Art


Now that I live some distance south of the place where I spent most of my life, I find myself travelling a lot to visit friends & family and keep up with colleagues and contacts in the north. I sometimes fly, but if I have the time I like to take the drive. Driving is very relaxing for me – I get to chill out a bit, ruminate on the world and listen to all those podcasts for which I never seem to be able to find the time in my regular life.

Plus, I get to stop at truckstops for a bacon & egg roll and a chance to view the appalling, yet somehow grimly fascinating phenomenon which I call ‘Condom Art’

I don’t know if you ever see them anywhere other than truckstops (I never have) but the bathrooms always come equipped with a dispensing machine for condoms, and those machines are decorated with the most hideous advertising artwork known to humankind (and truly, that’s saying something).

Ah, the sexual vistas promised by those images: the Evening Magic of a desert island tryst or wild Rugged ‘n Ready adventures with a windblown gun-totin’ bikini clad cowgirl. I can’t help but envy the dashing lives of the truckers that buy these colourful super-studded latex wonders.

But brace yourselves! I’ve started off tame, dear friends, because the night is young.

Maybe a dusky native seductress peering from the pandanus is more your style? Or perhaps a rough ridin’ tousled biker chick with thigh boots? Whatever the choice, make sure you throw some ‘texture’ in there!

One thing I hadn’t known until I started paying attention to these artworks, is just how considerate truckers and travellers evidently are to their lady friends! It’s not just the ribbed condoms that your $2 will tempt from the machine: ‘Arouse her inner fire’ with ‘a ring of stimulating fingers’ promises Passion Plus! And prepare to be arrested for disturbing the peace if you use the Screamer (earplugs not included!). My goodness. I might have to sit down for a minute.

But my favourite by far has to be this:

No aspirational promises there – just a formidable medieval-looking device on a strident bilious yellow field. In yer face truckers! Ah, I am joyful with glee at all the wonderful things in this ad. First of all it’s called The Tingler, which immediately conjures up all kinds of confronting images.1 Then it has the advantage of being able to glow in the dark because… well then you won’t lose your way, right? And I don’t need to tell you that ‘Boldy glow where no man has glowed before’ is the very pinnacle of advertising slogan achievement, second only to ‘In space EVERYONE can hear a Screamer!’ (I seriously don’t know how they missed that one).

I am humbled in the face of genius.

  1. Good advice from William Castle there: “Don’t be alarmed – you can protect yourself!” []

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been creating a major new work, which I’m pleased to say is now completely finished – aside from one further process: a production run to render it to Bluray so I can make it available to the world. To this end, I’m holding a crowdfunding campaign over at Pozible. There are some really nice rewards involved (most of them including a copy of the final Bluray itself). If this is something you think you’d like, chip in and help me make it a physical object. Also feel free to copy the link on to friends & other interested parties. All help will be greatly appreciated!

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s science news pages are currently carrying a story about the discovery of a ‘rogue’ planet1 ‘wandering all alone through deep space without a host star’. As far as such stories go, it’s an interesting astronomy tidbit, evoking, in the words of Philippe Delorme from France’s Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics, a ‘striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space’.

The editors of the ABC science pages2, however, have taken the view that readers will not have the wits nor imagination to be able to conjure up the striking image for themselves, and so have helpfully provided an artist’s impression to help them along.3

I am not a big fan of the artist’s impression.

How much does this ‘impression’ tell you about the reality of the event in question? Would you say that it’s reasonable to expect that, should you be able to hop in a fast spaceship and fly off to planet CFBDSIR2149 (as it is catchily named), this artist’s impression would give you a vague idea of what you might see? This romantic milky sapphire marble swimming in a luminous sea of misty cerulean stars? Well, my friends, you’d be mightily disappointed. CFBDSIR2149 does not orbit any sun, and so does not reflect any light. In addition, it does not emit much, if any, visible light of its own either, being detected as it was by M. Delorme, via infrared radiation. The Wikipedia entry on CFBDSIR2149 has this to say:

In visible light the object is so cool that it would only shine dimly with a deep red colour when seen close-up.

All things considered, here is a better artist’s impression of what you might see should you ever be in the close proximity of CFBDSIR2149.

Yep. It’s never going to feature on the ’10 Most Visually Impressive Planets You Must Visit Before You Die’ list, that’s for sure.

