London Gallery Wrap Up: Bank and Sandback

This gallery wrap-up is driven by the BANK exhibition at MOT INTERNATIONAL (so many caps!), taking in the David Jablonowski show at Max Wigram and a Fred Sandback show at David Zwirner along the way.


Although not a London native, I first heard of BANK  in relation to Melbourne’s own cheeky anonymous collective, DAMP and also as provocateurs in the YBA era of UK art. I have always admired what MOT are doing as a gallery, so it felt right that the two seemed to meet up.

The exhibition is a collection of images, ephemera and original FAX BAK words, as well as a sculpture, a painting and a beautiful light box. It does all seem to be flirting with the exact commerce of art that the collective jabbed at for so long, but I’m sick of artists not being allowed to bite the hands that feed them, so I’d prefer to embrace this particular quirk.

If i had a medium-sized pile of money sitting around that I could invest in art, I would promptly buy all the FAX BAK originals. Not only because they are brilliant, but because I thoroughly enjoyed laughing maniacally at their content.

I didn’t enjoy having to stifle said laughter because nobody else was laughing, but goddamn the works are hilarious. Not just for straight-up wit, but for the sheer embarrassing close-to-home-ness of it all. All that artspeak that I have been super guilty of using in press releases and blurbs about my work, all ripped to shreds.

I enjoyed looking through the table of ephemera (if slightly overwhelming) and the lightbox was quite a beautiful object, as was the large-format black’n’white photograph. I can honestly say that I really didn’t like the sculpture of the BANK team – it was a little too Devo without being Devo enough. But to not like one thing in a whole gallery of works – their not bad percentages.

David Jablonowski and Pavel Büchler at Max Wigram Gallery

I was intrigued by this show. The installations featured a lot of synthetic display-type, media-influenced materials, loads of silver powder coating and plastic shapes, combined with moving image and/or light. I’m still not sure if it was to my particular taste, although I wasn’t completely repulsed. I am a little bored with install-on-floor trend in galleries, and would have liked to see the work get up a little – but there was a bit of 80s Patrick Bateman feeling about the show, which was interesting to me.

To be honest, I actually preferred the Pavel Büchler series of acid and nicotine drawings in the back – something about the simplicity of form and oxidisation process had me. I enjoyed looking at the studies of hands and the survey of the ways in which people hold cigarettes. And I usually can’t stand work that glorifies smoking, drugs or alcohol (I think we deserve better art than that).

Fred Sandback at David Zwirner

The highlight of the afternoon was easily the Fred Sandback show.

His works are site-specific installations of wool/thread lines and geometric shapes that play with perspective, triangulation, linear planes and dimensions. He uses simple colours, often black, red and blue, to outline and alter the relationship between the viewer and the space.

I first saw his work in Vienna at MAQ years ago and it was so great to see work like this installed in a commercial gallery; to play with the space through perspective and simple movement, to have my sense of vision and spatial assumptions messed with in such a delicate and concise way – voilà.

The spiral staircase was the perfect place to install a floor-to-ceiling work and the variety of works and spaces created in the gallery was perfect, and the gallery was packed. So deserved.

hey listen. this is important:

According to French historian and sociologist Emmanuel Todd:

“Economic takeoff usually occurs 60-70 years after 50 per cent of the population achieves literacy.

Moreover, the higher the average age of marriage for women, the faster literacy spreads.

The more time a woman has had to live alone and acquire knowledge, the stronger her desire and capacity to pass it on to her children.”

Or, in the words of a female MC: 
“You get richer by teachin’ my bitches to read. geddit?”

If giving women an equal chance at education and knowledge isn’t incentive enough on its own, maybe could we at least think about this economic incentive for bit? At least until the other reason sinks in?

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boomtown rats

Dubai Marina Bldgs 2

when i was in dubai a few years ago, i had an amazing time – such a mind-opener for me. the excess and excessive development was fascinating. and the polarity between rich and poor, ruling minority and voiceless majority was powerful.

on the way to visit the sharjah biennale, my friend and i drove past some of the labour camps and the workers walking home in 50º heat (no public transport there, darling). their accommodation was abysmal – fibro, prefab saunas dumped in the desert. you could see from the number of coveralls hanging on the rails how many people were crammed in.

it was desolate.

i was super sad and angry to read this article on al-jazeera english that speaks of the decreasing conditions for these people in the financial crumble. the rich developer skips out, no problem, of course.

it’s all very well to speak of the amazing creative output of dubai architecture and the boom of the architects’ playground, but it disgusts me to see an industry treating their labour workers as ‘collateral damage’.

policy that protects the most vulnerable in any system is exactly for this purpose – not to spoil the fun and excitement of business risk and entrepreneurship. but to account for the reality of life when shit hits the fan and the oxygen masks drop down.

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she sees red

here’s a list of stuff i’m angry about at the moment. i don’t presently have time to go into extensive detail (lucky for you poor readers), but i might soon. just you wait.

