Friday, September 08, 2006

Homobhuddist, Queer Dharma - Poet John Giorno - You've Got to Burn to Shine - INTERVIEWS

Spoken word artist John Giorno’s most recent and most celebrated publication so far, You Got To Burn To Shine is more than an anthology title, it sums up an extraordinary life. Paul Andrew chats porn, poetry and pop with Dial-a-Poem visionary and ACCA guest John Giorno.

John Giorno is the elder statesmen of perpatetic poetry. His prosaic, pornographic and prurient poetry, poppy performances and publications have inspired five generations of poets and performers including the likes of Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Phillip Glass, Diamanda Galas, Laurie Andersen, Karen Finlay, Henry Rollins and Nick Cave.

Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma tradition has been the cornerstone of both Giorno's life and life’s work since the early 1970’s. As the title of his last book suggests, his life has included some measure of suffering. Life is suffering is a noble truth of Bhuddism, or as Giorno says, “suffering is great, it allows compassion, forgiveness and opens your heart, and keeps opening your heart”. The power of it’s ethos of emptiness has inspired him equally as much as the sphere of amphetamines, hallucinogens and reefer madness did in the make-love-not-war climate of the Post Kennedy 1960’s.

It was during this time that Giorno’s circle included pop artists, beat generation poets and writers and musicians who have since become household names including long time friends William Burroughs Brion Gysin, Allan Ginsberg and Andy Warhol.

In between airport lounges and public appearances on his latest international touring schedule including Midsumma's Rapid Fire Giorno is putting final touches to a new book of poetry, the eagerly awaited memoirs of the incendiary drug addled 1960’s called Everyone Gets Lighter. 

Giorno is renowned for his "collaborations" with gay icon Andy Warhol, in particular Warhol's 1963 film Sleep, in which Giorno is the star somnambulist. Giorno recounts modestly, “I knew these people before they were famous, for instance I met Andy Warhol during his first group exhibition in 1962. For Andy and many others being out and gay then was the kiss of death. I recently wrote a foreword for an exhibition of the many many gay drawings he did during the 1950’s which sold recently in London, only now have they come out, so to speak”.

Giorno laments, “Warhol was perceived as being too fey and his work too gay. Andy had rejection after rejection in the 1950’s and it wasn’t until he let go of his gay work and made those iconic portraits of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley that his life changed forever.”

On recounting his own young life and his watershed poem Pornographic Poem first published in 1965, “this was really my beginning” and “being gay in 1960’s New York was like walking Blind, there was no frame of reference no one to look too.” He adds, in fact, “it was the same with poetry and spoken word performance at the time, we were walking blind there as well.”

Giorno is here with his partner artist Ugo Rondinone for the Midsumma festivities and to perform his shiny new work The Wisdom of Witches at the Rapid-Fire event at ACCA. Giorno asserts triumphantly that “the last thirty years will be truly remembered as the golden age of poetry. The multitude of venues, publications, touring events and MTV and the Internet has never before existed in the history of poetry. Poetry is never just words it is performance.”

You Got to Burn to Shine (Serpents Tail, 1994)
Rapid Fire
29 January 2003 7 – 9.30pm
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

Photo: John Giorno, Dial a Poem

Where the Wild Things Are- INTERVIEWS

Where the Wild Things Are 

Paul Andrew gets the shivers from NGV Curator Maria Zagala about horror, fantasy and the diabolical throughout art history.

 Diabolical art in the age of reason could well be the alternative title for this very black and exquisite exhibition of witches, monsters, mephistoes, minotaurs, horny satyrs and devils. An extraordinary collection has seeped through from the dark labyrinths of the NGV’s hidden cache to rear it’s cornucopia of grotesque heads, bodies and genitalia during the recent shiny happy festive period like a welcome bolt of lightning from the Underworld.

“It is an antidote to Christmas”, cackles good curator Maria Zagala. “ We wanted a thematic exhibition around death, monsters and ghouls. The NGV has a terrific collection of Durer, Blake and Goya - artists intrigued by these subjects from antiquity, it’s mythological gods and beasts ”, she explains.

Art History is laden with images of the “monstrous dark forces of nature that reside outside and within”. This must-see exhibition covers “500 years of art-making” - a rare chance to look at the plethora of historic images that mutate the human body into “half man, half woman, half whatever”.

