Hunks of Glass: the exhibition’s curatorial overview…

22 05 2008

 
  
Earlier this year a glass exhibition, featuring the work of Brenden Scott French, Masahiro Asaka and Tevita Havea, was held at the ANCA Gallery in Canberra. The show, which was timed to coincide with the Ausglass Conference 2008, had been conceived some two years before with precisely that forum in mind; it was, after all, the biannual Summit of the Sector – and therefore the appropriate setting for esoteric extrapolation apropos the state of the craft as we know it.  

  

In the main these conferences are a show-and-tell exercise. A mutual gratification fest interlarded with jostling, sometimes insidious, agendas. (Nothing new there; it’s an industry of struggling ambition like any other.) The conference provides an opportunity to network, to catch up with old friends, to scope the field, and to bear witness to the reaffirmation of the status quo. The glass scene is nothing if not conservative. Which is not to say that there aren’t free-wheeling individuals out there in the rank and file, merely that the company line is controlled by an established order that is doggedly committed to self-preservation. Such is life. 

  

Post the exuberant pioneering flurry of the 1970’s, Australian studio glass has been marshaled and professionalized to such a degree that it’s become a creature of regulated market convention. Perhaps this is simply the inevitable endgame of aspirant progression, of advancement up the ‘creative industry food-chain.’ Not that the commercial success of one’s practice isn’t desirable (because patently it most certainly is.) But that success ought to spring from the inherent, even sublime, quality of the work itself rather than from a strategic cultivation of, and servile connivance with, the machinations of established self-reverential interest groups.  

  

The problem is that monopolizing business alliances (including dealers and galleries) have been allowed to dictate the ‘style’ of antipodean product in a way that interferes with natural artistic progression. Delivering a commercial ‘house style’ is not what studio glass is purported to be about. What on earth happened to freedom of expression, to the (now seemingly almost reckless) desire to make art? Because forget the art vs craft debate – it’s a crock. We’ve not freed ourselves from the strictures of the guild at all – we’ve somehow managed to bind ourselves to it again. Ever and ever more tightly.  

  

Perhaps it’s just a Canberra thing. Perhaps it’s aligned to the unholy creep of the consumerist middle class ‘trendy designer’ propaganda of the last decade (which appears to have driven nearly all forms of art into the safe haven of interior décor.) Whatever it is, it’s mighty disappointing.  

  

We now find ourselves having to endure the epoch of institutionalized conceit and promotional contrivance, where imitation in the guise of sincerest flattery is proactively fostered (entirely heedless of William Penn’s somewhat pertinent warning ‘avoid flatterers, for they are thieves in disguise’…) – a circumstance hitherto unthinkable, certainly in Stephen Procter’s day. And, frankly, it’s beyond vexatious to have to witness this debasement of the medium; which for the last 5 years has been dealt not only the disservice of such duplicitous and vapid superficiality, but seems to have also suffered the loss of its humanity, of its warmth and humour, too. 

  

This then formed the genesis of the Hunks of Glass exhibition. The title, cheekily predicated on the concept of the curator’s pick of the spunkiest men in Australian glass, is in part a satirical commentary on celebrity posturing and in part a double entendre alluding to the sexy, designer marketability of the medium. The real joke is in-house, of course; because the three artists represented in the show are the very antithesis of the strutting rock-jock bravura of the promotional banners draping the gallery foyer. All three, instead, are thoughtful, self-effacing and considerate to a fault – with a modesty that is refreshingly sincere in the current era of bombastic humbuggery. Even more importantly, at a time when studio glass is increasingly, disappointingly derivative, these three young men have strikingly idiosyncratic practices that are attracting meritorious attention, both nationally and abroad – practices that reflect the integrity of genuine artistic compulsion (as opposed to the calculated contrivance of marketable ‘celebrity product’, aka ‘corporate trophy art’.) They represent, in effect, a (re)emergence of artistic integrity.  

  

  

       

Brenden Scott French, Engine #2, 25th January 2008, fused glass, wheel carved.  

