Car Culture

Posted by Gemma on the 6th of September, 2011

Following on from Andrew's primer on art and suburbia in anticipation of Emma McPike's upcoming show at OK (September 30th), I've been looking into examples of the car in art as an accompaniment to Casey Ayres' current offering.

I've found it odd, the surprise that sometimes arises from Casey's interest in modified car culture, as though an interest in one kind of culture must preclude an interest in another supposedly outside of it. I'm not sure where it comes from, this idea that artists cry over sunsets, only read dead authors, are interminably drunk, are bad guests at dinner parties, burn money, eat paint, etcetera. This is also all true of course, because the arts are just as rich and varied a slice of humankind as any industry. Never mind.

The Italian Futurists loved the dynamism of the automobile almost as much as they loved writing manifestos on how the industrial revolution would cleanse the old world of its cancerous attachments to history. When Marinetti wrote his first Futurist Manifesto in 1909 the opportunity to move through the world quickly, propelled by fire and metal, was novel. The Futurists portrayed it in rapid-fire geometry and deconstructed form. While the Dadaists were opposing it, the Futurists glorified the First World War as the ultimate sign of the new society's power, connecting technology and death in the same way that J G Ballard would in his 1973 novel Crash. Ballard added eroticism to create the ultimate Freudian cocktail.

Fast forward from Futurism through Roland Barthes' 1957 proclamation that the Citroen was the contemporary version of the Medieval Gothic cathedral -" conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object" - through Andy Warhol's Pop screen-prints of motor crash victims, to Matthew Barney's Cremaster 4. This is a huge leap, but bear with me. I'm making this up as I go. Cremaster 4 was made in 1994 and was actually the first installment in Barney's gargantuan, cinematic exploration of a not-quite-parallel symbolic world. Cremaster 4 sends blue and yellow modified racing cars and their drivers around an island track, while some kind of weird conception occurs that relates to a nearby room containing a tap dancing creature (Barney) who falls into the sea and then crawls through a vaguely starshaped tube of lube and tiny white pods (from memory. I worked on the Candy Bar when Artrage played these for their festival in 2007, so I saw them in stolen parts between rushes for popcorn. Apologies to Matthew Barney). Honestly, It blows my mind that people are shocked by Lady Gaga.

The Cremaster series is named after the muscle in the male that controls the accent and decent of the testicles due to changing temperatures. The cars in Cremaster 4 are, simplistically, connected to a sexual energy, the briefest reading being that their speed equates to to power and virility, that the racing teams replicate the race of sperm to the ovum. The car appears again in Cremaster 3 (made in 2002), in which the central character of the film is the Chrysler Building. Two Chryslers perform a dance of death in its basement (I think).

In the same way that Scottish Barney uses the Chrysler as a symbol of American consciousness, American Richard Prince uses parts of the car sculpturally as stand ins for his country's landscape and that classic homegrown Dream. Think of Jack Kerouac, the drive in theatre, Thelma and Louise and the Grand Canyon. Prince's photographs prior to this had explored the creation of masculine mythology in printed culture and his decontextualised car bonnets do something similar, except the landscape and the body within have dissolved into fields of colour.

Back on Australian soil, the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane held an entire exhibition devoted to the automobile in 2005. Supercharged: The Car in Contemporary Culture featured work from 12 artists interested in the form and symbology of cars, including Australian heavyweights Patricia Piccinini and Tracey Moffat. The fascination with the car in Australian culture is similar to the American one; the road trip is a cultural institution, cities are often designed around freeways (Perth and its Corridor Plan), the expanse of the landscape is often thought of as something to be conquered, civilized by the road. The catalogue essay for Supercharged, written by Glen Fuller - an automotive academic who Casey put me on to when we were researching for his exhibition - is still available on Fuller's website. 'The Hoon: Taking over the Streets' and 'The xXx Test' are also good reads for the interested.

So, this has been long. It could be much longer though - I haven't even begun to talk about Vin Diesel and the Fast and The Furious series. Here are some pictures..