“Whatever”, are strange startling hybrids. Mortal beings transposed with fawns, goats, satyrs, devils, goblins, wildmen, stone and every conceivable species from the animal world. Creatures of the night and humanity’s nightmares are cast on paper by artists including the decorous romantics like Delacroix and Fragonard, the teutonic angst of Klinger, the strange symbolists like Redon, the cubistic misogyny of Picasso to the monstrous feminine by oz contemporary Sharon Goodwin.

Comprising over 200 works, including intricate engravings from the Fifteenth century by Albrecht Durer. “Images produced at a time when print media and the information society as we know it today was nascent. Durer produced these works on paper and sold them at markets, largely to an illiterate population. These were imagemakers who started to make sense of troubled times, Christian fears and social querulousness."

“Artists like Durer we working at a time when the great digs and excavations in Greece and Italy emerged to reveal classical friezes and architecture. Europe was agasp with all this new information being unearthed - especially the satyrs of antiquity, the half men, half goats. Hairy, hoofed, horned beings often portrayed with erect genitalia- it was an image that informed modern day depictions of the devil."

“Renaissance artists like Montegna used classical references - like satyrs - to create personifications of violence. While Fragonard an artist from France saw them very differently as an instinctive and erotic creature at complete harmony with nature and a gentle family man with young kids. Picasso saw them as Minotaur-like, a cerebral creature appreciative of beauty who admired sleeping nymphs.”

William Blake was a leading exponent of British romanticism, an art movement that grew in opposition to the age of reason. He looked to the occult, eastern philosophy, the metaphysical, the irrational and the supernatural. “We acquired our collection of Blake’s in 1918 and critic at the Argus (The Age, of the time) was confounded by these works and called them grotesque. Art critics of that day thought he wasn’t a very good artist, that he couldn’t draw the body and that sensitive children shouldn’t gaze upon them”, the curator explains. “Today we have people, artists and students coming from all around the world to see his works at the NGV”.

Dark contemporaries, the Chapman brothers create sinister images much like children doodling, “they work by chance, one brother draws something, it is passed to the other brother with the work in progress remaining secret- so on and so on, when it’s completed a startling image is revealed”. These are provocative images that contain disturbing sexually charged representations of children with bodies transformed and mutilated. “The Chapman’s are inspired by Goya an artist very intrigued by fantasy and the irrational too."

Grotesque is where the wild things are this Festive season.

Exhibition Finished

Albrechet Dürer, Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Jean- Honoré Fragonard, William Blake, Eugène Delacriox, Max Klinger, Pablo Picasso, Paula Rego, Peter Booth and the Chapman Brothers are among the artists represented is the NGV’s new exhibition, Grotesque: The Diabolical and Fantastic in Art.

18 December 2004–08 May 2005
Grotesque: the Diabolical in Art
St Kilda Road
Until May 8.

NEW 05 ACCA and the CAOS Phenomenon- INTERVIEWS

Unmagazine Anthology – Celebrating 10 Years of unmagazine – NEW 05 ACCA and the CAOS Phenomenon


un Anthology: Melbourne art & writing 2004-2014 – a new book celebrating ten years of un Magazine.

Including articles, essays, artist pages, and reviews selected from a decade of publishing, as well as special commissions, un Anthology is a critical and celebratory review of Australia’s popular free bi-annual contemporary art magazine.

Available for order online July 2016.

I am deeply touched that one of my artist-run profiles has appeared in this ten year anthology, a review of the NEW series organised by ACCA. Here is my INTERVIEWS archive copy.

un Feature: NEW05

Nothing beats a memorable event. The Australian art world calendar has too few. Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Samstag scholarship and even the good old-fashioned Archibald Prize media circus spring to mind. NEW – the annual Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) exhibition – is the latest to join the gaggle. According to ACCA the series serves to illuminate the latest, the best, the most outstanding new artists (and new works) and afford them an all too
rare opportunity of furthering their professional creative development. Sounds promising. Sadly this year’s selection of works for NEW05 begs the question – new for whom?

Three years on and the NEW exhibitions continue to arouse curiosity. Since the series began at ACCA in 2003 they have attained a certain vibrancy, as commissioning new work suggests the enabling of untapped trajectories and possibilities.

