Author Archives: Chloé Wolifson

About Chloé Wolifson

Chloé Wolifson is an independent arts writer and curator based in Sydney, Australia.

Patriotism, patriarchy and politics: 2015 feminism in context

Art Monthly produced a cracker summer feminism-themed issue, guest edited by Dr Susan Best and Louise Mayhew. The issue includes pieces on  feminist curatorial practice, activist art and queer art, as well as a centrefold with a difference – Mayhew’s timeline of women’s art collectives in Australia.

Writing a feminism-focussed round-up of the year in Australian art gave me pause for thought about the nation’s attitude to women more generally, particularly in light of 2015’s political goings-on. While it was a relief to leave behind Tony Abbott, Minister for Women, Turnbull’s respect-for-women rhetoric seems at this point to be mostly just lip service to the issue.

Just as citizens have reclaimed phrases such as ‘Destroy the Joint‘ and ‘Binders full of Women‘ in recent times, Peter Dutton’s ‘Mad f***ing witch‘ comment has similarly energised people in 2016. It will be interesting to revisit this issue in 12 months’ time and see if and how we have evolved.

 

Interview with Francis Upritchard

Journal of Australian Ceramics

 

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing the wonderful New Zealand-born, London-based artist Francis Upritchard for The Journal of Australian Ceramics. This issue, themed around colour, was guest-edited by Sydney artist Madeleine Preston.

It was great chatting with Francis and learning about the handmade pottery that surrounded her growing up, her accidental foray into a ceramics practice, and her current work breaking down boundaries between art, craft and design. Why are people unwilling to pay as much for a bowl as a painting?

The issue profiles many fantastic artists working in ceramics, including the excellent Apprentice Welder works by Yasmin Smith (written about by my Runway colleague Miriam Kelly). The cover stars are Lynda Draper and David Ray, whose works signify the playful, colourful tendencies in ceramics as it is currently being employed in contemporary art practice.

You can buy the issue in digital or hard copy, here.

ANIMAL/MINERAL/PHYSICAL/SPIRITUAL

I have curated an exhibition at Redfern bar and creative space The Bearded Tit, opening this evening (Monday, 31 August) from 6-8pm. The exhibition will continue until 10 October.  

Taking lyrics from the Joan Armatrading song Drop the pilot as a jumping-off point, ANIMAL/MINERAL/PHYSICAL/SPIRITUAL is an investigation of work which reinterprets, celebrates or fetishises found, organic and man-made materials and imagery through recontextualisation, accumulation and arrangement. The exhibition is an extension of the Bearded Tit’s cabinet-of-curiosities vibe. The totemic possibilities of these works will potentially manifest in new and exciting ways when experienced within the Tit’s unique atmosphere.

The exhibition includes works on paper, sculpture, installation and video work by Rebecca Gallo, Sarah Goffman, Lisa Sammut, and Lotte Schwerdtfeger in collaboration with Louise Meuwissen.

I hope Sydneysiders and visitors are able to visit the exhibition either for this evening’s celebrations or at some point over the next six weeks.

That was so RAVEN.

The first regular writing gig I managed to wrangle once I’d made the leap into freelance life in late 2013, was with RAVEN Contemporary. I, along with a slew of great writers worked initially under Georgia Sholl and subsequent editor Rebecca Gallo to produce reviews, gallery guides and opinion pieces exploring the world of contemporary art in an accessible way.

RAVEN, published by 10 Group, was wound up at the end of June this year but has been archived so that its content can continue to be available for interested readers. If you haven’t explored it before (or even if you have), take the time to bookmark the new url and check out some of my recent highlights from some of RAVEN’s great writers:

MONA, Marina and DARK MOFO – Rebecca Gallo
The art islands of Japan – Sharne Wolff
Cementing a friendship in Kandos – Rebecca Gallo
On this site: A celebration of difference – Kate Britton

I’ll miss writing for RAVEN, particularly the things I learned interviewing artists, researching galleries, and having the opportunity to cover Singapore Art Week. The experience had a profound impact on my development as an arts writer for which I’m very grateful.

The archive of the more than 20 pieces I wrote for RAVEN can be found here.

10 reasons to visit an art gallery, IRL

Hey, you. You’ve been to a few art galleries over the years. Some exhibitions you enjoyed, and some you didn’t. But they stayed with you, and made you think. Maybe it’s been a while and you’ve forgotten that buzz. You put exhibitions on your to-do list, only to have them slip by like the ghost of good time management past. Endless Instagram scrolling has made you forget what it’s like to experience art in the flesh. Well, it’s time to get back in the game. Here’s 10 reasons to visit an art gallery.