(Also, links:
There are a bunch of Futurist Manifestos here.
Roland Barthes quotation copied and pasted from here.
This is the official Cremaster website.
There's stacks on Richard Prince: perhaps The Frieze Foundation isn't a bad place to start.
Here's some text on Supercharged as well.)
Fuller's site is linked above.

Luigi Russolo, Dynamism of an Automobile, 1912-1913
First edition of JG Ballard's Crash, 1973
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 4: Three Legs of Man, 1994
Richard Prince, Second House Installation View, 2004
Installation View of Superchaged

Art TV: Artlife 'The 'Burbs'

Posted by Andrew on the 1st of September, 2011

This video is maybe a good primer for Emma McPike's solo exhibition 'True North', opening September 30th at OK Gallery.

Embedding is disabled. You'll have to click through here.

Howard Arkley, \'Pink House\', 1991

Big Art Weekend

Posted by Gemma on the 30th of August, 2011

Friday Sept 2nd: 6pm, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art

Stadium: Pilar Mata Dupont and Taryn Gill.
Wrong Angles: Alex Spremberg
Perth Zine Collective kicks of its month long residency in the PICA reading room.

This event will be large.

Gill and Dupont must be the youngest artists to achieve a major retrospective in a while. After Marian Tye (PhD), Director & Professor of the Centre for Sport & Recreation at Curtin University, does the opening honours, Gill and Dupont will showcase a new, site-specific performance - Ever Higher - in the infamously cavernous main PICA gallery space. There will be an 'aerialist' and cheerleaders, and I saw stadium seating being carried into the building last week. This promises to be a spectacular occupational health and safety nightmare.

Last time I saw Western Australian painting titan Alex Spremberg's work, it was primarily an exploration of non-objective materiality, what could be done with paint and gravity. Wrong Angles re-introduces found image and object and some big themes (' systems of production, standardisation and economic rationalism' ) into his experiments.

The ever-productive Perth Zine Collective will also take up residency in the reading room, bringing their cottage publishing industry and catalogue of publications with them. Zines can be talked about, made, sold and bought all September, starting 6pm Friday.

Visit for more information.

Images Courtesy of:
PICA, Taryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth.
PICA, Alex Spremberg, Gallerie Dusseldorf, Perth and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne.

Saturday September 3rd: 7 -10pm, Museum of Natural Mystery.

Benchwork: Supply and Command.

At 7:30pm, Daniel Bourke and Clare Wohlnick from Benchwork/Benchpress present a powerpoint performance about the 'successes, failures and accidents that have occurred during their short stint in the business world'.

Benchwork and Benchpress were founded in 2010, after Clare Wohlnick's purchase of a secondhand RISOgraph machine. Benchwork is their graphic design arm, and Benchpress the printing elbow. They currently operate out of the East Perth Studio (55 Wittenoom St) that is soon to house Wohnick and Bourke's ARI Galleria.

Benchpress might have the best logo of any publishing company I've ever seen.

for more information

Courtesy Dan Bourke
Gill & Mata Dupont, 2008, A Gladiator Class, Envied By All Men, Adored By All Women (detail)
Spremberg, 2011, Marching Into Paint (detail)

Officially OK

Posted by Gemma on the 30th of August, 2011

Signage finally arrived this morning, four days late.

OK Gallery is Open

Posted by Gemma on the 28th of August, 2011

Thanks to:

Leigh Robb
Matthew Townsend
John Teschendorf
Tony Nathan
Plastic Sandwich
Julius and Sofia Varano
Frank and Dickie at Gecko Special Floor Coating
Clare and Daniel at Benchpress
Marina Georgiou
Sheridan COleman
and Casey Ayres for a great show.

The Secret History of Perth

Posted by Gemma on the 18th of August, 2011

I don't know how to start this without it sounding cloying, like it should be written in calligraphy on a scroll that resembles parchment, but isn't - Be Kind To Strangers. Let It Happen! Open Yourself to The World And It Will Provide.