So what use, actually, is this artist’s impression? It tells us nothing at all about the reality of CFBDSIR2149,4 substituting actual facts with a whole lot of visual speculation and even just plain old untruths. Why not paint a picture of the Death Star or a Borg Cube – ‘impressionistically’ speaking, either would be just as informative. Worse still, whatever mental image we might have formed of a darkened planetary body drifting forlornly across the unimaginable dark nothingness of the interstellar void is now indelibly replaced by the fantasy of an azure Xmas bauble that has no relation to anything.

Here is an artist’s impression of what I believe should be the fate of editors who indulge in artist’s impressions.5

  1. Is it just me, or does the term ‘rogue planet’ automatically conjure for anyone else Wagnerian-type music and sinister intentions? I mean, it’s not like it set out to storm the universe and take no prisoners. Why is it not simply an ‘orphan’ planet, or a ‘lost’ planet? What’s actually rogue about it? []
  2. Along with just about every other outlet carrying the story… []
  3. It is worth noting here that when the story first went up, the image was presented without the explanatory caption. []
  4. C’mon! Astronomers! Where are the days of imagination when planets had names? Are we to expect that if you were doing the solar system anew we’d be living on 3 and sending little rovers off to 4? How BORING is that? []
  5. Yes, I am aware of the recursive nature of what I did there. []

Violet Towne and I sometimes like to venture out on the weekend to one of the many places in Melbourne-and-surrounds where we might take in some of that magical stuff which is given the name ‘art’. One of our very favourite such venues, the TarraWarra Museum of Art is not even too far from where we live, and it was there we trundled last Saturday to experience their ‘Sonic Spheres’ exhibition, “an assemblage of contemporary Australian visual artworks engaged with music, sound and voice”.

TarraWarra, a privately funded public visual arts gallery, is one of the few of its kind in Australia, and is a purpose-built art museum situated among vineyards in the Yarra Valley. It’s a lovely place. It always maintains a high standard of exhibition and as is usual, our visit there provided an appropriately diverting & thoughtful hour or so. But I am not, Faithful Acowlytes, going to pontificate on art in this post, something for which I can sense palpable gratitude out there in Cowland.

No, what I want to talk about today is the survey which were handed upon our arrival at the gallery, and which we were asked to complete on our departure.

In my experience, surveys can be divided into two kinds:

1: Surveys where the point is to find out something useful.
2: Surveys where the point is to get a bunch of diffuse and obfuscated data that can be read in any way the surveyor chooses.

You know I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was the #1 variety that VT and I faced, pencils ready, at the end of our visit. I wish I’d snaffled a copy away for accuracy’s sake, because I will unfortunately have to go from memory as I attempt to draw you a picture of the confusion that beset me as I tried to answer as truthfully as I was asked.

The first portion of the survey annoyed the crap out of me because it was full of the kinds of questions that tried to stick me in a pigeonhole as a certain kind of person:

•Would you consider yourself the type of person who visits TarraWarra art museum?1

Thinks: Well, no. I got lost on the road, saw the sign that said ‘Art Gallery’ and thought I’d come in to see if glimpsing a Pollock might refresh my sense of direction.

•Do you like to be among the kinds of people who visit TarraWarra art museum.

Thinks: No! I wish they would jolly well stop those people from coming here, so me and my friends could come instead.

And so forth.

But then came the section that was the kind of thing that makes my Grumpy Old Man antennae start waving around like those of a grasshopper on acid:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person, would you say it was (check all that apply):

Charming

Entertaining

Outgoing

Interesting

Intelligent

Acowlytes, I was forced to scribble my incredulity on the page at this point. When the creators of a survey decide that by anthropomorphising an institution this will help reveal something useful about said institution, they’ve ventured well into cloud cuckoo land and thrown away their compass.2

The problem with even beginning to attempt to sensibly answer the questions posed above, is that you are on EXACT LOGICAL FOOTING with the following:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person (check all that apply):

Would you ask it out for a drink?

What colour eyes do you think it would have?

Should you give up your seat for it on a bus?

Do you think it would be appropriate dinner company for the Fire Station, the Public Library and the Chinese Restaurant?