George Shaw 'Free Fern' 2015, installation view, Redfern Biennale, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

George Shaw ‘Free Fern’ 2015, installation view, Redfern Biennale, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

10. The best things in life are free
When the crumbs on your keyboard have been there so long they have become sentient and begun to develop social structures, it’s time to close the laptop and get out of the house. ‘But going outside is expensive,’ I hear you cry. Fear not, frugal friend. Life is not all pricey popcorn deals and nightmare half-yearly clearances. With the exception of the odd major blockbuster show at the big museums, looking at art is gloriously gratis.

Pipilotti Rist 'Mercy Garden Retour Skin' 2014, installation view, Biennale of Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Pipilotti Rist ‘Mercy Garden Retour Skin’ 2014, installation view, Biennale of Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

9. You had me at hello, let’s check out an art show
Take the pressure off a first date by heading to an exhibition opening. You’ll be surrounded by other people, there is complementary alcohol on hand, and chatting about the art (whether it’s awesome or terrible) is a great icebreaker. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be more stimulating than shuffling along in front of the Mad Mex counter, or happy hour at your local.

Ronnie van Hout, 'Dave' 2014, installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Ronnie van Hout, ‘Dave’ 2014, installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

8. Flying solo
No date? No plans? No worries. Get dressed up, get out of the house, and get thee to a gallery. If you’re feeling social, strike up a conversation with the person next to you about the art. It’s great networking practice for the introverted, and an ideal outlet for the chatty and opinionated.

Exhibition opening at Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney, 2014. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Exhibition opening at Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney, 2014. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

7. Eight days of the week
At any given moment, somewhere in the world, someone is smashing a bag of ice on the floor, tipping it into a bucket of stubbies, and throwing open the doors to an exhibition opening. If you live within cooee of a metro area, this means unlimited mid-week evening entertainment options. Get on the mailing lists, get out there and leave the binge-watching behind.

Carla Cescon, 'Policy for Inclusive Social Solutions' 2014 (detail). Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Carla Cescon, ‘Policy for Inclusive Social Solutions’ 2014 (detail). Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

6. Cool and the gang
At some point, you will need to find something to talk to your friends about other than Game of Thrones. Before you ask, Better Call Saul doesn’t count. Broaden your horizons, baby! Impress your pals with tales of the weird and wonderful art you’ve seen – and ask them to join you next time.

Jodie Whalen, 'Snails' 2014, installation view, Artereal Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Jodie Whalen, ‘Snails’ 2014, installation view, Artereal Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

5. The slow gift movement
Thanks to mass production and online shopping, there are no original ideas in the gift-giving game anymore – except art. Everybody wins when you give art – the artist can keep working, the gallery can keep their doors open, your friend gets a truly original present, and you get a promotion in the friend stakes. Don’t stop there, turn the tables! Start dropping hints now in advance of your next birthday.

Noel McKenna 'Palm Springs Putting Green at Waterloo' 2014 installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Noel McKenna ‘Palm Springs Putting Green at Waterloo’ 2014 installation view, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

4. Open your mind
Artists are influenced by everything under the sun, from science to philosophy to sport to the internet. They find interesting, exciting and strange new ways of looking at and thinking about the world, and their work can cause you to do the same. If you’re experiencing a mental block, there’s no better way to shake things up than to check out some art.

Archie Moore 'Les Eaux d'Amoore' 2014, installation view, The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Archie Moore ‘Les Eaux d’Amoore’ 2014, installation view, The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

3. In the flesh
Instagram is a great way to find out what’s going on, and gallery websites are fantastic resources to learn about artists, but it’s not how art is intended to be experienced. Scale, dimension, colour, light, sound, and movement can’t be replicated through a screen, or even a catalogue. Not to mention missing out on a discussion with your friend about the show, or that funny snippet of art-speak you overheard on the other side of the room.

Tully Arnot, 'Meadow (IRL)' 2015, installation view, Artereal Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Tully Arnot, ‘Meadow (IRL)’ 2015, installation view, Artereal Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

2. Act local
Do you like your neighbourhood vibrant, with friendly residents and businesses that support each other? If you answered no to the above, then I believe the internet may be able to provide you with all you need in life. Otherwise, find out where your local galleries are, get on their mailing lists, drop in regularly, and tell your friends and neighbours. Community is organic, like those overpriced vegies that go off quickly.

