on wednesday night, the latest bill henson show opened at tolarno galleries in melbourne. i couldn’t make the opening, so went with my best friend – a photographer – on friday afternoon as part of a lovely art mission.

despite being vehemently against his early, highly-suspect means of procuring wasted junkie models, i have been a fan of bill henson’s work since my photography undergrad degree back in the last decade (sssh. i’m scared how long it’s been too).

his early, dramatic cut and tape works that replicated romantic painting and baroque ceiling frescoes captured my heart and i have had a soft spot for his dark ways ever since. even in this post, i’ve defended his practice against a silly art-ish writer muppet who was convinced he was a conceptual artist.

and despite this, i walked into the beautiful art deco foyer of the tolarno building with a vague sense of cynicism.

after all the hyperbole of that bloody roslyn oxley show, and all the rah-rah-wah-wah surrounding the use of children in art, i held little hope that bill’s work could still be so strong and beautiful and dark. i was actually expecting him to just phone it in and reproduce some old stuff, or keep away from the human, adolescent figure at all. i think i would have even forgiven him a mild resignation. i mean really, it must have been fucking exhausting listening to kevin rudd, former prime minister and part-time minister for expressing aesthetic opinion, find his work ‘revolting’ – like he’d even stood in front of one. or to be the subject of yet another miranda devine tirade, boldly going where no brain cell has gone before.

if there was a sign on the gallery door saying ‘sorry, bill’s moved to iceland, where he is surrounded by erudite and educated individuals’, i would have sighed with disappointment, but understood.

but instead, bill henson has just kept doing what bill henson does. none of the images in this series are particularly shocking – i honestly think they hardly ever were. but in this show, he has strengthened the comparison between the ‘disgusting’ naked, nubile, human form of his photographs and the images of naked, nubile, ‘depraved’ form of jesus and friends that titian and michaelangelo made that the masses ram themselves in to see.

he also returns more firmly to the link between body and landscape – the dark, dangerous, mysterious and isolated aspects of nature’s elemental forms, and those equivalent in the human figure.

someone from the murdoch mafia will probably find something in this series to have a whinge about.  delta bloody goodrem‘s marriage is front page fodder, surely a bunch of thin, sickly teenagers in dark moody photos is something to feature, right?

but for the rest of melbourne who haven’t quite lost the function of their frontal lobes, go and see this show. it is beautiful.

yes, i used the word beautiful.

image credits: 
bill henson, untitled 1995-6 pinched from the monash university globe back catalogue
bill henson, untitled 2011 pinched from the age

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Photography on both sides of Swanston St

So much for being the intrepid reporter this holiday season.. what started off as good intentions to write regularly, quickly decended into a severe case of icouldntbefucked within about an hour of hitting melbourne city (as opposed to the space, expanse and leisurely pace of my folks’ place in the country).

i did, however, dedicate about two whole hours to checking out both NGVs – International and Ian Potter Centre. Although, instead of the intensely thoughtful and mind-altering experience i had in Brisbane, i decided to just go the scenic route and scooted through the exhibitions at a fairly decent pace, even managing to not read wall text or go to the paying exhibitions.

NGV International
Sneakers: Classic to Custom and After Image: Social Documentary Photography in the 20th Century.

I’ve always believed that you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, so both of these shows were an exercise in commentary for me!

sneakers, pimp
thanks to the NGV website

Sneakers was held in the fashion/textiles section of NGV International, like a museum display, with appropriate cataloguing and everything! Hundreds of sneakers were displayed on plinths and ranged from early canvas Chuck Taylors, probably made by well-paid American workers then to plastic-coated shiny silver Nike Airs, continuing to be made by underpaid Asian sweatshop workers. sadly, it wasn’t quite as good as it could have been. sneakerpimps have been doing shows about sneakers for years, and i think their take on the cultural impact of the humble runner is far more engaging and savvy, but for something like this to feature at the NGV, i guess it’s not too bad. if you’re way more into the sneaker way of life than i am, sneaker freaker is probably right up your alley – they recently transformed mag nation into a condensed ghetto for all the hanging sneakers!

Robert Capa, Death of a Soldier
thanks to the NGV website

After Image was a surprise gem for me. As a photo major, all the godfathers of photographic history were there and i was able to see the originals of some fucking amazing works, some important works and even some works that i based a really crappy appropriation project on! ha!
All the big guns were there: Robert Capa, Weegee, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans – PhotoHistory101. I didn’t really feel like making love to the works, so didn’t stay long, but have still been recommending it to all and sundry since.