  

The work of Brenden Scott French is as close as Australian glass gets to abstract expressionism (or, more to the point, post-painterly abstraction.) He’s an artist so riven by ethical angst apropos every aspect of his practice (from the amorality of the medium’s heavily booted carbon footprint, to the sophistry of aesthetics, to self-flagellation over critical philosophical and political positioning…) that he’s practically made an art form of obsessive consideration itself. His signature work to date – a deliberative construct exploring the interface of society and environment – has always had an anarchistic bent; a scumbling of surface, a vandalistic gesture scarifying prototypical conventions of beauty, an elusive sense of insinuated subversion. (See, for example, the image accompanying the FORUM page of this blog, though in this particular instance the subversion is hardly elusive!) More recent work, the Predator series, conscientiously explores fundamental notions of resource management (micro/macro, personal/communal) – from necessity to exploitation. The engine motif has since become the vehicular prime mover in his ongoing artistic investigations, so much so that, following an inherent reductionist path, he’s now abstracted this object entirely to the wall. 

  

To those who know French and his work, the jump to the wall was an inevitable and completely natural progression. Many glass artists venture there these days, with wildly varying degrees of success (just sticking a panel of glass on a wall  – regardless of its ‘stylistic’ merit – doesn’t cut it, frankly). The reason why it works for French is that (a) it perfectly suits his already well-established working methodology, and (b) it comfortably fits his personal scale. In other words, it’s appropriate for his practice. Klaus Moje has said that when he himself approached the wall it was with utmost caution (and due respect), understanding full well that to trespass into the realm of the painter brought weighty responsibility – it took highly skilled technical and artistic aplomb to carry it off successfully. During the course of the Hunks exhibition at ANCA it was quite fascinating to watch the local painters being drawn to, and held by, French’s work. One very senior and prominent painter observed, with mocking acerbity,  “Ah you glassies, you’ve been trying so hard to do the painterly thing for years…” and then, after a pause, added thoughtfully “ but you know, this bloke’s actually got it.” 

  

For the purposes of the Hunks show, French progresses his philosophical musings apropos use/consumption and regeneration by advancing the concept of a ‘perpetual artwork’. Engine # 2, 25th January 2008, is made up of 28 individual panels  – each an episodic experience in the piece’s creative journey – all of which are to be sold independently and, post this exhibition, replaced anew. The work itself will continue to retain the same title (Engine #2) and be distinguished only by the dates of its subsequent re-exhibition. This is a really sweet notion, engaging its audience in an interconnected and quite novel way; the smaller panels are democratically affordable, ownership becomes a shared communal experience, patrons are participatory in the continuing and future evolution of the work, and so forth. It’s socialism at its artful best. 

  

        

  

  

From an exhibiting point of view, Masahiro Asaka is the new kid on the block, insofar as he’s just barely emerging onto the gallery scene. Not that he’s a ‘beginner’ by any stretch of the imagination – between early study in Japan and his recent Masters degree at the ANU School of Art, he spent 4 years in Sydney as a studio assistant to Ben Edols and Kathy Elliot (and these days a number of ‘luminaries’ of the Canberra glass scene would be totally bereft should he choose not to finish their work for them…) His entrance onto the glass stage, consequently, is assured and sophisticated, with all the maturity of an old hand (entirely by his own hand.) All that work for other people has served solely as a lengthy study in materiality for Asaka – he certainly hasn’t let it interfere in the slightest with his own creative aesthetic; through which he explores and celebrates the intrinsic properties of glass itself.  

  

Asaka’s work is excitingly distinctive – he captures the essence of glass in a way that very few others have managed. If one was required to come up with a descriptive label for his work, it would be something like ‘natural phenomena: poised’. He has caught and held the very metamorphosis of the material in a way that’s quite breathtaking. And deceptively au naturel – his mastery of cold working is so deft that it’s practically indiscernible to even a trained eye. Most glass artists use cold working as a deliberate and additional layer, or aspect, of a piece. Asaka, however, never struts the virtuosity; though cardinal to a piece, it’s always unobtrusive. It’s the wonder of the material itself that he’s at pains to demonstrate. 

