FineArtFriday: Helen Seiver at BRAG

Fine Art Friday spent last Friday talking to artists and eating good food so pushed back a quick trip down south to later on the weekend and into the following week – and then, finding it hard to write properly on my phone, have had to wait to today to post. (I don’t know why I feel it necessary to apologise for not posting on a Friday, I never said it had anything to do with Fridays…) Anyway, jumping in the car by 8am Sunday morning meant we could be standing outside the door of the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery in time for their 10am opening to fit in a quick look at Helen Seiver’s exhibition Are We There Yet before continuing our journey.

I met Helen a few years ago when we were both in the same sculpture exhibition but I have loved her work from before I knew who she was, drawn to her enticing mix of textiles, found objects and metal.  Helen is a maker of the first order, wrapping, stitching, knotting, welding, arranging and crafting her pieces into profound stories tinted with gentle humour and piercing sadness. If you have followed Helen’s work at all, you will probably have seen many of the works in this survey which covers some of her significant pieces from the last 15 years but every one of them demands another look especially the installation of babies bonnets made for an exhibition about infanticide, which is as heartbreaking now as it was the first time I saw it.

Helen has steel in her. All her work, even the most cushiony, blanket wrapped shape shows the illusory softness of women, a shrouded power, an adamantine core. Looking at her careful stitches I see my grandmother calmly walking for help with a sewing machine needle straight through her finger, I remember the time I hand sewed my bridal veil and pricking myself, stained the white silk with blood and tears. I look at her rescues of patchwork lino and see bright blooms of razor cuts, spills of broken dishes, sweepings of hair and dust and I shiver and think this is how you tell dark stories, with pretty curlicued, Once Upon A Time beginnings.

Most people who know us here at Castledine and Castledine know of our Sell-Art-Buy-Art policy. We instituted this many years ago as a way to pay back the universe for good fortune and to keep at least a little bit of money circulating in the art world. Having had my Cathedral recently acquired by Mandorla Art Collection I was ready to look for a new work and, discovering that Helen was selling her installations in very affordable individual pieces, we decided that we would acquire a couple. I originally looked at the babies bonnets but the very act of choosing seemed to me such a terrible thing to do that I couldn’t bring myself to separate any of them from the safety of their group. While I perfectly understand why Helen would offer them for sale individually, allowing people of limited means or space to purchase something, I have to hope that this important piece is bought as a whole and placed into a permanent collection. In the end we chose two of her Stakeholder works, which we know we can fit into a slim corner of our overcrowded collection.

The title of this exhibition chimes such lovely chords for those of us who spent our childhoods being driven down the southern highways, kicking the backs of car seats and trying to make sense of where we were in the world, so I absolutely recommend that you stop in at BRAG on your way through Bunbury if you are heading down south in the next little while. I also would recommend that if you are not heading down south for a holiday you make the two hour trip to Bunbury just to see this exhibition, have a nice lunch and leisurely drive home again, thoughtful and inspired.

Are We There Yet, Helen? Yes we are!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exhibition is on at The Bunbury Regional Art Gallery until the 26thAugust 2018

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FineArtFriday – MJAC and MAC

FineArtFriday did a little visit to MJAC and MAC today to visit all the shows that opened on Fridays when I had to be elsewhere. At the Midland Junction Art Centre there is a very beautiful collection of portraits by Julie Dowling which really must be visited. The text describes the exhibition as “actively decolonising” in that it is a reclamation of culture and language but decolonisation seems to me to reference either a withdrawal or a pushing back and this room of faces demands neither of these. Instead this powerful collection shows a gentle firmness and a recognisable standing of ground. From rows of tiny miniature faces looking out with quiet strength from circlets of coloured dots and rays of golden light, to larger portraits of individuals or couples waiting to catch your eye to begin a conversation, this exhibition is a visual welcome to country in a very real sense. A welcome to place (both to the land of the Badimaya in the mid-west of WA and the Noongar land on which the gallery stands) a welcome to homes and a welcome to stories Wiru is an invitation that you simply cannot resist.

