An inspired start to this year

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  • Date: 3rd February 2013
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One month in and it has been an inspired start to the year. 

Let’s start with an installation by Chinese artist Song Dong Waste Not at Carriageworks and then a more detailed survey exhibition by Song Dong Dad Mum, Don’t worry about us, we are all well at Gallery 4A.  Waste not is a poignant tribute to the artist’s mother, representing her mourning after the death of his father. Consisting of the entire contents of her house, Waste Not reflects a journey of hardship and grief, resulting in a display of personal resilience and, ultimately, a celebration of life.In Gallery 4A the artist uses multi-media and images of his family from the past and present to reunite them. Both exhibitions are deeply moving, as a they honour his family and reflect his respect for family. On until 31 March at Gallery 4A till 17 March at Carriageworks.

Song Dong Waste not (detail)
image courtesy the artist

Song Dong Waste not (detail) 
image courtesy the artist

Also over the holidays, Anish Kapoor at the MCA. It is on for a while – until 1 April. A must. Take along with you anyone who is allergic to art in any form and they will be cured. The works are fascinating, intriguing, ambiguous and ambitious. Only thing is, be prepared to talk about the work – there is not much in the way of (free) support material to enlighten your companion. The hand-out room brochure is neither particularly clear, nor easy to follow. 
To kick start the 2013 contemporary art program at AGNSW We Used To Talk About Love – an exhibition curated by Natasha Bullock and supported by the Balnaves Foundation. Love is talked about from the initial swoon to the final tears by an impressive line up which includes Tim SilverDavid RosetzkyPolly Borland, Grant StevensJustene Williams and Angelica Mesiti whose is represented by her ecstatic video Rapture (Silent Anthem) which won the 2009 Blake Prize for Religious Art. The exhibition is enhanced by the curator’s collaboration with Melbourne based architect Jan van Schaik who has reconfigured and (it should be said) reinvigorated the contemporary galleries for the exhibition. The familiar expectations of anticipating the exhibition hang have been removed, so a wander through is all a complete and delightful surprise. 

Angelica Mesiti Rapture (silent anthem), 2009 (still)
HD video, 10:03min
image courtesy the artist and AGNSW

Bullock’s response to artworks, and to curating exhibitions, is emotional, personal and genuine, underpinned by a firm intellectual command. The result is a wonderful, invariably joyful and very satiating experience.  

Breenspace in Surry Hills – Alberta St, 3rd floor – has reopened for the year with an interesting small mixed exhibition of invited and stable artists: Caroline RothwellMira Gojak and Emma White. Gojak is new to (most) Sydney audiences (including myself) but well-known in her Melbourne home town. Really interesting sculptures, which are well positioned in the space. There is a fluid dynamism to each of the three complicated, tangled works. The elements of each piece are held together with carefully considered and balanced placement, as they gently slide down the wall, fall from the ceiling or rise up from the floor. Well worth viewing.

Mira Gojak Prop for instabilities 3, 2012
mixed media, dim c 210x200x110cm
image courtesy the artist and Breenspace
Mira Gojak Prop for instabilities 2, 2012
mixed media, dim c 250x130x100cm
image courtesy the artist and Breenspace

Unfortunately, Peloton‘s inspired start to the year is to be their last. I gather this great artist-run space will close soon after this great new exhibition. How does this happen? Something about loss of funding from the State Government. The more important question though is why does happen? Peloton’s core philosophy “…. is to connect the local Sydney artscene of both emerging and established artists with that of interstate and international art community concerns and critical contexts….[to provide] a conduit between the art schools and professional practice providing opportunities for recent graduates as well as established art practitioners, including academics, to stage experimental exhibitions and projects without commercial constraints.” At a time when the Sydney art scene needs a boost in confidence and an injection of support, this will be a significant loss to the town. So do not delay, head over to Surry Hills to view the latest and final offering: an exhibition of recent work by Daniel Mudie Cunningham and Cherine Fahd
Fahd is a photographer; Mudie Cunningham has a multi-disciplinary approach, working more in video and installation. Both find the narrative in their works by way of performance, but use a digital medium to describe it. The two artworks by these two artists in the shared space speak to each other well. Yes, the balloons and the breathing bit are the obvious threads, but not the sole connections. 