  

        

 Masahiro Asaka, Surge, cast glass. 

  

                 

 (above) Masahiro Asaka’s work, and (right) detail of Surge (click to enlarge.) 

  

           

(foreground) another Masahiro Asaka piece, and (right) view of gallery.  

  

Surge, for example, is an extraordinary piece of work; a splendid suspension of swelling fluidity (and probably as close as a non-surfer will ever get to the sensation of ‘tube riding’!) The ingenuity behind Asaka’s (literally)amazing practice comes courtesy of diligent R&D, of course. What appears to be the sleight of hand of a master magician is the fruit of his intimate understanding of the medium, gleaned from countless hours of trial and investigation. That it seems so artlessly elemental is testament to Asaka’s considerable expertise. 

  

  

Tevita Havea’s practice is very different again. Tongan born Havea explores and reconciles the polar demands of his Pacific Islander heritage and current Western/urban existence by weaving his native culture into a coeval context. He once described himself as a ‘contemporary primitive’, caught in-between worlds. “There are always contradictions when there are two opposing forces, but instead of one dominating the other, I aim to make pieces that are neither ancient nor contemporary, but operate to explore the tensions of the space between.” More often than not these pieces are underpinned by Islander mythology and legend; an authentic narrative base that delivers him a trove of metaphoric lyricism. This he handles with such delicacy and respect that the work itself becomes a study of timeless dignity. 

  

  

 

Tevita Havea, Vaiola, glass and twine. 

  

  

The three pieces in the Hunks show tell a story about duty and self-sacrifice, and a journey to the underworld… 

  

It is said that when someone close to you is in great need, and there’s nothing in this world that will help, you must journey to the underworld to seek out the help of the Gatekeeper. On the island of Vava’u stands a ring of trees that marks the way – you pull these up and climb down through the roots until you come to the body of water known as Vaiola. Then you have to swim to the bottom because that is where the Gatekeeper lives. And as you swim through the water it washes your ‘sino’ (body) away, until when you get to the bottom all that is left is your soul. That is the only way you can communicate with the Gatekeeper. He will give you the help that you ask for, but there is a price; you lose your body and he keeps your soul. 

  

  

  

  

        

Tevita Havea, The Gatekeeper, glass, wood and twine. 

  

  

It’s not imperative to know the stories, but they bring a sense of archaic provenance that adds to the overall eloquence of the work. The sculptured elements, the woven twine, the carved wood, the material inclusions, the subtle tattoo-ing of surfaces…all of this contrives to produce an object that effuses sociological significance. With a visual fluency that empathetically connects it to us all – a universal spirituality to which we, as viewer, instinctively respond. This, surely, what art is all about.  

  

  

  

                                               

(foreground) Tevita Havea, Sino, glass and twine. 

  

  

The Hunks of Glass exhibition, comedic hyperbole aside, was a very considered excercise indeed. It was a celebration of three incredibly talented, emerging artists who have been elevated amongst their peers by virtue of the calibre of their craftsmanship, the originality of their artistic vision, and the depth of sincerity of their engagement with their chosen medium.  

  

Particularly fine role models, all.   

  

  

The exhibition  Hunks of Glass was curated by Megan Bottari. 

  

  

Related articles: 

http://www.craftaustralia.com.au/ewp/20060226.php

 

https://glasscentralcanberra.wordpress.com/2007/12/21/the-art-of-tevita-havea/ 

 See also numerous previous posts on this blog…

 

  

Studio photography: Stuart Hay. 

Gallery snaps: Megsie

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Geoff Farquhar-Still has a blast in Melbourne

16 08 2007

comic3.jpgwaterpistol2.jpggeoffs-press-release.jpg

Another of our extended-art-school-foundation-group buddies is sculptor Geoff Farquhar-Still who has an upcoming show, My private arsenal, opening in Melbourne on the 1st September. Geoff makes great work – who could possibly forget the mad metal missile he made last year for Domain, and drove around and around New Parliament House for a photo op!?!  Anybody planning a trip, or in the vicinity, really ought to beat a track to Gallery DireTribe and give it the eyeball.