Hidemi Tokutake, installation view, 2015. Home at 735 Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Hidemi Tokutake, installation view, 2015. Home at 735 Gallery, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

1. Heal your soul [insert foot pun here]
Like a lot of people, I spend a fair amount of time staring at a computer screen, out a bus window, or at the footpath. Thanks to art, in just the past few weeks I’ve also seen huge welded steel sculptures made by a 99-year-old; painstaking Indian miniatures in a re-purposed suburban building; a metal box turned into an interactive sound generator with the use of magnets; drawings made with wire mesh; video works featuring clones; and deliciously gestural abstract paintings. Art surprises, confuses, delights, makes you think, makes you squirm, and asks questions that can’t be answered by googling Wikipedia. It makes the brain better and the soul bigger. I don’t know what I’d do without it, and that’s why I keep going to galleries. What about you?

The Structure of Creative Practice

Garry Trinh, Super Sized Hamburger. Image courtesy the artist

Garry Trinh, Super Sized Hamburger. Image courtesy the artist

This year I’m organising a series of panel discussions at the University of Sydney’s Verge Gallery. Under the umbrella title The Wandering Mind: Creativity and Lifelong Learning, I hope to interrogate some of this town’s best and brightest about their approaches to creative problem solving.

Things are kicking off on Wednesday 27 May at 6pm with The Structure of Creative Practice.  I’ve always been intrigued by how all these talented people I know manage to do creative work without sending their creative instinct off the rails. Now, I get to put them on a stage and make them tell me!

I’ll be joined by writer & producer Kate Britton, and artists Emily Hunt and Garry Trinh. It should be a fantastic evening – if you’re in town, please come along and join the discussion. You can register here –  it’s free (and part of Vivid Ideas, to boot)!

Arts, sport and the Australian media: a vignette

Today I found myself watching a replay on ABC News 24 of Simon Mordant’s National Press Club Address. Mordant was discussing the new Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the fundraising for which was spearheaded by Mordant and his wife Catriona.

‘I’d like to see Cate Blanchett & Fiona Hall given ticker-tape parades through the city, the way we do for sportspeople,’ he said. The audience laughed, a telling reaction – Mordant’s proposal seems logical yet profoundly unlikely.

At one point a journalist posed a question to Mordant about the declining media landscape in Australia, and the lack of coverage for the arts. In a profoundly ironic move, ABC News 24 chose the moment of Mordant’s answer to this question to cut into the replay in order to cross to a live press conference held by the National Rugby League, regarding hoon spectators throwing bottles during a football game the night before.

Unfortunately I’m not expecting to see Fiona Hall driven down George St in a cloud of confetti any time soon.

Is there an art scene in Singapore?

Visitors at Art Stage Singapore, 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Visitors at Art Stage Singapore, 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

It might be a provocative question, but not an unwarranted one. The Australian art world (like our country in general) has strong ties with Asia. Hong Kong and China have booming art markets and Indonesia is becoming an increasingly popular destination for emerging artists to undertake residencies. So what’s going on in the tiny island state of Singapore?

In late January this year, as Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations kicked off, I headed to Singapore Art Week 2015 to find out. The week was centred on Art Stage Singapore. Art Stage founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf was formerly head of art fair giant Art Basel. Clearly Rudolf has high hopes for Art Stage, which he is marketing as the fair for Asian art – distinguishing it from the more internationally-focussed Art Basel Hong Kong.

A waiter serves drinks at the Vernissage of Art Stage Singapore 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

A waiter serves drinks at the Vernissage of Art Stage Singapore 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

The fair featured a curated mini-exhibition of the work of emerging South-East Asian artists, as well as Special Exhibitions focussing on Malaysia, Korea, Russia, Modernism and Video respectively. On paper this seemed like a motley assortment and in reality that proved true. Video Stage was exceptional (see the links below to read my thoughts on that), and the Malaysian hang elicited some interesting work. The Russian exhibition, on the other hand, was a solo presentation of established collaborators AES+F, whose huge, slick video works are widely exhibited. Art Stage’s desire that the exhibition introduced “video art from Russia’s emerging contemporary scene” seemed far-fetched. Meanwhile, the Special Exhibition of Modern Art, a solo retrospective of French painter André Masson, while extensive, did little to provide an historical context that would have been most welcome in a burgeoning market of new collectors. To be fair, Art Stage have said that the Masson show was the first step in developing a strong Modern section at Art Stage, which will include “Asian Modern.” Here’s hoping this does indeed take place in subsequent iterations of the fair, as it would be great to see historical work of more contextual relevance.