Fundamentally, what happened today was that I had a good day at work, for the three and a half hours I was there. Three and a half hours sounds like a slice of trifle compared to the standard working pie, but a shift cannot be much longer than this. My job - one of my jobs - involves what amounts to standing around, completing occasional minor tasks, attempting to be vigilant in the face of fluctuations of time and temperature and temperament. 'Gallery Attending' can make three hours seem like 6. One day I will write about it in full, because it involves forming a really complex relationship with both art and the public that encounters it. But, put simply, it is the kind of job one always wants as a teen, doing very little on the books, but it can be numbing at worst and freezing in winter, and I am cynical about it often.

The interactions between Gallery Attendants and Gallery Patrons are, as a rule, either witheringly superficial or frightfully intense. Patrons will either ignore the attendant, or they will attempt to engage the time and attention of the attendant At All Costs. Being paid to stand around in an art gallery exposes you to an interesting range of opinions and life experiences. There are, as I learnt in highschool chemistry, exceptions to almost every rule (the almost makes it a sweet conundrum; if there is an exception to the rule of exceptions, we are lost) and today was great because of this. Today I spent 40 minutes talking to a man I initially assumed to fall in the latter category about the history of alternative art spaces in Perth. Be kind to strangers. Let it happen!

I started taking notes halfway through our conversation, but they are vague - Big Idea Production, Beige Collective, Praxis. Praxis was what The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts was once, Beige Collective and Big Idea Production was what Louis (I think) - the patron - was once a member of, putting on experimental theatre shows for oldschool Artrage in Lake Street warehouse basements, back in 1993/4 when Northbridge was apparently full of back-lot artist studios and Praxis held all night dance parties in the PICA building for which people queued around the block. I hear snippets of this, this lively local history, from people who were once immersed in it: lecturers, co-workers, chance meetings, but it amazes me that none of it is written down. There appears to be no formal records of any of this, nothing readily and publicly available. Verbal history is great for brightening my work day, but it is painfully ephemeral. This history is recent - PICA itself has only been incorporated for 22 years, Artrage turned 25 recently, but it won't be one day. I spent about an hour on the internet trying to ascertain the original location of the Praxis space, but learned only that web design does not age well.

On the web I found Terminus=, a discussion group whose archived meetings from 1997 to 1999 read like freeform poetry. I found the current webpage of one of the founding Praxis members, which was a wild ride in itself. I rediscovered the work of Andrew Hayim de Vries, the previous owner of 100 Hubble Street - the Fremantle Mosaic house that the council first ordered to cease and desist and then heritage listed. I did not find much about Praxis itself, or about much of Perth 'heady' 1970 -1990 years that I didn't already learn from PICA's 'About' page, but I know where I can.

We often talk amongst ourselves about the tendency in Perth for work to be quickly forgotten, about the problem of each successive generation of arts workers having to 'reinvent the wheel' - Perth loves a palimpsest (see St Georges Terrace, or East Perth) and this also applies to cultural stuff. I often hear tiring complaints about the eternal dullness of this place, but I also hear these stories that contradict this entirely. Open yourself to the world and it will provide. I am going to look into this, and I am going to report back.

Andrew Hayim De Vries at Praxis Gallery, 1984

Rebecca Baumann in Primavera 2011

Posted by Gemma on the 17th of August, 2011

Western Australian Rebecca Baumann's formalist celebration subversion is having a highly successful 2011 - featuring earlier in the year in NEW11, Hannah Mathew's selection for the Balnaves foundation at ACCA; posted on the usually highly Eurocentric art aggregator VVORK recently, and announced as part of the first offsite Primavera, opening September 8th

I seem to have missed the boat on this one, because the Primavera lineup was announced at least a month ago - prehistory in blogging terms.

Still, good news for Baumann, and for Western Australia, which was overlooked in last year's Primavera.

Baumann's work is online here

Rebecca Baumann, Once more With Feeling, 2010

Guest Lecture: Bruce Lee

Posted by Jamie on the 17th of August, 2011

"What is this, an exhibition? We need Emotional Content"
Advice for those needing to stay focused in auspicious times.


Posted by Gemma on the 17th of August, 2011

Weekend watching: Working to Code

Posted by Jamie on the 12th of August, 2011

A guide to getting by in Tom Sachs' studio and the world in general courtesy Tom Sachs and Van Neistat.

Thanks Jason.