Archive for May 2012
Please note: This post is derived from personal notes made at the event – They may contain some inconsistencies that are a result of my interpretation.
AUDIO NOW AVAILABLE @ http://enc.slq.qld.gov.au/audio/slq/pp/mp3/artdesign/Artistsbooks.mp3
In what looks like the one highlight in the Queensland artists’ book calendar for 2012 Keith Smith and Scott McCarney are visiting the State Library of Queensland to present a lecture about their work and to conduct a five-day workshop. Unable to attend the workshop due to teaching commitments I attended the talk at the SLQ today. I was not alone and the smaller SLQ auditorium was full of interested attendees — including some notables like Sarah Bowen, Adele Outteridge, Madonna Staunton, Wim deVos, Anne Marie Hunter and Lorelei Clark. The visit to SLQ by Scott and Keith is supported by the Siganto Foundation and members of the family were in attendance at the lecture.
After and introduction by SLQ Artists’ Bookie Helen Cole, Scott began his presentation by talking about the nature of the book in the digital age. He seemed to lament that libraries were beginning to change into Wi-Fi coffee houses — that’s not a problem for him as he believes the book, as a physical thing, will go beyond the electronic age.
He sees a real discussion about the future of the book is all about ‘display’. This remains a contentious issue for the artists’ book as they are difficult to handle and read as in exhibitions they are usually displayed frozen and ‘under glass’. Some of Scott’s work has been about presenting books as sculptural forms (Hanging Index) so the viewer does not really need to turn the pages to engage with the work.
Scott spoke in detail about his Autobiography series. He described how he couldn’t throw anything away and that he makes collections from things like name badges, rejection letters from galleries and grant applications, to-do lists and mud maps. This body of work provides an insight into the trivia and ephemera of life that escapes disposal through its transformation into his art. Connecting with the Internet world Scott’s Google Vanitas begun on Christmas Day last year represents the search results for his own name.
Scott showed many examples of works with where he cut through various pages within books to subvert the content of the book.
In a homage to Ed Ruscha Scott has taken Ruscha’s 1964 book Various small fires and milk and made his own take on the subject — Scott’s fires are those of riots and the curious inclusion of a glass of milk in Ruscha’s book is shortened to MLK, standing for Martin Luther King whose portrait appears in the book. l
A recent project by Scott was to participate in the al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition’s response to the car bombing of this street in Bagdad which was home to many of the city’s booksellers. Scott’s work Material Meditation on Mending Al Mutanabbi Street comprises fifteen two-sided loose-leaf prints made from collages made from remnants of found books, rubbings from bookbindings and photographs.
Scott then handed over to Keith who comments that he is now up into the 280s on his ever increasing list of books. He spoke of a number of book projects dealing with subjects like re-contextualisation of paintings of Saint Sebastian into Smith’s own painted backgrounds. Many variations on this theme have been created from an amassed collection of source paintings — he intimated that he was even working on a book as he was preparing to travel to Australia.
He spoke of his connection with the computer and digital book Bobby made as early as 1984 with an early Macintosh computer using MacPaint and MacWrite. In his latest work he has re-formatted the book and re-jigged the content. The new Bobby has been supersized to one of Smith’s biggest ever books.
One of Keith’s trademarks is the digitally created multi-layered photomontage and his rainbow borders and edges. He states that when using Photoshop he may be working with between 12 and 24 layers of colour. Pages for the book Seminal were shown as examples.
Book number 283 is Struggling to see deals with Smith’s continuing fascination with text and image. The book is dedicated to Nathan Lyons whose own books and image sequencing presents Smith with a constant source of challenge. Smith acknowledged Lyon’s mastery of organising images in a book in a way where the message of the book is spoken ‘between the pages’.
Question time yielded perennial questions to do with inkjet printers, papers, the ‘archivalness’ of the technology and editioning.
One questioner spoke of how books can be made by anyone via print on demand technologies …
Another question dealt with the montage …
Keith commented that the book tells him where to go …
A comment made by one participant was that they were coming to understand that with all the standardization of the book through language and form and that that is where the psychology of the artists’ book really kicks-in to say something else that we were not ready for…
A question about the eBook and where it fits in contemporary practice. Scott answered that with eBooks one must learn the tools and understand that they are about text in a multi-media platform and that translating work into digital form you need to recognise that it is married to the content.
