Xu Zhen - Eternity
Produced by MadeIn Company
Photo: Dave Hickson
Like the feeling of coming across a collection of ancient greek sculptures in your uncles garage - seeing Xu Zhen's work in the Sydney Biennale, is that sort of surprise. The unexpected pleasure of contrast; strange context and a clash of cultures, creates a contemporary sculptural work that is skillfully executed.
Xu Zhen's work, Eternity, comprises "...sculptural forms appropriated from the Eastern Pediment of the Parthenon and ancient Chinese Buddhist traditions that have been fused together, creating a hybrid eastern-western monument. Xu Zhen creates a space for the reinterpretation of disparate cultures and religions, and an opportunity for dialogue about the way existing language structures, philosophies, realities and belief systems are merged and repurposed in an increasingly global civilisation influenced by rapidly developing technology." (Biennale artist info)
This was the stand out artwork on Cockatoo Island for the Biennale this year. In other venues there are gems, but Xu Zhen's reinforced concrete series is fantastic.
I only had a day to check out three of the Biennale locations, but with about eight venues hosting the Biennale, two or three days would be better.
The Biennale is running until June 5, 2016
I went to an exhibition of El Anatsui's work on the weekend called "Five Decades". El Anatsui works in Nigeria, but is originally from Ghana. The show at Carriageworks in Sydney is a survey of his work from the 1970's to today.
El Anatsui sometimes has up to forty assistants working in his studio, making the sheets of squashed and tied bottle caps that make up a great deal of his work.
The bottle caps or other tin sources are beaten into shape, drilled and tied together with copper wire to make sections of sculptures that are put together like patchwork quilts. The origins of the tin elements are still obvious in the final work, with caps from African alcohol bottles, tobacco boxes and cooking oil cans.
This is an astounding show, not only because of the vast amount of Anatsui's work on display, but the space in which it hangs - Carriageworks has been turned into a gallery and theatre complex with just the right amount of restoration, and preservation, keeping the feel of the original railway engineering and maintenance workshops.
The show runs until March 6 2016.
John MacDonald wrote a review of the show that was in the SMH over the weekend:
An interesting video linked here showing Anatsui in his studio
Photo by Dave Hickson
There is an incredible documentary about Louise Bourgeois on ABC iView at the moment. It is called The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine. If you miss it on iView, it is on Youtube too.
Here is the iView link:
I took the above photo of Bourgeois' Spider at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. In the doco it mentions that there are versions of this sculpture in about eight cities around the world. She says the spider is her mother - totally reliable but without a burst of passion.
Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and moved to New York City in 1938 after marrying an American in Paris.
She was quite an outsider, objecting fiercely to Surrealism in the early 20th century and again not falling into the Formalism that defined a majority of American sculpture in the mid 20th Century.
She said "you have to be aggressive to be a sculptor - to want to change things - not to accept them as they are."
She believed that the purpose of sculpture was self knowledge.
Louise Bourgeois died in 2010 aged Ninety Eight.
During a day trip to Canberra at the end of last year, we visited the National Museum to see the Encounters exhibition. We were going to drop in here for two hours then go on to the National Gallery to see the Tom Roberts show, but the Encounters show kept us riveted until we had to pull our selves away to drive back to Sydney.
The exhibition shows 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the collection of the British Museum. There is come controversy surrounding how these objects were originally acquired and whether or not they should be returned to Australia permanently.
The exhibition is well put together including objects that are from Australian collections interspersed with very moving video interviews. The exhibition does nothing to try hide or gloss over the controversy and the questionable tactics of explorers and settlers as they collected these objects. The oldest pieces are from James Cook's arrival in 1770 including a shield which has what appears to be a bullet hole in it, following a confrontation at Botany Bay in April 1770.
The photo above is of a Jawun (bicornual basket) (Photo by Dave Hickson)
Collected from Rockingham Bay by John Davidson in 1866-68
Made by The Rainforest Peoples of Rockingham Bay. Woven out of Lawyer Cane and used to carry food. Larger ones were sometimes used to carry children.