Gilbert & George's exhibition Utopian Pictures at ARNDT, Gillman Barracks, Singapore, January 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Gilbert & George’s exhibition Utopian Pictures at ARNDT, Gillman Barracks, Singapore, January 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Beyond the fair there was a plethora of other art-related events to be experienced city-wide. These ranged from the glitz of the Prudential Eye Awards at the ArtScience Museum, to the more toned-down rigour of the Signature Art Prize at the Singapore Art Museum, to the pulsing event Art At Night in the happening cultural hub of Gillman Barracks.

The crowd enjoying Art At Night at Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

The crowd enjoying Art At Night at Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

So, is there an art scene in Singapore? If Singapore Art Week is anything to go by, then absolutely. But with the eyes of the art world on the exponentially growing Asian art market, Art Stage Singapore will need to continue to work hard to live up to it’s slogan “We Are Asia.”

I wrote about my Singapore Art Week highlights for RAVEN, which you can read online. My account of the fair and the prizes is published in the March 20215 issue of Art Monthly Australia – on news stands now.

Cartonography

I was recently commissioned by Sydney artist Sean Rafferty to write an essay to accompany his Cartonography exhibition at Bondi Pavillion.

Rafferty collects and maps fruit and vegetable cartons and their origins, and the exhibition featured a comprehensive display of the collection to date, in order of latitude.

Rafferty also produced his own collectable Cartonographic print to coincide with the launch.

You can read the essay here.

Cartonography

Jess Bradford – Haw Par Villa at Archive Space

I recently participated in the Archive Space Writers Program, reviewing Jess Bradford‘s exhibition Haw Par Villa which ran 2 – 12 July 2014. Here is the resulting text.
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The cultural theme park of Haw Par Villa in Singapore was the subject of Jess Bradford’s recent exhibition at Archive Space. Originally conceived as a space of moral education for families, the internal narratives of the site have been subject to de- and re-construction, both physically and conceptually. Having visited there as a child, Bradford was prompted to return recently after discovering photographs of the site’s painted concrete sculptures in second hand stores. The exhibition Haw Par Villa saw the artist reconsider the park through an investigation of materiality and memory.

Just inside the gallery’s entrance was a wooden archway which Bradford had cut and painted to refer to the forms of the Villa itself. Weather-worn wave and cave formations were painterly rendered on the front of the structure, while on the reverse the artist had made no attempt to disguise its stand-in nature, securing the angular pieces of ply with the help of sandbags. Propped and propositional, this structure arched physically and metaphorically over the other works in the show, providing a portal through which the truths and fictions of representation could be considered.

Beyond the archway was a video piece depicting a walk through the villa through the eyes of a visitor. The footage began with a trip through a tunnel to the Haw Par Villa station. Filmed from the front of a driverless train, the perspective of this journey evoked the experience of a ghost train, pre-empting the theme park to come. A recording of a woman’s voice announced arrival at “Haw Par Villa” through a PA system, before the viewer was led through the gates of the park at a walking pace, to an accompanying ambient soundtrack. This sense of forward motion, combined with symmetrical one-point perspective, echoed the experience of walking through Bradford’s propped archway into Archive Space itself.

For several years now the artist has collected anonymous found photographs, and her recent practice has led to the recreation of these as objects intended to resonate beyond their pictorial surface. Two such photographs of the concrete figures in Haw Par Villa were incorporated into this exhibition in this way. The images, a bear seeming to attack a small child, and two mermaids, were painted in monochrome on small pieces of primed zinc. These were mounted within frames on the wall, making reference to their photographic origins, however once the viewer drew closer to examine the detail in these tiny objects, their presence beyond the fragility of paper became clear. The original photographer had transformed them from concrete to image, and Bradford had in turn translated this depiction to artefact, giving tangibility to someone else’s memories whilst adding to the compilation of images surrounding her own.

Re-encountering a place of childhood experience after so many years requires a reassessment of truth and reality. Disparate images can become worn away as concrete does when exposed to the elements, over which twisted memories form slowly, creeping and overtaking like lichen. Haw Par Villa interwove different modes and media to interrogate ideas of authorship, truth, representation and memory.

Jess Bradford