1. skinny jeans rape acquittals. nicholas gonzales in sydney was acquitted from raping a woman because a juror (NOT even evidence presented as defence) felt that because our victim was wearing skinny jeans, that there must have been some consent as those things don’t just come off on their own.

to that juror: fuck off and die in a hole. go back to the barbarism of the 18th century and see how serfdom suits you.

2. deveny getting booted. much has been written about her. i know. and although i am a fan of her stuff (and have followed her column, twitter and books), even i found the rove tweet a bit much. AND i was reading it real time. (unlike much of the judging public). as an aside, i think she could have dealt with the fracas a leetle better.

but fired? are you kidding me?

riddle me this – what do matthew johns, sam newman, bert newton and kyle sandilands all really have in common?

3. oil vomitting out into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. oh lord – where to start…
if you’re going to do surgery, know how to stop a haemorrhage first.

4. resources capital heads deciding that they might take their bat and ball and go home because they’re being charged extra to plum the land. see this

i know that K-Rudd is not this forward-thinking (maybe he was in a previous life, i dunno). but as much as this capital hostage is fucked, i’m also hoping that this is a strange and almost-genius environmental policy based on reverse psychology. tax the fuck out of the bastards, they throw a tantrum. we reduce our carbon emissions and stop desecrating aboriginal land. hooray!

there. done. next time: good news.

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if you got the money

i’ve had some interesting discussions lately about worth, value and selling in relation to art. and i haven’t really come to any conclusions, but i thought i’d subject you all to a sketch of some ideas and stuff about it and see what came of it. it’s going to be a bit all over the place, and no clear conclusion. you’ve been warned, so proceed at your own risk.

So, it all started when i woke up one morning last week with a very clear thought in my head: i want to sell the coffin. (the large piece in the abracadaver show). now, i’m OK about promoting my work – it could be better, but it could be much, much worse. but the whole selling of artwork is a whole other mine field that i don’t really know how to traverse. starting with the question of ‘do i even want to traverse it?’.

i still haven’t worked out exactly where i fit in the whole spectrum of touting my work, but i’ve certainly been focusing a little more on it than ever before – so that i can find a niche for me and my way of selling work, or finding the kinds of people who may or may not be into buying it.

and it has also been a good opportunity to keep asking myself how important it is to make money from it – to make sure that the integrity of the work is with the work, and not its price tag or who is/isn’t buying; continuing to clarify the line between artist and agent.

i’ve had quite a few conversations about it of late – trying to get to the bottom of my relationship between art and money, and i’ve come across some important gems of info/insight:

1. Turns out agents are important. whether this is a friend, gallery director, a blog or your mum – having someone detached from the process of the work, to be able to speak about the work as a product of value is a huge help. i guess, given that word-of-mouth and advocates works for all other kinds of selling, little surprise that it applies to art as well.

2. Confidence is key. over the last 2 years, my levels of surety about my work have risen dramatically. don’t get me wrong, i still have a whole lot of doubts about its purpose, quality, relation to the rest of the world, etc; but i seem to have more pride in what i do and definitely a sense of clarity about where i see myself with it and its relationship to other art being made. even taking away the bonus of selling the work, being able to communicate about the work with confidence is catching and those who don’t automatically ‘geddit’ are able to. and maybe this extends to having the work accessible – either conceptually, aesthetically or financially. Nothing loses a deal like undermining yourself.

3. Abaf has some helpful information. How’s about that! I think this is a pretty recent thing, really, and I’m not sure if i’ll be able to use all of it this time around, but it was great to read some useful tips on approaching public collectors, more information about the Australian Cultural Fund and a reminder that selling art isn’t selling out (unless of course you’re selling out).

4. Making art is the easy bit. Finding money from my art is hard work and takes almost more creative thinking from me than my original ideas. I need to be a bit savvy about the kinds of opportunities I follow, the way i present my work, the words I use and the people I target. And, like making artwork, i need to know when to step away.

5. People who know people know people. This sounds ridiculously obvious, but in the research and probing i’ve done over the last couple of weeks, the most ‘success’ i’ve had has been about following the lead of who and what I already know. Those people may not be interested in buying/funding/collecting, but they know people, who know people. And actually talking to people really helps too. Being quite upfront about it – ‘putting it out there’ has been a challenge, but has begun to show some interesting responses.

I’ll wrap all of that up with reminding myself and others that i’m certainly not writing this with any ‘authority’ – but hey, this is a blog, right, so you all know that :D. But i figure that i don’t get to talk about money and art enough – it’s certainly a touchy/taboo subject with many artists, so if any kind of feedback starts to happen here, then, well and good.

UPDATE: Billy Apple broaches this subject perfectly in his exhibition in Rotterdam that i sent NH to. pics here.

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please give a fuck.