Cherine Fahd July, 2011, from series 365 attempts to meditate 2011

Fahd’s work here – 365 attempts to meditate – is a photographic diary of the ritual of her own meditation in 2011. There are 12 large scale broadsheets pinned to the wall, with up to 31 small photographs on each. That is, each sheet is a different month with the snapshot of meditation from each day printed on it. Where she missed a day of meditation, there is a blank space with the number of the day on it.

Cherine Fahd November, 2011, from series 365 attempts to meditate 2011

Each photograph is of her, presumably at home, preparing to meditate by exhaling into a balloon; that initial breath to signal the beginning of a few moment’s peace. The balloon becomes the constant throughout the work – a colourful splash which makes visual that all important breath as well as adds “a sculptural and performative component to the act” [Cherine Fahd, exhibition room sheet, 2012]
The suite can be read not just as a process but also as a self-portrait. Fahd is the subject though her face is invariably hidden by the inflated balloon; at home, in what is usually an intensely private moment, finding her way to inner peace. 

Cherine Fahd 78/ 365, 2011, detail from March, 2011, from series 365 attempts to meditate 2011

Balloons have figured before in earlier works by Fahd, and which, again, are a deliberate strategy to take the image beyond that of a simple portrait, as well as injecting a little humour and light relief. We haven’t seen much of her or her work in recent years and I have really enjoyed reconnecting.

Cherine Fahd, Boob job, 2001
Ctype photograph, 51 x 61cm
image courtesy the artist
Cherine Fahd, Mary, 2001
Ctype photograph, 51 x 61cm
image courtesy the artist


Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s work is as revealing and as intimate a portrait as Fahd’s suite.

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Take my breath away, 2012
HD video
Performers: Dani Marti and Daniel Mudie Cunningham
Camera & Editor: Tina Havelock Stevens

Take my breath away is a video of two men, one the artist, the other a friend (fellow artist Dani Marti), facing one another, naked from the waist up (all we see) and very close. A white balloon is exchanged between them: one exhales into the balloon, then hands the balloon to the other, who places the balloon to his lips, and breathes in that which was breathed out; then breathes out, and passes the balloon back. And so it goes. It doesn’t appear that they breath independently in between the balloon exchanges: they are relying on each other’s breath to sustain themselves. Though a schmaltzy rendition of “Take my breath away” plays in the background, you can still hear the breathing and so not removed from their moment.
Each breath is different; some deeper, some shallower, telling of their state of mind as they engage and exchange. Each exchange is careful and measured, smooth and even.  
The video alludes to the erotic – the breath, the warmth, the intimate exchange and the balloon itself – and I found it very intimate – confrontingly so. I wonder how they feel about tasting each other’s breath and spittle, feeling the warmth of each other’s breath in their mouths. There is no obvious expression about distaste or discomfort, save a few shorter inhales and exhales every now and then. I don’t know about their relationship with each other but I wonder how their relationship has shifted since this performance.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Breathing In/ Breathing Out 1977


Gelatin-silver print ,110 x 150 cm, ed 2/2 A.P.
image courtesy the Pomeranz Collection, Vienna

There is a continuity of history here: Mudie Cunningham’s work harks back to the iconic performance of Marina Abramovic and Ulay of 1977. Abramovic is the self-described as the “grandmother of performance art” and was a pioneer of the earliest experiments and forays into performance as art form. In her collaborative performance with Ulay Breathing in breathing out, (Belgrade, April 1977), she and Ulay are connected by their mouths only and share their breaths for almost 20 mins. There is no sneaking of fresh air; just shared breaths, until they both collapse. Strange but true. Abramovic and Ulay push the boundaries of their own and the other’s bodies, the connection with another and with one’s own self.
Just as an aside, Abramovic is coming to Australia to participate in Kaldor Art Projects next big venture, 13 Rooms, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach, in April 2013. Described by Obrist as “[An] exhibition…like a sculpture gallery where all the sculptures go home at night.” No doubt, more of that later – it looks ambitious and fantastic. Abramovic has been here before with Ulay, to participate in the 1979 Biennale of Sydney (curated by the late and great Nick Waterlow). 
So there you go – the thread of art history runs deep and strong and is nurtured in venues like Peloton. This type of approach encourages stronger connections and a richer appreciation of contemporary art practices. It should not be forced to close. Should we take to the streets? Anyone?


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