Disappointingly, this year the‘commissioned’ works are reprises of work already seen in recent commercial or major public art institutions and four of the six artists have established commercial gallery affiliations. Choosing established artists is far from ‘new’ and despite the offer of a compelling exposé of individual works, an under-whelming sense of déjà vu prevails.

Stuart Ringholt’s artist books welcome visitors to NEW05 like strange guest registers. Beneath the covers are dark personal narratives, insights into imposed pathologies, personal relationships and profoundly resonant intimacies. Ringholt plays with social paradigms, alters them and imbibes them with murmurs of introspection.

It’s slightly regrettable however that his NEW05 contribution reconfigures a smaller work seen at ACCA’s previous exhibition The Molecular History of Everything*. And there is no breakaway work here, with similar pieces seen in various exhibitions in recent years at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces.

The paintings in NEW05 by Mutlu Çerkez are sublime. His humble and meta-realistic portraits are meticulous studies, appearing as painterly stop-motion excerpts of faces, evincing timelessness. Once again these works are familiar to audiences, seen in It’s a beautiful day: New Painting in Australia: 2 (2002) at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. Mutlu Çerkez, like Temin and Deacon, is something of a big gun now, a recent Level 2 Projects exhibition alongside artist Marco Fusinato at the Art Gallery of New South Wales attesting to his established status.

Kathy Temin’s My House (2004-05) conflates architectural model making with the dollhouse genre, representing her own home. My House segues into this ironic realm of micro, replete with teeny LCD screens simulating domestic video and DVD technologies, where miniature video art unfolds and soft anthropomorphic koalas get hard and nitty gritty. The videos on those tiny screens are repeat performances of works exhibited in any number of group shows in at both public and commercial
galleries – a mini retrospective.

Destiny Deacon parodies and plays with the world of dolls too. Her insight into the way kitsch and mass merchandising haunts indigenous social histories is delightfully paradoxical. Images intersect the masculine and feminine in a blunt photo video assemblage, revealing racial incongruities. In
resemblance to Temin’s My House, the artwork presented covers trajectories and means seen before. Deacon’s work was the subject of a major survey show at The Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004 and quizzically some of these ‘commissioned’ pieces were in fact recently exhibited at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Mira Gojak is a domestic alchemist. Chairs, cupboards, mirrors and light bulbs are subject to transmutations that evince new possibilities for the mundane, and invoke a sense of awe, wonder and comedy. But it is hard to not feel jaded when it’s the third time that Stranded, the stack of Ikea chairs, has been shown in Melbourne. James Lynch’s outdoor cinema is the standout in NEW05.

Lynch turns other people’s dreams into strange videos. His surreal stories about everyday things like Italian espresso coffee pots are transposed into dreamy digital panoramas and stop motion treatment. Single frames are reified and sketched-in like a child’s colouring book, his animations
projected into a mock-romantic outdoor cinema environment contained within ACCA’s privileged white walls. The installation of the work is innovative, yet the form and content is a reworking of Lynch’s recognisable oeuvre.

Max Delany’s appointment as the guest curator provided solace and some hope for ‘new’ artists – emerging and emerged – following in the footsteps of ACCA Director Juliana Engberg (NEW03) and Geraldine Barlow (NEW04). His move to the Monash Museum of Art is a welcome transition from his role as Director of Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces. Gertrude CAS is one of Australia’s longest running Contemporary Art Organisations, founded in 1983 on the ethos of fostering new and emerging artists – the very values that have brought about the recent proliferation of ARIs in
Melbourne. The irony of his curation of this show is that exhibitions like NEW05 serve to widen the perceptual gap between Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) and the Contemporary Art Organisation system (CAOS).

Undeniably, ARIs are today’s event horizon for new art.

Artists are taking business, networking and marketing into their own hands. This has dual purpose: to create greater balance and to circumvent exclusivity and privilege. The brokers of power and knowledge in the arts industry have long relegated artists to second fiddle.

