 2015

Dreams and Imagination: Light in the Modern City


I designed this catalogue Dreams and Imagination: Light in the Modern City to accompany the exhibition of the same name late last year. This was one of those charmed projects from the outset –  a creative joy from start (a coffee date with its writer and exhibition curator Melissa Miles in North Carlton during the last school holidays) to finish (the arrival of hand delivered freshly printed catalogues wrapped in paper and a bow courtesy of the always diligent team at Adams Print). When I break it down, what then constitutes 'creative joy' in a project such as this with several players: a gallery, an independent curator and a printer? It had a team of good listeners with expertise, a sense of confidence, and a healthy perfectionism. It had an adequate timeframe, not overly long, nor too tight. It had a great subject and visual material. And I had autonomy.

The exhibition – documenting modern photography in Australia – straddles the period from the 1930s to the 1970s. Keeping this in mind Melissa and I wanted the design to reflect the time and to keep the emphasis squarely on the photographs. Given that the photographs are all gelatine silver prints we decided on a monochromatic palette with a single steely blue as an accent. That accent appears only in the image credits and on the inside cover, a late addition thanks to Shane from Adams Print who was not certain that the shade of the cover and inside paper stocks would marry well – a good call).

The font is Quadraat, a digital serif font created by Fred Smeijers in 1992. Although it is contemporary in feel it actually draws on pre modern typefaces Garamond (from the 1500s) and Times (late 1700s). I've always liked using Quadraat for body copy for its qualities, legibility and a touch of eccentricity. The headings, credits and footnotes are in Scala, another font designed in the early 1990s. Both Scala and Quadraat were conceived in the Netherlands, a hotbed of typographic innovation. As I'm thinking about it, it strikes me as slightly wondrous that two font families from the other side of the world designed in the same language and within a year of one another would be so right for a historical project from the Antipodes.

Naturally, I am tormented by two or three things I would have done differently (goddammit!) but overall I was happy with the result. Can I say I like it? In fact I am not the only one. A number of people have liked this catalogue. One enthusiast, blogger Peter Costigan, has even posted on it. How nice is that?

Dreams and Imagination: Light in the Modern City 
Closes 1 March 2015
Catalogue costs $25 from the MGA shop.

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road
Wheelers Hill Victoria 3150
Telephone +61 3 8544 0500
T–F 10am–5pm S&S 12–5pm

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Godfather I, II, III

Over the past few years during the Christmas season, specifically the days between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day I've noticed how receptive I am to film. I can't really account for it other than I know in this demanding and volatile emotional period I find myself on the couch with the remote in my hand looking to decompress from the interpersonal intensity of the festive marathon. I'm usually congratulating some nameless individual (the programmer) for their excellent choices. This year, for instance, I fell into a grateful trance watching The Godfather I, II and III over three nights muttering "Genius!" to myself. Is there another series of films more perfect at expressing the wiggy dimensions of family life – its pleasures, obligations and horrors – than this classic trio from America? When I studied Cinema at university in the mid 1990s Francis Ford Coppola was considered a giant who had lost his touch. No one could take the 1970s away from him but, prevailing opinion held that his later films were not as successful. While Martin Scorcese was moving onto Raging Bull and Age of Innocence Coppola was making strange episodes for television and ordinary children's films (The Black Stallion, anyone?). When The Godfather  III was released in 1990 – the only one I saw in the theatres – I remember being disappointed by its flatness. Revisiting it, I was more forgiving. Here is a film preoccupied with regret, legacy and wealth (most likely mirroring Coppola's own life-stage dilemmas) and not the aggressive, energetic turf wars of two decades earlier. I found it closer in theme and texture to Wall Street and Pretty Woman in its reckoning with material excess. Sure, The Godfather III doesn't come close to the inventive and elegiac tone of its predecessors. The straight, steely first instalment with its superb cinematography framing actors on a horizontal or vertical plane and Coppola's use of props; a lighter, a bag of oranges, to intimate psychology or as metaphor – and its ambitious, heartbreaking sequel from 1974. I was in awe of Coppola's nerve watching The Godfather II  especially the set pieces with a cast of thousands, the film's slightly hysterical atmosphere and marvellous casting. Three short years later Coppola would make Apocalypse Now. Like I said, a giant.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas cards

This year I am using an ink pad and four speedball cut out shapes to make cards.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Whisper in my mask

Whisper in my mask
TarraWarra Biennial, TarraWarra Museum of Art
16 August – 16 November 2014

TarraWarra Museum of Art has been mounting biennial’s for eight years. The exhibitions are designed to chart new developments in contemporary art. From the outset the museum has engaged external curators to conceive exhibitions that explore an idea, theme or tendency in contemporary art practice. Whisper in My Mask, the fifth in this line is a collaboration between curators Natalie King and Djon Mundine. King, who amongst other shows, curated Up Close: Carol Jerems with Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and William Yang at Heide in 2010 is interested in edgy subcultures and relationships - between artists, milieus, individuals; Mundine’s writing and curatorial practice has focused on Aboriginal art, including the remarkable Aboriginal Memorial (1987-1988), 200 hollow log coffin poles from Ramingining, a project similarly geared towards the collective. 