Exhibition opens 6.30 Saturday 1st Sept at Gallery DireTribe, 1/81 Bouverie St, Carlton (and runs until 29th Sept)

Gallery contact: gallery@diretribe.com.au

Artist contact: geoff.sculpt@gmail.com





Infinitesima: the art of curiosity.

29 06 2007

pearlsdetail.jpgbowl.jpgoil2.jpgTrish Roan 

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.  William Blake from ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ 

When I first met Patricia (Trish) Roan she was a first year student at the ANU School of Art glass workshop – shy, diminutive, sweet of nature, but with an unmistakable streak of unyielding determination. Stephen Procter would have loved her. For the term of her undergraduate years (4) her desk was nothing short of Darwinian – a literal laboratory of mysterious organic experimentation, not quite ‘eye of newt and toe of frog’ (never so dark), but certainly all manner of detritus in divers states of metamorphosis. And glass, of course, but nothing…conventional. She steadfastly resisted all attempts to steer her towards the ‘safety’ of the shallow end of the pool – commercial exhibition product – thank goodness, and as a consequence her art practice is uncompromisingly singular. And wonderous (in the true, non-hyperbolic sense of the word.) Roan graduated with first class honours at the end of last year – and remains shy, diminutive and  sweet of nature, with that unyielding determination still firmly in place. 

  Her work is best described as intriguingly metaphysical, with scientific overtones softened by a pervasive sense of considered intimacy. There’s something faintly Victorian-Gothic about it, even – the very nature of the observation perhaps, the patience. And that eye for the beauty of oddity. She’s not particularly concerned with the ‘Big Picture’ as such, preferring instead to investigate the seemingly modest though no less fascinating ‘infinity of the interior’. It’s in the small things that the big picture is encapsulated, of course, and it is precisely this that makes the work so successful. 

 In The Eye Of A Fish, The Volume Of A Room, for instance, the small sphere of oil – which floats inside the sphere of water/alcohol, inside the sphere of glass – reflects the entire room. Attaining the balance is painstakingly difficult, a process of meticulous tweaking and tuning to achieve an equilibrium so fragile that it barely lasts a day before disintegrating. Ring on the other hand required a protracted wait for the natural evaporation of liquid from the bowl, the residue of pigment itself being an integral element of the piece. Pearl was ‘seeded’ by a found object, the nature of which was lost through consequent coverings (in this case wax rather than nacre.) 

It is the ephemeral, the impossibility of keeping things perfect, and the contemplation of the reflected universal that specifically interests Roan. The process of making is meditative, she finds, regardless (or rather because) of the degrees of difficulty. Moreover it leaves her plenty of space and time to savour the ambiguities, and dream all those possible dreams.

Join a blog tour of her graduation show via the link below

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/glasscentralcanberra/sets/72157600526300319/

 

Trish was recently a selected finalist in Young Glass 2007 held at the Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, in Denmark. (See Neues Glass/New Glass magazine, Summer 2007, 2/07)

Her work will also be featured in two upcoming exhibitions in Canberra:

The ANCA Members Show, ANCA Gallery, Dickson, opening 14th July, and a group show at Alliance Francaise, in O’Conner, with Ian Robertson and Cristina Baratinskas Goodman (as recipients of the ANU School of Art’s EEAS program), opening 16th August.  

And she will be conducting workshops at the Canberra Glassworks: a four week casting class commencing July 11th (Wednesday evenings, 6-9pm), and two children’s classes during the school holidays, July 10-12th and July 17-19th (mornings from 9-12)





Kamberra Retrospective

8 06 2007

 

‘Duck’ from the Pond Life series, Tom Moore

The Kamberra Glass Gallery at the Kamberra Wine Company ran for some two and a half years and was a pleasure to curate. It was a space that was run without the strictures of an ‘establishment’ agenda and was consequently authentically (philosophically) engaging. We have put together a brief glance back across the program – a taste, only, of the long list of artists who exhibited there…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/canberraglasscentral/sets/72157600324789149/