Amsterdam Sloterdijk

sorry about the swearing so early in the piece. can’t be helped sometimes.

it’s just a quick rant. in three parts. about private organisations providing public services. or perhaps not, as the case certainly is. in fact, when i grew up, all these industries were owned by the public. then, of course the 1990s happened. and john howard/jeff kennett happened and, well. look what we have now:

banks (financial infrastructure)

my bank charges me $2.50 to use another banks’ teller. then that bank charges me $1.50 because i’m not their customer! what the fuck? last night it was cheaper to buy something at the IGA and get money on EFTPOS, than it was to use the banks’ own infrastructure, to use the banks’ services.

now, i might add, is not a good time for banks to be arseholes. and i know we’ve all whinged, but for god’s sake, i’d like us to actually do something. what the hell is consumer regulation for, if its not preventing this kind of double-dipping. add insult to injury: UK banks don’t charge a thing to use the ATM. in fact, they boast about it!

UPDATE: yes! the public have spoken (as has the ACCC) and banks aren’t allowed to double-dip. they’re still allowed to pillage you with fees, but no double-dipping at least.)

telstra (comms infrastructure)

i broke up with telstra years ago. in fact, as soon as T2 got off the ground and the service took a major dive, i switched teams. not that the others were all that much better, but as government infrastructure/structure/organisation, it was shit.

my mum and my sister kept on. they stayed loyal, believing that a company with years of service would aim to improve over time. nah-uh!

last week i rang my mum and her phone was disconnected. i called her mobile and she was in tears from frustration. they pay their bill automatically – each month – and are always in credit. in fact, telstra recently sent them back a cheque because they were in credit so much. telstra switches their systems and suddenly the money is not paying for the bill (but turning into a rebate cheque, douchebag) and their account goes into the red, while my mum calls the offshore call centre, trying to get an answer. being told that they have to pay the bill before the discrepancy with their credit (ie, telstra’s fuck-up) gets fixed. then, still not able to speak to anyone who knows what the hell is going on, each time getting a different answer, but the same runaround, the number gets disconnected and my mum becomes homicidal. and, the problem still isn’t sorted.

not only that fucking appalling example of service, but they are in serious fucked-up land at the moment and i can’t believe that the ombudsman, the ACCC, the australian people in general and the government aren’t on their heiny! here’s the awesome timeline of events for the once-public company:

government brings in big-gun CEO, govt sells majority share and goes public. telstra focus all their resources into a decent dividend. cut costs by going off shore. worsening service, customers leave. no money coming in, so the service gets worse. exploit cheap foreign labour, local workers get sacked. CEO breaches contract, gets A$20 million pay out, share price drops and the shareholders are fucked. how shit is that!

this is what happens when public infrastructure (ie, communications cabling, workers’ skills, telephone poles, manholes, switchboards, mainframes – the whole lot) goes from being owned by the taxpayer. to being shared between people who can afford to buy it (when they say ‘public’, they mean, open to purchase by those not directors. it isn’t owned by the wider public). interests are privatised and the wider public are disempowered in the machinations of their own lives.

connex (transport infrastructure)

i know that many have ranted about the bastard lovechild of jeff kennett and an inflated ego, but you can’t talk about failing private – public infrastructure without mentioning the trainwreck that is connex (at least in this state).

i don’t think any amount of spin is going to improve their image, and given that the contract is up for tender v. soon, it will be interesting to see what happens with public transport in melbourne in the near future.

unfortunately, given the lack of money everywhere, financing major capital works and infrastructure is going to be harder than ever, but i really don’t think melbourne/victoria will cope with current population growths without drastic improvements. the eddington report was a pile of shite and has done nothing to ease the pain of catching public transport. in fact, i praise some kind of higher being on a daily basis that i am a cyclist and only have to go near P(M)T on the weekends while visiting the parentals.

looking through the World Transit Maps book the other day, i couldn’t help but being completely confused how a city like Hamburg, with a population of 1.8 million, can have a good, integrated system for half our population? i know that Germany itself has a larger population, but the transport system is still state-based.

I don’t know what it takes to nationalise privatised infrastructure, but if it’s at all possible to do, i think now is a most-excellent time to do so. at least for the trains. private partnerships can still exist for electronic ticketing systems (will they just get the oyster team in here please?) and labour, but the inability for a private company to maintain cohesion with the public is so obvious at the moment that it’s embarrassing. in fact, the only thing that the government and connex have to thank for the continually bursting peak trains is that petrol prices, environmental awareness and inflation have been successful in encouraging people to reduce their reliance on cars. pity the government hasn’t been able to pick that one up.

more importantly, all of these public ‘institutions’ which have become private ‘firms’ have been allowed to fall by the wayside because the level of ownership by the politic has been complacent. I would love to see Australians actually give a shit about their systems and infrastructure and take action, vote, write to local members, protest, whinge to the Herald-Sun or 3AW if you have to. But make some goddamn noise about it and become accountable for the state in which we live, and stop being whining victims – it’s s000 19th Century.

image credit: amsterdam sloterdijk by just a guy who likes to take pictures

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