While King and Mundine have gravitated towards different curatorial subjects, in their joint catalogue essay King and Mundine offer an insight into their shared methodology: “ The relationality  of curating individual artists, community, society, inside and outside the gallery, and creating a conversation between objects and community through a number of devices and on a number of levels, is something we unconsciously just thought was our normal practice.” King and Mundine’s practice foregrounds relationships, collaboration and conversation and this is evident in the assembled artists and works. This methodology underpins the biennial in a myriad of ways, and, in fact, forms the most cogent framework for thinking about the exhibition itself.

The exhibition features 16 individuals and groups, including a number of collectives; boat people, a Sydney based collective of 10 who contributed a video-based work, The Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a dynamic social enterprise that were commissioned by the biennial to make sculptures, as well as artistic collaborations: Destiny Deakin and Virginia Fraser, Veronica Kent and Sean Peoples, and Karla Dikens’ who took photographs in partnership with Lismore Soup Kitchen and Southern Cross University, and sisters Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano. 

Whisper in My Mask explicitly draws on the trope of the mask. The accompanying exhibition catalogue essays elaborate an understanding of the origins, meaning, symbolism and use of masks in Western and indigenous cultures. Masks allude, we know, to human disguise, to camoflage, to erasure, secrets and hidden meanings. How then is this theme articulated across the exhibition? The curators have taken a broad perspective selecting artworks that either formally or by way of subject probe this idea. Walking through the gallery space there was a palpable sense of intensity. Between Polinexi Papepetrou’s photographs of clowns, some wearing costumes made of the Union Jack, boat-people’s video instillation Muffled Protest depicting the collective artists sitting on the steps of the Sydney Opera House with their faces covered by the Australian flag, Tony Garifalakis’ photographic camouflage portraits, and Nasim Nasr’s video installation of a weeping woman wearing a chandor,  I felt the full impact of so many potent symbols in close proximity. Fiona Foley’s sculptural installation of towering serif letters spelling out Black Velvet rendered in wood and metal (referring to the racial slur and not simply fabric) ratcheted it up a notch. Foley’s words loomed like a provocative headline in an exhibition that read like a newspaper; a cacophony of people, stories, recent events demanding action.

An edited version of this review appears in the forthcoming issue of Artlink 34 #4 Sustainable? out in December.

image: Tony Garifilakis, The Hills Have Eyes, 2012

Monday, October 27, 2014


At Monash Gallery of Art on the weekend for the opening of the Photography Meets Feminism: Australian Women Photographers 1970s–80s exhibition I found myself on the floor where pencils and paper had been provided for the kids. I doodled with the monkeys who were enjoying the materials and space. Otto found loose sheets of photocopies, reproductions of early photographs and got busy defacing them. Shortly afterwards assembled in the large hall for comedian and art history graduate Hannah Gadsby's opening address things got a bit raucous. Speaking without notes, Gadsby dropped a few expletives. Nothing too outrageous but someone left the room in protest. Gadsby enjoying the unfolding scene called out to Otto "What is the rudest word you know?". Was there something in the cheese? The air? I can't say for certain but it was kinda funny.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Needlework from Norway

With long winters it's no surprise those living within a coo-ee of the Arctic Circle can work a needle and thread. I was amazed by this chair and cushion combo in Norway. Actually almost everything in this living room was fantastic. We were visiting for lunch. Not being handy with a camera I turned to my parter in crime and wiggling my fingers in mime mouthed "Take some photos."

I have a big appetite for interiors magazines and read everything: from the accessible, aspirational end of the publishing spectrum to cold architectural titles and the peerless World of Interiors. I like looking at photos of other peoples homes a great deal. There is something about photography and interiors that click, excuse the pun. The good fit became apparent to me thinking about art and the cluster of magazines devoted to that sector and creative activity. Why is it that I love art but have little interest in art magazines? In the end I want magazines to be an uncomplicated pleasure. Discourse or chairs? No contest.