It doesn’t matter how I try to frame it, I can’t see any possible way that any quantity of answers to this kind of question can provide data that might be helpful in making your art museum a better place – or even a controllably different place, for that matter. There is simply no sensible yardstick by which to measure things. Should the majority of respondents determine, for instance, that if the TarraWarra Art Museum was a person it would be charming and intelligent with a dash of insouciance, what the hell are you going to do with that information? Bash that damned insouciance out of it by removing the sand-blasted glass panels on the gift shop doors? If you thought TarraWarra-the-person was a little short on, oh, charisma, say, could you correct that by installing some crazy paving at the front entrance? You can, I trust, see my perplexity with this scenario.

And really, if you just can’t see your way around it, and you really must anthropomorphise your Art Museum, at the very least allow your respondents to have a creative personal say:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person:

Other (please use your own words, or make a drawing):

I imagine the TarraWarra Museum as a somewhat eccentric spinster with a penchant for French rosé. It has a good, if slightly peculiar, sense of humour and prefers chairs that face the window. It laughs a little too loudly and self-consciously at other people’s jokes, has a morbid fear of stick insects and visits a distant cousin in Ibiza every couple of years out of a misplaced sense of familial obligation.

At least reading the results of the survey would be entertaining. They might even make an amusing artwork.

  1. These questions were all couched in the wonderful ‘sliding scale’ terms that we are now so accustomed to seeing in these types of surveys, which only serves to cause me to want to unfailingly answer ambivalently in order to confuse the people trying to get some kind of useful result. If you’re asking a direct question, think about what that question should be, phrase it in a way that matters, and accept candid results. What is it with this confounded equivocating?! []
  2. Needless to say, the survey presented no check box options on this question for ‘Boring’ or ‘Irritating’ or Pretentious’ or ‘Eccentric’. You can see, I surmise, the inherent brainlessness of this pursuit. []

Over the weekend, Violet Towne and I visited the Monash Gallery of Art to see an exhibition of photographs by Anton Bruehl. Bruehl was born in Australia, but made his career in New York where he became a favourite of the advertising world, creating photographs for Vanity Fair, Vogue and other high profile magazines. I always thought Bruehl was quite famous, but am dismayed to find that he doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry. You will almost certainly have seen his iconic photograph of Marlene Dietrich:

I really like Bruehl’s highly contrived and art-directed style and I think it has gone on to inform artists as diverse as David Lynch and Pierre et Gilles. The highlight of this exhibition for me, though, was some work Bruehl did for Vanity Fair, photographing the ‘Fashions of the Future’: clothing visions from designer Gilbert Rhodes. This is Rhodes’ speculation for the Man of the Future:

And here is that very man in the flesh, as realised by Rhodes and capture on film by Bruehl:

Is that awesome or what? The best thing here is, of course, that Rhodes got hardly any of it right. Well, I guess there is still a good part of the century to go, but you know what I’m saying… I suppose there are disposable socks (those ones they give you on planes) and the ‘antenna snatching radio out of the ether’ could charitably be interpreted to be the one in your iPhone, but the curly beard and the baggy onesie tucked into those disposable socks have yet to materialize. As for the utility belt, well, even Batman had trouble making that seem like a good idea.

I quite took to the Man of the Future’s jaunty disregard for anyone’s opinion of his haute couture, but I was rather more enamored of Rhodes’ vision for the Woman of the Future:

Alright! Now we’re talking!

I’m afraid, however, that I was so overcome by the prospect of what we bearded, antenna-sporting, disposable sock-wearing blokes have to look forward to in the next few years that my hand was shaking rather a lot when I tried to snap a shot of Rhodes’ and Bruehl’s vision of said woman.

It seems that, for a year or two at least, chaps, we’ll just have to live in anticipation.


Toy Pr0n II

My good friend Nick Stathopoulos is exhibiting the second in his Toy Porn series – paintings of the toys we know and love from childhood. If you’re in Sydney, you should really go along and see them in the flesh… er… in the acrylic. I’ve seen some of the first series at firsthand: they are truly beautiful artworks.

July 26 – August 13
NG Art Gallery
Upper Level
3 Little Queen Street
Chippendale NSW 2008
Sydney Australia

ToyPron2 ToyPron2

The paintings are all for sale, but I hear they’re being snapped up fast. Damn you empty piggy bank!!!

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