Read more about the Jawun here:
I was looking up other examples of this basket and found a smaller one (about 25cm high and wide) that Sotheby’s had sold last year for 6875 british pounds. It seems strange that pieces collected in Australia in the 19th century are on the private auction market.
There was also a panel discussion that was aired on the ABC’s Big Ideas that has some fascinating perspectives on the show. Well worth listening at the link below:
The exhibition is on until 28 March 2016 and is free.
I'm not sure what it is about these two photos, but I loved the way they seemed to go together. Even though one is just a stark tree in black and white, and the other is of line-dancers at a local bowling club. Maybe it is about regional Australia; a harshness; a connection to the land, but a desire for connection to people.
Listening to a podcast while mowing the lawn, I heard a TED talk given by Marla Spivak on the disappearance of bees. As I was almost mowing over a few thousand clover that had cropped up on our front lawn Marla began saying that due to the clearing of land for monocultures, such as corn and soy, and the pesticides needed to maintain them - the bees are dying. Bees love wild flowers such as clover and alfalfa. As I looked down at my feet I started to see bees, a couple at first, then more: maybe a dozen of them buzzing from clover to clover.
Marla has allowed her garden to become overgrown with wildflowers. I'm not sure if our neighbours would appreciate it, but it would be nice to have our garden as a haven for the endangered bee.
(There is a link to Marla's TED talk below).
I have a sculpture in the Swell Sculpture Festival, which runs until September 20th at Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast. There is something for everyone, with a fantastic variety of sculpture; artist talks; kids activities and music. There is also an audio tour of the sculptures at Soundcloud (just download the Soundcloud app and search Swell Sculpture). Hope to see you there!
I always feel a little reluctant to let winter go. It is such a nice time of the year visually. In summer a Frangipani Tree can look pretty, but in winter it becomes a mysterious mottled skeleton casting long ghostly shadows on brick or concrete paths. There is more drama in winter. Whether one is throwing wood on a crackling backyard fire or kicking through piles of leaves with leather boots, being in winter is like having a backstage pass to a production of Macbeth: Being surrounded by dramatic scenes.
Speaking of dramatic things, I came across a book of the Drawings of Irving Penn recently. He is well known for his dramatic fashion and portrait photography but his drawings had eluded me until now. He predominantly uses pen and ink with very simplistic marks and lines. There is a link to the book "Drawings Irving Penn" below.
I recently made this rubbing in order to enlarge a maquette I had made. I loved the quality of the pencil mark and was reminded what an interesting technique it was. Looking further into it, I found Encyclopaedia Brittanica had some interesting information about the origins of this rudimentary printmaking process:
"Rubbings probably originated in East Asia, where they served many utilitarian purposes. Japanese fishermen, for example, continue the centuries-old practice of using rubbings to record the size of the various fish that they catch. The earliest known rubbings are Buddhist texts rubbed from wooden blocks in Japan in the 8th century ad. Evidence suggests, however, that rubbing may have been practiced in China as early as the 2nd century ad. There, rubbing (t’a-pen) was used to disseminate Confucian texts carved on large stones. These inscriptions and the rubbings made from them were valued both for their information and for their calligraphy. Even after prints began to be made from woodcuts and stone engravings, rubbings remained the most common method of reproducing Confucian texts. In the Sung dynasty (960–1279), antiquarian research became fashionable, and rubbings were used to make copies of ancient relief carvings."
In modern times Max Ernst probably brought the process into the lexicon of the artist. The following is a passage from the Tate:
"The technique was developed by Max Ernst in drawings made from 1925. Frottage is the French word for rubbing. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. From 1925 he captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil. The results suggest mysterious forests peopled with bird-like creatures and Ernst published a collection of these drawings in 1926 titled Histoire Naturelle (natural history)."
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