Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Work in the Art Gallery of Ballarat

My work Nascent (part of the Nanocosm series) is currently on display in the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

More about the work at

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Incoherently Massiver

(More incoherently massive, incoherently more massive?) A few days ago I returned to the Triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria. This time I saw the larger-scale works on the ground floor, "larger-scale" being the distinguishing feature. The largest of all is the enormous reclining Buddha by Xu Zhen that dominates the forecourt, but there were a considerable number of other works that each took up a sizeable room. Perhaps the most impressive for me was the sinister mass of the work by Shilpa Gupta (not given a title), which was a roughly spherical shape some four metres across, the outside covered with microphones, placed in a dark room. There were evidently speakers inside the mass, as there was sound, a mixture of crowds talking, music, and other noises. The work was conceived as a meditation on borders and flows of refugees, referring in particular to the separation of Pakistan from Gupta's native India in 1947.

Detail of Shilpa Gupta's work
Another work that appealed to me was the large grouping of extraordinary masks under the title "Vespers" by Neri Oxman, who directs the Mediated Matter group in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The works were made using newly developed 3D printing techniques. They were also very effectively lit, each plinth having small lights pointing upwards; there were also narrow-beam spotlights in the ceiling.

From the "Vespers" series by Neri Oxman

Cross-cultural exuberance was provided by the Javanese artist Uji (Hahan) Handoko Eko Saputro, whose work combines traditional Javanese images with pop-culture styles. Another exuberant work was by the American artist Pae White, who strung a room with brightly coloured threads as well as decorating the walls in bold patterns; and a third was the "Flower Obsession" room by well-known Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. On entry to this we were given a paper flower with an adhesive base, and asked to add it somewhere in the room. A contrast was the too-cool-for-school array of chairs by the Japanese designer Aki Sato, from Nendo Design. It is claimed that the chairs were inspired by the visual gestures found in manga comics.

One of the works inn the installation by Uji (Hahan) Handoko Eko Saputro

Part of Pae White's room

Yayoi Kusama's "Flower Obsession" (part)

One of Aki Sato's chairs

Another Japanese work was "Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement" by teamLab from Tokyo. This was a swirling vortex-like projection on the floor of a room with mirrored walls; the centre area of the projection was responsive to the movements of people nearby.  Then there was the selfie heaven of "Santa Cruz River" by Alexandra Kehayoglu (Argentina); an unfair description, as the work has a serious purpose, being based on a threatened ecosystem.

 teamLab's swirling floor

Alexandra Kehayoglu's "Santa Cruz River"

The last of the room-sized installations I'll mention is "Noss Noss", the treatment of the downstairs café in the NGV by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj. The main element is repeated red octagons containing an Arabic word. On this visit I found out what the word means: it is "stop" in Arabic; the octagons are Arabic stop signs.

The floor of the café (Hassan Hajjaj)
I'll close by mentioning a work that does not take up a whole room by itself, though it does occupy three large panels: "Sump System" by Hong Kong/Australian artist Richard Giblett. This is a detailed drawing of a semi-abstracted industrial landscape, the whole appearing to be reflected in some black liquid like sump oil, the "sump" of the title; it refers to the invisible dark underside of our society of profligate consumption. I assume this work was inspired in part by British artist Richard Wilson's work "20:50", which consisted of an actual lake of sump oil in a room; I saw it in London some years ago and the oil did act as a very effective (and spooky) black mirror.

Detail of Richard Giblett's "Sump System"

My tentative opinion of the Triennial from my last visit has been confirmed: there is a lot of interesting and varied work, but there seemed to be no particular reason for bringing together these works at this time, except maybe Instagrammability.

Monday, February 5, 2018

To Edition or Not to Edition?

When I started making digital prints I hesitated for some time about whether the prints should be in limited editions. I found that galleries are only interested in limited editions, so from a practical standpoint that answered the question, full stop.
From one point of view the idea of a limited edition digital print is silly. With a traditional technique such as engraving on copper, the plate is relatively soft and prints gradually decrease in quality as the plate becomes worn. Thus in the traditional practice different prints from the same plate vary in quality, and there is a natural limit to the number of prints produced. If prints beyond this number are wanted, it is necessary for someone (likely not the original artist) to rework the plate, going over it with an engraving tool to sharpen up the lines. This may be seen as lessening the contribution of the original artist, so prints from the reworked plate probably don't have the same authority or value as those from its original state.

With digital prints there is no plate to wear out, the source being a computer file in a format like TIFF. Prints from the same file can still vary, according to the choice of paper and inks, the quality of the printing equipment and the ability of the person doing the printing to get the best out of the machinery. But this has nothing to do with edition numbers.

So, why limit edition numbers? The artist Marius Watz, well-known for working with computer code, has said in part:

"The simple answer is because there is no market for unlimited copies … the argument that limited copies imbue the object with perceived value might be uncomfortable to accept, but it's hard to refute. To sell to collectors … it is necessary to build a personal connection between the collector, artist and artwork. Scarcity is simply a shortcut to achieving this goal, however illusory."


So, that gives two reasons for making limited editions: they use scarcity to impart perceived value, and they give the chance of a personal connection, especially with smaller edition numbers. I accept these reasons, but there is something else as well. For me, having a limited edition gives a sense of boundary or closure to a project, and I want that. I'm not sure what I'm feeling here. It has something to do with the physical presence of the print once it has been made, an artefact that can be quite imposing and requires respectful handling. No doubt this is linked to the "aura" of the unique work of art, but that is a topic for another time.