Today, exhibition opportunities and commissions are still hard to come by, as is the opportunity to shift one’s creative paradigm, which past NEW exhibitions have demonstrated. Paradoxically, this is why ACCA – and the CAOS phenomenon – first emerged. Organisations like ACCA, Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art, Sydney’s Artspace and Adelaide’s Experimental Art Foundation were established in the 1970s and 1980s for the ongoing showcase of new ‘local cultural practice’.

Conceptual Art had gathered momentum and with it came an enervating cultural climate and a growing interest in the prismatic possibilities of conceptualism. In the unsettled scene of
contemporary art practices in the 80s, these spaces set about to evince and distribute the conceptual art of the time; the new language of a generation that served to question the traditions, orthodoxy and status anxiety surrounding object-driven art.

ACCA (like Gertrude CAS) was opened in 1983 largely to address the lack of exhibition possibilities for Victorian contemporary artists and has since become increasingly more institutionalised. Now ACCA is deeply entrenched in the private sector, more dependent on bureaucratised government support, more expensive to run, more selfserving and more deterministic – within the frame of
economic rationalism and a myopic political climate.

NEW05 serves to remind us that today ACCA is outward and internationally focused. The proliferation of new local art isn’t a regular programming event as it once was. Accordingly ARIs have become today’s conduits for contemporary conceptualism and have largely eclipsed
the original role of CAOS. With time a disproportionate discrepancy has emerged. Funding, attendance and the positive aspects of institutional clout are guaranteed for the CAOS spaces.

Whereas this is certainly not so for the ever mercurial and organic ARIs who shoulder new local practice and struggle with sustainability and the will to patronage, while ACCA shoulders less.
Admittedly, recent ARI émigrés and NEW recruits like David Rosetzky and Guy Benfield have been afforded great momentum by their inclusion. Along with artists like Tom Nicholson, Daniel Von Sturmer, Nadine Christensen, Stephen Honegger and Anthony Hunt (NEW04), all of whom cut their teeth on Melbourne’s ARI circuit, at spaces like First Floor, West Space, Penthouse & Pavement and TCBinc.

Kathy Temin by way of example, exhibited at Store 5 – a major stomping ground for many of today’s established artists. Store 5 was a Melbourne artist run space set up in the early 1990s and a Store 5 survey show, concurrent with NEW05, on at the Anna Schwartz Gallery is a piece of timely programming [see p.44-45 Unmagazine for the Store 5 is…review]. This synchronous alignment serves to remind us how integral the ARI system is to the public and private gallery network; Store 5 is… is a historic show no less and a clarion call to the commercial gallery sector for a greater exchange with ARIs at the outset rather than in hindsight.

Events like NEW and the annual Primavera exhibitions at the MCA are invariably struck as transitioning events. Artists are primed, geared and packaged for the departure lounges bound for high consumerism, media spectacle and global celebrity. Curatorial authority is primary, entirely celebrated and dependent on finding the next big thing and launching it to join the art star
alumni and media distribution networks. Set against this commotion, are artist run galleries where new art pulses everyday, alongside the bittersweet reality that the art starlet phenomenon is indeed a very rare creature.

Contemporary art spaces and commercial galleries would do well to ‘mentor’ and forge greater interrelationships with artist run initiatives. Surely outward internationally focused exhibitions are the domain of the lucrative State Art Galleries (perhaps CAOS spaces have lost their way as they endeavour to tap into mainstream resources and outshine the state gallery system).

While the NEW series appear to be a step in the right direction, the question ‘new for whom?’ remains unanswered. Then again, maybe NEW is for the uninitiated. ACCA does indeed attract new audiences: school students, tourists and the spill over from neighbouring blockbuster shows at the National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square, and the university and commercial gallery precincts.

Perhaps, ACCA’s audiences with curiosity spiked will stretch their legs and their imaginations, and find themselves down some quiet cul de sac in a refurbished warehouse or renovated shop front where they will behold the greater part of the new art event horizon – artist run initiatives. There
again, ACCA may return to programming new local art without the hoopla, retrieve its origins and authenticity and present local conceptual art and installation art as a mainstay rather than an exception.

Stuart Ringholt, Destiny Deacon, Mutlu Çerkez, James Lynch,
Kathy Temin & Mira Gojak


Curated by Max Delany
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
14 March – 15 May 2005
Paul Andrew is a Melbourne-based arts writer and
Artists and Documentary Producer.

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