I'm worse at what I do best

The new exhibition at Parramatta Artist Studios has been curated by Tom Polo, a Sydney-based artist. I’m worse at what I do best is an exhibition of ten Australian artists using text and humour to explore notions of success and failure, and in doing so express a corrosive anxiety about the human condition. The works contribute to a greater dialogue in the form of colloquialisms, statements and slogans - often laden with self-deprecation and irony, as a way of coping and relating to personal and social issues.

Simon Pericich, a Melbourne-based artist, exhibits an uprooted signpost on the floor of the gallery. At closer inspection the text on the street sign has been altered. It advises that: IN THE CIRUMSTANCE OF CIVIL UNREST THIS SIGN MAY BE USED AS A BATTERING RAM – IN THE MEANTIME TRY AND BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER. This object undermines the authority of the state and presents us with a playful interpretation of upheaval and its aftermath.

Another Melbourne-based artist, Anastasia Klose screens a video entitled ‘Film for my Nanna’. The artist is seen wearing a white wedding dress and walking through the streets of a city. She is holding a handwritten sign that reads ‘Nanna I’m still alone’. The video is accompanied by a melancholy, country-style, love song. She encounters people, some stare, some take photographs and others engage in conversation. At the end of the video the artist thanks her mother for buying her an ice cream and credits her for filming the work. The artist confronts the public by exposing her vulnerability. She becomes a spectacle and questions society’s aspirations and frustrations.

Andrew Frost presents a letter of complaint written about him and sent to his boss whilst employed as a library assistant. The letter is an enlarged Xerox copy pinned to the gallery wall. A member of the public is commenting on their recent ‘unpleasant dealings’ at the library and describes Frost as having a: ‘disagreeable attitude, lack of politeness and unwillingness to help’ and suggests that he be ‘retrained in customer service’ or removed. The artist provides us with evidence of his apathy towards the necessity of a day job. It highlights the tensions surrounding his role as an artist and his attempt to resist the need to conform.
A pocket-sized publication accompanies the exhibition with short stories written by Andrew Frost and inspired by the works included in the show. Andrew Frost is a writer, art critic, journalist, co-founder and editor of artlife.blogspot.com.

Grantpirrie - Todd McMillan

Ague 2009

In this work we witness the artist Todd McMillan's attempt to swim the English Channel between Dover and Calais. The artist presents a 3-channel video projection. In the first shot we see the artist standing on an isolated English beach wearing black swimming trunks and a yellow swimming cap. He reaches for a tub of Vaseline and applies the contents to his body. A railway line is visible and a train passes in the background and goes through a tunnel cut into the chalk cliffs of Dover. In the second shot he wades into the sea until he becomes totally immersed. As he swims he struggles against the waves and we become disorientated. Todd McMillan's work explores physical endurance and self determination by confronting nature at it's most powerful. He challenges himself by undertaking exercises in concentration and tests his will power to the point of exhaustion. These attempts suggest a transcendental experience. A third wide-shot provides a context of ships, ferries and boats crossing the horizon. A dull-grey, misty light appears to increase the poetic nature of the work, echoing an iconic and timeless challenge that has been attempted for decades.

Todd McMillan was the recipient of the Helen Lempriere Travel Scholarship in 2006.

Renew Newcastle

Renew Newcastle

Renew Newcastle is a low-budget, not-for-profit, DIY urban renewal scheme that brokers access to empty buildings for artists and cultural projects. It was set-up by Marcus Westbury in his hometown in 2008. Marcus Westbury is a broadcaster, writer, media maker and festival director. He was the writer and presenter of ‘Not Quite Art’ for ABC1 Australian television.

We travelled to Newcastle - a two hour drive north of Sydney - to meet the general manager of the project, Marni Jackson, who led us on a tour of the high street and showed us examples of retail units which had been lying dormant and unused and now functioning as creative spaces. The initiative welcomes creative projects that would run for a minimum of 6-months giving access to spaces that would ordinarily be left empty.