Wiru can be seen at the Midland Junction Art Centre West Gallery until the 29th of June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the adjoining gallery, Specimens is a joyful swarm of insects, crawling, flying and scuttling across the walls in a profusion of colour. Artist Tim Maley would like you to feel happy when you look at his works and we were certainly ready to oblige.

Specimens can be seen at the Midland Junction Art Centre East Gallery until the 29th of June

 

 

Up the hill in a straight line (MJAC and MAC are on opposite sides of the same road, just 15 minutes apart) the Mundaring Arts Centre is taking you on a nostalgic tour of superb images from the fifties, sixties and seventies by the remarkable photographer Richard Woldendorp. These black and white images, selected from a collection of vintage prints carefully catalogued by his wife Lyn, are poignant, intriguing, and often breathtakingly beautiful. In particular his portraits of the artists as young men; Robert Juniper, Guy Grey Smith, Brian Mckay, Wim Boissevain et al, are arresting. They bring to mind some slightly less gothic version of The Picture of Dorian Grey where you may sell your soul for immortality but you would pay the price of old age and death for youth, beauty and vitality to live on in your work.

Woldendorp a  Black and White Retrospective can be seen at Mundaring Art Centre until 15th July

Lyn Woldendorp in front of a portrait of the photographer as a young man.

Stephanie Reisch is the current artist in residence in gallery 2 but she was not in residence when we were there.  Some of her very interesting work is on display but with the promise of her animating spirit to spark it into life, we decided to return when she was in to enjoy it properly.

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Fine Art Friday: The Mandorla Art Award 2018 Winner – God is in the House

 

So Fine Art Friday got a little derailed this week with a surfeit of fine art and the distraction of a significant honour. It was such a busy week with three openings to attend on three consecutive days but I will concentrate on the biggest one as it did eclipse the others momentarily.

The Mandorla Art Award is described as Australia’s most significant thematic Christian art prize. It has been in existence since 1985, for a while annual and then settling comfortably into a biannual rhythm in later years. I have been aware of the award since its beginnings as my mother, a strong catholic and talented artist, entered several times. Over the years I have often read the theme and thought about entering but never had exactly the right inspiration until this year.

The thing about themed exhibitions is that it is not actually that hard to shoehorn your current creative ideas into a chosen theme but for me, this particular theme chimed with such a clear ringing note, harmonising so perfectly with the concepts I had been playing with that I could not ignore it.

And I was excited about the work. Combining new techniques and some hitting and missing trials and errors, which are the satisfyingly difficult part of being a maker, the piece began to take shape, filling me with a joyous kind of awe. Artists reading this will know that feeling, elusive and fleeting as it is, of producing something important and worthwhile.

But having said all that, I have made other pieces that gave me that feeling but that weren’t publicly acclaimed or financially rewarding in the way that God is in the House has been. And this is the important thing, the difference between winning and not winning (I definitely don’t say winning and losing because you don’t lose an art prize) is not always in the work. In my acceptance speech which was fairly incoherent but mercifully short, I did manage to quote Billy Joel “Its either sadness or euphoria”. The life of an artist can be, if you are not careful, a constant, nausea inducing roll through peaks and troughs and that is no way to live. So if I say you can’t take it personally when you don’t win, then you definitely can’t take it personally when you do.

In the aftermath of big announcements of significant art prizes I have found there is no difference between celebration and consolation. Both involve a drink and a meal with close friends and family, love and support and laughter and a determination to get up in the morning and get back to work.

I would like to thank everyone involved with the 2018 Mandorla Art Awards, from committee, gallery and curator to sponsors and judges and most especially to all the artists, for their hard work, their kind words, their joy and generosity.

“And then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:1-2).