Keith’s response was that was something for the younger generation, ‘I’m too old ….’ Perhaps it is, for him, that the eBook is not a tactile medium that you cut, fold, touch and be touched by — although it may be something else?
Doug Spowart May 28, 2012
NOTE: The SLQ will be posting this lecture online in the near future
An image of the ballad of country and western
As a photographer attempting to communicate personal experiences and my, at least I think, special view of life and the world, occasionally I have thoughts that if I wanted to connect en mass I should have been into music! When I look at what music does to I see participants who will slap, tap, hum, whistle, laugh, tear up and even cry. Music sure beats the visual arts hands down as a way of creating a connected audience response. But an exhibition of photographs at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery, just a few kilometres north of Brisbane, may just win some points back for the visual artist.
Gifted Country is a photographic exhibition of the doyens of the world of country and western music by Toowoomba photographer John Elliott. As a follower of the music industry for over 30 years Elliott has amassed a collection of the latest top hits and the golden oldies. On the walls of the gallery the faces of C&W music stare out at the viewer — frozen and mute. Elliott has reduced them to an eye-only sensory experience. The only sounds permeating the space are the shuffle of footsteps of other gallery viewers and the muffled voices of local community members returning books to the library next door.
Before you get the feeling that the show is a little underwhelming there are other things to consider. Firstly the music and photography industry do share some similarities. Apart from practitioners at the most visible pinnacle of the discipline, those who make the sound and the image – the photographer behind the camera, the songwriter, the muso behind the lead singer and the mixer at the sound deck — are faceless. Only the products of their creative efforts are known to us. Okay, we can all recognise a Slim Dusty, Casey Chambers and Keith Urban from across the room. And that is perhaps because photographers like Elliott have made their image, apart from their music, famous. A reflective Jimmy Little leaning on a guitar neck (the one Little’s family selected as the ‘hero’ image for his recent funeral service), Lee Kernaghan stridently stands sky-pointing before a dramatic theatrically lit stage and a wide-eyed Chad Morgan’s face pokes out from his trade-mark safety-pinned hat. Once you’ve cherry-picked a few of the icons you are left with portraits of haggard faced, guitar holding middle-aged men, sweet smiling young girls and longhaired youths that crowd the rectangle photo frame.
What Elliott’s efforts bring to us is the human face of the extended country and western industry. These faces could be those of the waitress, the farm hand, the rodeo queen and the Big Mack truck mechanic. To help make the connection for the viewer Elliott pairs the portrait with the carefully chosen words of a biography that makes visible the musical provenance that we may share with the subject. Additionally a website links to interviews, commentaries and music to enliven the interest of those with a passion for C&W music.
What is remarkable is that over the years John Elliott has worked to amass this body of work. And this is not his sole interest — there are landscapes, urban vistas, other portraits and the personal and intimate moments of life. But this body of work has a quality and magnitude that sets it aside from the usual music documentary record.
This exhibition will be of great interest to the country and western dilettante, the music maker and the photographer alike. For this is a unique assemblage that is testimony to value of photography as record that is at once about history and the present — becoming history. The John Elliott Gifted Country performance will continue until June 23, and then, hopefully, will in the tradition of C&W — go on the road …
Doug Spowart May 26, 2012.
Also @ the Gifted Country show is a C&W PHOTO BOOTH – we had a bit of fun there …
Visiting the 2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award
What is this thing called art photography? Can it be nailed down and quantified? Each year across the country institutions and the judges they select attempt to do just that. Do they succeed? And is everyone happy about these events? A comment in the visitors book of 2012 Josephine Ulrich and Win Schubert Photographic Award at the Gold Coast Art Gallery makes the observation, something like “How high was the judge when he made that selection?” Well you can’t please everyone, and these awards with their huge prize purses do ultimately end up making one person ecstatic at winning and a few others happy by having their work purchased.
I for one am thoroughly excited by the depth and breadth of art photography that this award unearths each year. Although not an entrant for a few years my work, and collaborative works with Victoria Cooper have been displayed as finalists on 4 or 5 occasions, the exhibition continues to be a motivation for pushing our own work forward.
This year’s judge was Kon Gouriotis – Director, Australian Centre for Photography and the winner was Vestiges #3 by Sydney based artist Eugenia Raskopoulos. A press release about the award can be accessed HERE
Over the years the Ulrich Award has gradually moved into increasingly large sized, huge framed or pinned to the wall works. This year 75 works were selected and this created what must have been an installation challenge. Double hanging of many photographs shoe-horned them into the space although due to this strategy some photographs suffer viewability problems.