Newcastle is a former industrial town that has felt the impact of recession leading to companies pulling out of the area and moving away. Renew Newcastle aims to activate spaces and develop creative sustainable projects. Renew Newcastle agrees a 12-month contract with the property owner and acts as a broker for placing interested parties in suitable spaces. Peppercorn rent allows minimal financial risk for the new tenants. Renew Newcastle nurtures longer-term projects that promote participation and foster regeneration of the area. Along the high street we were shown evidence of the project’s success. Here are two examples:

Upcycling: run by Nick Nelson, a graphic designer who has recently begun to occupy a section of a former department store to showcase his design practice. He focuses on stocking a diverse range of sustainable and recycled art and design objects. He has designed the space to function as a workshop, gallery and bookshop. Nick commented on how he was appreciating this new way of working which allows him to interact with the public who come into his shop, in contrast to spending much of his time doing computer-based work.

"Renew Newcastle inspired me to have a crack at this interest of mine because it offers both a limited risk combined with huge potential. It works on so many levels; I get to follow an interest of mine, I have a physical place to display it, I have little to risk financially, I get to meet other like minded people, and I get to be a part of an innovative new way of promoting artistic and creative endeavors by way of free shop space in an otherwise run down area."

The shop has a simple and spacious layout with exposed breeze-block walls and a concrete floor. Design books were displayed on palettes and photographic prints hung on the walls.

Make Space: is a small co-operative workshop and artisan store - set up by five women - most of whom come from a market stall background. This is the first time that these women have had the opportunity to base themselves at a permanent address on the high street. Each member of the collective brings to the project their own particular skills and interests. They share the responsibility of running the shop by taking it in turn to manage the shop one day a week. This arrangement is practical enough to allow for other employment to support their individual practices. There is a workshop incorporated into the space which allows the women to continue their making processes whilst based in a retail environment.

Cockatoo Island : William Kentridge

I am not me, the horse is not mine, 2008

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour and a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. It functioned as a former prison and naval dockyard and retains many remnants of its convict history. Many of the buildings on the Island have been nominated for World Heritage listing. In 2008, Cockatoo was used as an art venue for the 16th Sydney Biennale. The South African artist William Kentridge sited his project in one of the industrial buildings.

Today, his work ‘I am not me, the horse is not mine’ has returned to the Island to be seen by those who wish to revisit the exhibition installed in it’s original location. The piece is based on the absurdist short story called The Nose (1837) by Nikolai Gogol. The eight-channel video work plays with the origins and fragmentation of modernism and its subsequent crushing in Russia in the 1930s. The video projections, which fill an entire room, include text, music, animation and shadow play.

runway ISSUE 14 FUTURES - launch event

The launch took place at Fraser Studios, a warehouse located in Chippendale and close to Central Station in Sydney. It is a non-profit creative development run by artists and provides studio space for 3-month residencies throughout the year.

runway is an independent Australian contemporary art magazine published quarterly. It is a not-for-profit publication managed by a group of Sydney-based artists, writers and curators. The magazine encourages artists to conceptualise new works and to creatively consider presenting their practice within the published medium. runway is edited by Jaki Middleton and is an open submission project inviting international proposals and is stocked by most art galleries and museums in Australia.

Darren Knight Gallery - Michael Stevenson

Introduccion a la Teoria de la Probabilidad 2008

This solo exhibition of work by Michael Stevenson was produced for the Panama Biennial in 2008. A video work is projected in the upstairs gallery space. The video presents a bird’s eye view of bundles of cards being sorted and dealt placed face-down concealing them in order to begin the playing of a game. A Spanish female voice-over narrates extracts from political biographies and other sources that provide details of encounters between Panama’s military leader, the exiled Shah of Iran and the U.S President Jimmy Carter during the late 1970’s, on the Island of Contadora, off the coast of Panama City. The individual’s are negotiating the treaty to hand back the Canal Zone to Panama.

The Spanish voice is translated into English subtitles. As these ‘interrelated histories are recounted’ the viewer is introduced to a series of mathematical probabilities demonstrated through the shuffling and dealing of the playing cards. The ‘probability of an event occuring’ and the likely outcomes are ‘expressed in mathematical equations’ according to the narrator. These personal histories are fragmented but ‘relative’ to the visual imagery which Michael Stevenson pieces together. In addition to the video, the artist produced a series of photographic works which presented additional research material for the project.