 

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Fine Art Friday – Recinder by Nigel Hewitt

Once again it is Fine Art Friday (although it is fine art pretty much every day of the week at Castledine and Castledine!) and I want to chat about Nigel Hewitt’s exhibition Recinder at Gallery Central in Aberdeen Street Northbridge.

Anyone who has followed Nigel Hewitt’s work over the decades will know he is drawn to a particularly muted palette and it seems, looking at this work almost inevitable that he would eventually fall into ash. Such a concentration of carbon it ranges from all colours white to no colour black and every grey shading in between and in Hewitt’s skilled hands seems to be all you would need to express yourself.

Hewitt has been working with ash since the ember of the idea came to him while viewing the bushfire landscapes of Tasmania He uses the ash in two ways, mixing it and applying it as you would any paint or colour medium and then finding mechanical ways to precisely pour tiny heaps to produce pixelated images that close up resemble the slag hills and waste dumps of some tiny but relentless industry. The pixelated works are astonishing in their preciseness and fragility but the resulting matrix of canvases felt to me a little soulless. From afar, and the gallery is well chosen to allow you to step far enough back from the work to make sense of the image, the mechanical nature of the process seems more apparent rather than less, they become somehow more textile than anything else, like a photograph rendered in wool. Not that this made them any less interesting and in an exhibition purely of these works, where you are not distracted by the other techniques you would give in to the idea and enthusiastically follow along on this exploration.

Most of the other works fall into two categories, the first being landscapes rendered entirely in ash and secondly those where Hewitt has given in to an impulse to add paint to the piece. Of these two I was completely seduced by the pure ash paintings, they are sombre and deep and captivating. Of the others I was only drawn to one where the colour was integrated subtly into the plants in the foreground. The others, which feature easels holding representations of famous Australian landscape paintings, I found less successful. The idea seemed too twee, too obvious and the coloured sections while not exactly dominating the composition were more like a smudge on your glasses, something that stopped you from really seeing the work clearly. I would have preferred the artist left the easel holding the Heysen or McCubbin in the text of a didactic panel and let the viewer imagine the relationship between the subject, the style and the medium while being wholly absorbed by the monochrome panels. That said, his painted works and sections in wax and oils are skillful and while still using his trademark muted colours manage to sing like a bright new leaf in a burnt forest.

This is an important exhibition, impressive in its scale, mastery of technique and its heart and I recommend you get in to see it before it concludes on the 19thof May.

Mikaela Castledine

 

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Come to Grief

I can’t bear to watch the footage of the beached whales in Augusta, it is so incredibly sad. I wrote this poem  in April 2016 after seeing the following photo on the internet but it is still appropriate.  I haven’t yet discovered the photo credit but will add it when I find it.

M

Come to Grief

 

Sorrowful the shape of whales

sidelying on the sand

bulkhead of their nosing drydocked

narrow toothful jaws agape

exhaled fishy as the deep can be

 

A little eye closed in resignation

at the insistence of gravity and the friction of sand

at the terrible weight of air

 

Lungs compressed heart outlasted

your tailtwisted unseemly

your lovely inconsolable grey

your relinquishing breath

 

You have come to grief

like we all come to grief

head on swimming hard and heaving

tears and ambergris and resonating songs

all washed  upon

the unreflecting earth

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A little sea bathing would set me up for ever…

It is about to be March and it is time to head down to the beach to marvel at the art at the fabulous petting zoo of sculpture that is Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2018. My work this year is an installation of 15 feral cats.

Cats around the world and across time have been deified, mummified, demonised, cosseted, commodified, eaten, encouraged, hunted, hated and loved. All these attributes are given to them by humans but the cats themselves don’t change, they just go about being cats. In reality there is very little difference between your beloved pet cat and a feral cat – beyond its address.  In this installation I tried to make cats that illustrated our idea of a feral cat – dark, dangerous, oversized and slightly misshapen like a sort of Frankenstein identikit of a bad animal. Despite this the viewers tend to liken them to their own cats and indeed, if you click your tongue and wriggle your fingers it is entirely possible that they may come to you for a scratch.