A new sophistication in artist’s statements on didactic panels heralds an increasing reliance from artists to attempt to direct the viewer into seeing the meaning of a work through a narrow, and perhaps confusingly worded sometimes pseudo-intellectual window. Robert Adams writes in his book Why people photograph that said that artists should not attempt to describe their work. He states that, ‘Words are proof that the vision they [the photographer] had is not … fully there in the picture.’
Anyway, be that as it may, one artist not only out does everyone else in square metres of wallspace but also presents an insightful statement that addresses the current photographic art scene. Hedy Ritterman’s Bollard 2011, for me was the standout conceptual piece for the show – the artist’s statement is well worth reading:
I abandon the idea of a photograph as a “window to the world” – instead I embrace the materiality of the surface itself. The highgloss, large scale photographic paper, with its fragility exposed, acts as a distorting mirror capturing the changing surrounds and highlighting its sculptural form. The distinction between the image in the photograph and the object of the photograph is underscored here. The subject of the photograph, a huge analogue negative of the museums’ people barrier, stands in direct opposition to the seductive invitation of the surface.
My work explores the complex relationship between the contemporary photo-artist, the collecting institution and the viewer. As photography shifts away from the print to the screen its status as object is being challenged. As photography shifts into the realm of the museum its object status is being valued.
As a viewer what I like about the exhibition is the intellectual and visual calisthenics that I’m engaged in while walking through the space. Whether I, or you, agree with the judge’s decision or not, the exhibition still remains a celebration of contemporary photographic art that continues to challenge and reward the photographic and broader arts communities.
A travelling exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery
A painted portrait, to be authentic, must be more than a visual transcription of the subject. A couple of years ago Christopher Allen, in writing a review of a photographic portraiture exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery made the statement that ‘humans are not ultimately machine-readable’. (Allen 2010) He claims that portraits by any group of ‘reasonably able’ painters do the task of portraiture much better than photographers as, ‘Every mark is significant, and records something seen and felt; intellect and intuition are one and become simultaneous with making.’
In encountering Jenny Sages’ Paths to Portraiture exhibition at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery Allen’s dictum is profoundly proved. The portrait works are layered with an expression of the artist’s relationship with the subject – Sages needs to develop a friendship with the subject, to share the space and moment and the ‘other’ sense-stuff that makes a portrait more than a likeness.
The exhibition Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture was curated by Christine Clark, Manager of Exhibitions from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The show’s premise was to present more than a collection of Sages’ portrait work, but as the title of the show alludes to – the path the artist takes in making a portrait. Included with the finished portraits are reference drawings, ephemera, and objects referential to the subject that informed the painted portrait. For the student of painting and for members of the public who wish to understand more of the artist’s process these elements provide an insight that is not usually part of the experience we have of finished artworks.
To compliment the exhibition Christine Clark presented a floor talk on the exhibition for around forty attendees from the Toowoomba art scene. Clark’s talk provided special insights into Sages’ background and the story of the paintings. She linked these stories with the displayed preliminary sketches, drawings and other objects making the experience of the art and Sages’ process rich and alive. Clark, through her enthusiasm for the artwork and her expressive gesture and discussion, took all present at the floor talk to a higher understanding and respect for the work before them. Thank you to the NPG, TRAG, Christine Clark and Jenny Sages for the opportunity to see and hear about this artist’s work in portraiture.
Doug Spowart 20 May 2012
Allen, C 2010, ‘Through a lens darkly’, The Australian, July 3, p. 11-2.
Ian Poole is well placed to have an opinion about fine art photography and collecting photographs. He has been a major player in professional photography in Brisbane for nearly 40 years and is a respected AIPP judge with yearly invitations to also judge the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography awards. Despite his professional photography connection he has been a part of a sector of the Queensland photographic art scene that extends from the early 1980s with Imagery Gallery, later with the Photographer’s Gallery and more recently with the Queensland Centre for Photography. He has completed a Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts from the Queensland College of Art and has been awarded an Australia Council residency in Tokyo. Adding to this he has curated photographic exhibitions in Japan (of Queensland photographers) and exhibitions in Australia (of local and Japanese photographers).