Ian Potter Center: NGV Australia
Light Sensitive: Contemporary Australian Photography from the Loti Smorgon Fund

So after the history lesson, i wandered across the road to Ian Potter to check out Light Sensitive. From the 20th Century to the 21st in one easy move!

Featuring a great range of current photographers from the NGV collection, this show was solid and satisfying – props to Isobel Crombie. The who’s who of current photographic practice was there and it actually restored my faith in Australian photography, given the boring crap i’ve been seeing lately. According to the wall text, media releases and the NGV website, “Light Sensitive comprises five themes and ranges from the ‘uncanny’ which includes evocative camera-less images called ‘photograms’ and surrealist-inspired images; ‘new portraiture’ which takes a time-honoured subject into fresh creative areas; a distinctive examination of physically (but not psychically) vacant spaces; documentary work that considers reality in provocative ways; and photographs that explore the complex nature of social groupings in our modern world.”

Petrina Hicks, Lauren 2003
thanks to the NGV website

Trad processes like cyanotypes and photograms (“evocative camera-less images”) were represented by Sue Pedley and Anne Ferran as well as a really large panoramic photogram by an artist who i can’t remember but it would have been done on a drum enlarger – old school as!! “Documentary work and [those] that explore the complex nature of social groupings” included work by Brook Andrew, Darren Sylvester and Darren Siewes, although i felt like Darren Sylvester was under-represented and his artists’ statement sounded like it was written by the girls in the photo, rather than an articulate and sophisticated artist. But then again, i hate artists’ statements, so i may be biased.

Scott Redford‘s Urinals were a surprise inclusion, but i guess you could think of them as ‘vacant spaces’… Other notables to get a guernsey included Pat Brassington, Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Cherine Fahd, Selina Ou and although i loved Paul Knight‘s panoramic shot of the titty bar, i would have loved to see his most recent Samstag-winning work in there – the ol’ ducks would have loved it!

I took my mum to see the exhibition a second time and really enjoyed the chance to get to the back section (especially the dramatically lit empty domestic spaces) and soak in the Lauren work by Petrina Hicks, which is the image of the show and the cover of the catalogue. I love that image, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it’s from the Lauren series of work. Although the show was based on works from the Smorgon fund, I was surprised that there weren’t more works in the exhibition by Petrina Hicks, as I think she’s really taken contemporary portraiture and photography to a new level – extending it beyond the Thomas Ruff/Thomas Struth style photography and subverting the Bill Henson neo-gothic photography into its own creepy lightness.

And speaking of the catalogue, i didn’t get a chance to buy it (saving for trip to london still – tattslotto failed me again), but it’s a fucking gem. Exactly what you want from a catalogue. Or what I want from a catalogue: Big glossy pics, nice paper, all the images from the show, essay at the front that doesn’t take up half the book and an affordable price: $30!!

What more does a girl need from her catalogue?!

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dancing in ACCA

Gillian Wearing, Dancing in Peckham

i’m a little behind in my gushing over my last trip to ACCA, but thankfully i was reminded this week to write about it, by seeing a work that was so glaringly derivative that it spurred me into action.

“what is she talking about?” i can hear you saying..

she is talking about one YBA called Gillian Wearing.

when i was in ol’ melbourne town celebrating friends’ birthdays, having meetings with board members and laying around in bed with a virus, i did manage to honour my committment to go and check out Living Proof at ACCA. I have been a huge fan of Gillian Wearing since my photography major days and was looking forward to seeing Dancing in Peckham, the video piece which introduced me to her, of which i had only ever seen stills (thanks to Sensation getting canned at the NGA).

Gillian Wearing for me highlights where Australian’s get their sense of humour and taking-the-piss attitude from. Her ability to deride and glorify the british pathetic is awesome and she does so with just enough tongue-in-cheek to take the depression out of it all, but also has enough sadness in there so we have some compassion. When i think of Gillian Wearing, I think of ‘Are You Being Served?’