Also while you are visiting the outdoor sculptures don’t forget to go into the Sculpture Inside marquee where you will find a marvellous collection of small works. I will be showing my series of mummified cats called Hatab.

Hatab is an Arabic word meaning firewood. It references an apocryphal story about explorers digging up the ancient tombs in Egypt and on finding tens of thousands of mummified cats decided to burn them for firewood. That human beings would think it a good idea to breed cats to mummify them and sell them for funerals is bizarre, that other humans would find these objects 5000 years later and decide they might as well burn them is all too predictable.

Hatab

For more information on my work and art practice here is a nice article all ready for you to read. http://www.seesawmag.com.au/news/of-cats-and-crows/

 

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Biennale on film

My visit to the Venice Biennale 2017

So (or allora as they say here in Venice) there is barely a pavilion in the Giardini which isn’t showing a video of some description. Some are explanatory and accompany the art, which is fine, but so much of it is the art and that’s when I start getting twitchy. Sorry to all my artist friends who make video installations but they do not engage me in any way, clearly I am missing something and may indeed be a Philistine but you probably shouldn’t read any further. I have no problem watching television or going to the cinema so I am not sure why I find this medium so devoid of interest and I have been spending some time trying to puzzle it out.

I was thinking that when a film is made of a book it always becomes one (or maybe several) person’s vision of that book. You as the viewer are saved the trouble of taking in the words and imagining the world that is being conjured up. In this way is video art an easy option? Is it art for the masses, the bored, the lazy? Is it doing all the work for you? I’m not sure it is because they are so often difficult, repetitious and confounding.

One pavilion, I have not bothered to remember which, has changing faces of people reciting the word apologise, apologise in different pitches – I don’t find this clever or even interesting and if it is significant and meaningful then it passed me by. Is it that I am too clever and resent having the work of thinking done for me or am I not clever enough to get it? I know that films can be moving and inspirational but perhaps that is because of the story and art videos are maybe not about story in that explicit way.

This afternoon over an alarmingly orange and slightly bitter Aperol spritz I conjectured that it might be about place. I have flown thousands of miles to walk into a space to experience an artist’s creative vision and a video immediately takes me elsewhere. A film, unless it is filming me interacting with the work in the space is absolutely not present – it is aggressively elsewhere and maybe the point of art should be to be present, to have the viewer experience it in a very real way. I could watch any of these videos at home in my lounge room with my Aperol spritz made just how I like it to pretty much the same effect.

France’s pavilion has been transformed into a music studio, all wood and sound deadening panels with instruments strewn about (and, while I was there, no performers) The walls were not the only thing baffling. Denmark has a performance work about darkness which has you sit in complete blackness (and then some not very illuminating light displays) while three women’s voices narrate or recite some very trite nonsense about darkness and light for 30 minutes and I think there was a talking seed. Poetry! I can sit in the dark and listen to poetry for hours but not at an art fair and not if it is not good poetry. Germany has a performance piece below a clear floor with the audience above which I have yet to brave the queue for so I am not sure if it is dance or theatre or a little from column A and a little from column B. It is supposed to be really good but that is not my actual point. Egypt has built a mud brick facade inside which they are showing a film on five screens. Poland is showing an impenetrable slo-mo film in a blacked out room so dark that everyone entering falls over the foot high platform on which the seating is arranged – now if they were filming that and replaying it on the screen that would have been something. Art people! I want art! I don’t want your solemn, performative, experiential, interpretive dance with your constantly depressing falling cadences and atonal music.

I would be more than happy to watch any of these works at, lets say, The Venice Film Festival, The Venice international Contemporary Music Festival, The Venice International Theatre Festival, or the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Dance (except I don’t think many of them would make the cut) but until it is ok for me to show sculptures or paintings at any of these other affairs I think they should be restricted severely at the ART Biennale and visual artists should be able to show up and make art and have the audience interpret it in their own heads without a fucking screen!

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