So when Poole offers commentary on aspects of the photographic art world of Brisbane and Queensland it should be something of an opportunity to connect with his extensive knowledge of the genre. Recently as part of the AIPP ‘On the Lounge’ lecture series Ian Poole presented to an assembled audience of around 40 a dissertation entitled, ‘Have you ever wanted to collect photographic art, or be collected as a photographic artist?’
Ian Poole began his presentation by reviewing recent art auction records for photographic artworks including those by Adams, Sexton and Dupain. Thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions will change hands for well-known and rare works. The recent phenomena of Nick Brandt’s African work,which had been shown only weeks earlier in Brisbane, attracted some discussion. Perhaps some in the audience felt a little inspired by the possibility that, if they could enter the fine art field, that there was recognition and the possibility for a significant income to be made.
Poole introduced his collection of images that were hung on the walls and laid out on tables before the audience and discussed their histories and stories. For him the concept of ‘provenance’ elevated the importance of each work. A small Dupain image of the interior of the National Gallery in Canberra made during its construction was linked to his encounter with the work in a Brisbane gallery where it was purchased for a few hundred dollars. His most exuberant discussion related to a Joachim Froese diptych acquired when he swapped it with Joachim for a 4×5 enlarger. An expanded provenance trail led to it being loaned back to Joachim so that it could be displayed a QUT exhibition of his work.
A long-term friendship with north Queensland photographer Glen O’Malley presented some interesting provenance stories. O’Malley is not fully recognised for the significance of his practice in Queensland – he could probably claim to have had the first ‘photographic art’ exhibition in this state in the mid 1970s. Poole presented to the audience an image from O’Malley made as part of the Queensland Art Gallery’s 1988 Journeys North commission. The 20×24” black and white photograph showed a scene in Poole’s home where the O’Malleys were having dinner. The image was part of the accepted images for the Journeys North show and was subsequently published. Somehow Poole’s own life had become art photography itself.
Another photography collaborator presented by Poole was John Elliott. Well known for his documentation of country and western music and its heroes and doyens including Slim Dusty, Chad Morgan and Jimmy Little, Elliott is an enigmatic character of the photography scene. Ian spoke of John’s most recent show Gifted Country at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery and his photobook publishing ventures. A recent journey to Townsville that Poole had shared with another of Queensland’s enigmatic photographers, Maris Rusis, resulted in a body of work by Rusis that dealt with the décor of budget north Queensland motel rooms. These small and fine gelatin silver fibre B&W prints presented to the audience the fact that traditional values remain key to some workers who continue to practice analogue photography in a digital world.
Question time brought up some difficult truths – Why does the Queensland Art Gallery/GOMA not seem to be collecting photography generated within this state? Did they ever collect? Some discussion related to the archival needs for conservation framing and presentation.
As a conclusion to the presentation Poole spoke of the way in which he and his photography acquaintances swapped and shared their works, and how much of his collection was built around the generosity of fellow photographers and their desire to share. He held a bundle of his own gelatin silver images up before the audience and made an offer that ‘you can have one of my prints this evening – and send a print to me as a swap. Start your collection this evening …’
While Ian Poole began his presentation with a review of the overtly mercantile auction scene, it seemed that his passion about photography, photographs, friends, shared experiences and the meaningfulness of the provenance of the works, that these things could not be commodified. He spoke of his collection of photos, books and ephemera as being an entity that would be bequeathed to his daughter Nicola, also a photographer and present at the talk. Through the audience he directed to Nicola to ‘treasure and look after these things … they were important, valuable – not only as the stories they depicted through their image on the front-side of the print, but also of the back-story of their origin and collection.’
There is no doubt that Ian Poole’s passion for photography and his understanding of how it operates at a personal and cultural level is something that was shared and communicated on this evening. And those present will be inspired to develop a new appreciation of what photographs are and what they can say about the human condition.
Doug Spowart May 20, 2012
An unusual meeting – Face-to-Face with an early portrait of one’s self – circa 1982 found in Poole’s collection
Later in our time in Queenstown we made another camera obscura at Jackie and Mike’s Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography. The room image featured a view up Late Wakatipu reflected in a mirror. The expanse of the glacial lake with the layered horizon of mountains seemed, for the moment, peaceful.
We sat in the background view—the picture in a ‘lensed’ camera view of the image within the room. The camera sits on a chair on the right-hand side of the image and its shadow falls into the bottom of the frame. We’ve posted a second image of this photo inverted so to external view can be more easily interpreted.
Cheers Doug and Vicky