The exhibition was a survey of her works including her other well-known photographic works Signs: about 30 images of regular brits holding up quite quirky signs that may or may not have related to them. The one i had seen before was the ‘I’M DESPERATE ONE’ held up by quite a suave looking chap with a nice Ray Martin style hair cut. I absoluted pissed myself laughing at two other of those works- one very refined older woman holding up a sign saying ‘HELLO SAILOR’ and an image of two young black twins, one holding up the sign saying ‘I LOVE THE WILLIE’!! I laughed out loud, and i really wish that i hadn’t been in a large, echoing room with a bunch of other people, because i would have laughed louder, believe me. I would have Rolled On The Floor Laughing My Ass Off. No, really.

All the other works were pretty fucking great as well. The self-portraits as members of her family were creepy in a Cindy Sherman kind of way and although I got bored with the video vignettes of people singing their favourite tunes, only because i had reaching my upload limit and there was some really bad singing, i still totally dug the pieces.

But back to Dancing in Peckham.

It wasn’t the only piece there, but boy, it was the biggest drawcard for me. It is the epitome of her black humour, her focus on the vulnerability and dagginess (for want of a better term) of britlife and the schutzpah of saatchi-funded art practice that the YBAs embodied.

The video went for about 34 minutes and i didn’t get to watch the whole thing, but i did go from the beginning and watched for about 10 minutes. The only reason i stopped watching is because i became self-conscious about the noise of my laughing! i pissed myself for about 8 of those minutes, just really enjoying the pastiche dance moves she did with such apparent seriousness, the looks she was getting from the crowds walking past and the absolute style with which she pulled the whole performance off. I couldn’t imagine dancing in front of a camera in the middle of Frankston mall, or Penrith Plaza and be able to sustain it for as long as she did! It was great!

And if anyone has seen Rachel Scott‘s work as part of the fantastic show at First Draft at the moment, curated by Scott Donovan, you’ll see the ‘glaringly derivative’. Perhaps Rachel’s work is supposed to be an appropriation, perhaps i didn’t quite get the significance, maybe to some it wasn’t derivative because Rachel was singing as well as groovin’, but for me – i couldn’t watch it. And unfortunately for Scott’s work, this may just be a matter of timing. Perhaps if i hadn’t so recently seen Peckham, i would have made the link and appreciated it. Unfortunately, it was just too close to home.

By the way, the rest of the work in that show is ace (including Rachel’s other video work) and go check out the Invisible Reading Room – it’s pretty close to heavenly with couches and lamps and loads of cool reading material!

And if you wanna do your own impersonation of Dancing in Peckham, head on down to Lanfranchi’s for the Dance Off! I’ll be there after the 4A opening!

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he sees red

congratulations to todd mcmillan.

not only as the winner of the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship, but to his obvious penchant for red heads. flanked by his good friend Chris Hanrahan and his dealer James fromGrant Pirrie(who could be separated at birth), there was a definite presence of red flowing locks about him after the award was announced.

the man understands the power of red. already a winner, in my book.

I don’t really know todd, but I like his work, a lot. the alone alone show at grant pirrie was amazine and I actually would have liked to buy one of his smaller works. I’m not a fan of NICK DRAKE, but I remember I wanted an E. and for those that are having a quiet giggle, I don’t take ecstasy any more, but even I said to myself while typing it ‘hey, who wouldn’t!’

anyway, back to the Helen Lempriere and the esteemed Todd Mcmillan.

I picked it. in fact I picked it months ago when Zanny told me who the finalists were, I knew it would be Todd that won. and today when the office thought about running a sweep to see who the winner would be, again I said it would be Todd. I had to say it quietly ‘cos I didn’t want Jaki to feel like I wasn’t hoping that she win, but when you’ve got a gut feeling, you’ve got a gut feeling. Next year I’m going to start taking bets.

I’m usually extremely cynical about these kinds of things – the whole show was full, and I mean chock-full of the it-kids of the Sydney art scene right now – artists who are at the peak of their game and producing some really cool shit, but they’re also the names you’re hearing a lot of, so I could easily have whinged and bitched about the winner. and I know that todd is also part of the ‘in’ crowd, but I’m not going to begrudge him this success. he seems like a good guy, plays a good game of netball and isn’t afraid to give his dad a hug, or stand in boxer shorts. artistically he’s also sincere. and I like seeing work that is sincere. ernest even. but not so serious that there isn’t a wry smile in there somewhere.

I’m pleased he won the prize. as they kept banging on in the speeches, the prize has been going a really long time and is one of the largest prizes for emerging artists and it feels nice for once to know that it’s gone to someone who deserves it.

and to someone who chooses his friends by the colour of their hair.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx