Art Month Sydney: in Millers Point and Annandale

  • Categories: Blog
  • Date: 15th March 2012
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I’ve been doing the gallery circuit for a while now. I try to break out of the usual routes & explore new territories and outposts but, I admit, it is not regularly enough. So it is with pleasure when I learn of something new, such as Gallery 8, discovered via Sydney’s Art Month.
The gallery is an artist-run space in a great part of town, at the bottom of

Kent St


, on

Argyle Place


, Millers Point right next door to the Lord Nelson Hotel. The shopfront space follows a bend in the road, so it isn’t until you actually round the corner and are standing in front of the window, that you have any sense of what it is. 

Art Month Sydney fills a much needed gap. There are many festivals in this city, rolling across the annual calendar, celebrating most things cultural but until only 3 years ago, there was no dedicated spot for the visual arts. It is a fantastic idea for artists, gallerists, collectors and newcomers, to dedicate one month to all things visual in Sydney. There is a lot on offer throughout the year, but the focus Art Month affords has to be good. I think there are still teething issues, about managing the scale of the programme and spreading it evenly across town and the allotted few weeks, whilst meeting the needs of the key stakeholders – gallerists, artists, buyers – but it takes time for these things to come together. It possibly needs a central point and focus, something of its own, from which all other official events spin off. It will gradually firm its foundations and find a true direction. La Roma wasn’t built in a day …..
It was an image on the its website that caught my eye – a sculptural installation at Gallery 8  by Kath Fries in her exhibition Scorch. 
The works feel modest until you realise that each small wall piece is bronze. There is nothing modest about working in bronze. It is ambitious, laborious, intensive, expensive and made to last a life time. 
Kath Fries Scorch V 2011 (detail)
bronze, twine and charcoal
image courtesy the artist and Gallery 8, Sydney

The wall pieces are small bronzed magnolia branches, slightly more than twigs, dotted with buds. Some are intertwined with a rough string, some weighed down with a pendulum-like lump of charcoal. She speaks of things impermanent being rendered permanent. The budding branch is destroyed in the casting process but reformed in bronze, its burgeoning growth suspended in time. Fiery processes have destroyed both the branch and the wood, to recreate one as a bronze replica and the other, a charcoal remnant. The small branches sit as ‘details’ of the large floor installation, Hold dear 2011. Medium becomes the metaphor for the artist who says of her practice “the transcience of existence and fragility of life are recurring themes….”.

The artist-run space is a varied phenomenon and often works as a collective set up: the artists supporting each other to exhibit, promote and sell their wares in an environment which allows for greater experimentation and exploration. Funding bodies play a major role in these spaces, supporting the set up and administration of them as well as the projects themselves. Fries’ installation was supported by a grant from NAVA, the NSW Artists’ Grant initiative. 
Then, by contrast to an artist-run space – there is William Kentridge’s exhibition Universal Archive (parts 7-23) at Annandale Galleries. Run by Bill and Anne Gregory, Annandale Galleries has been around since the late 80s/ early 90s. It is in an old masonic temple with soaring ceilings and a great sense of occasion. It is the only gallery in Australia which represents Kentridge and there is a great piece by Bill in the accompanying catalogue about how he came across Kentridge’s work and then the artist himself. It gives an insight into the gallerist/ artist relationship and how it develops.
The sheer volume of work and Kentridge’s capacity to create so intensely across so many media – prints, drawings, sculpture, video/ film, costume design, opera direction – is breathtaking. He is South African and lives in Johannesburg, a city which he claims as his inspiration. This small archive reveals his work to be a multi-faceted, complex, international practice, part political commentary, theatre of the absurd and observations of uncertainties in daily life. He reflects on the cultural and political shifts in a country which has undergone vast shifts in recent decades, a bit like the Goya of his time and place. At times he works alone and at times brings together many talented collaborators, but either way his practice is firmly rooted in the basics: his sense of place and his desire to draw. Drawing is fundamental. The charcoal drawings are what creates the wonder in the stop-animation film Other voices (bought by the National Gallery of Australia). This is a jaw-dropping feat of drawing and erasing, adding and subtracting of imagery. 
Dense and rough and large in scale, the many B&W drawings which make up this film are wonderfully expressive and dynamic. They create a story that is in part narrative and in part dream like. Each image is part erased, part redrawn as animation requires, but often not quite rubbed away so a ghostly shadow remains. 

William Kentridge Drawing for the film Other voices 2011
charcoal & coloured pencil on paper
image courtesy the artist and Annandale Galleries, Sydney

The video Anti-mercator is very different in style, combining many filmic techniques, including stop animation, in which Kentridge toys with concepts of time. Random, dadaesque even, with the artist himself front & centre, lecturing, drawing, running, commenting. Again drawing is fundamental, at one stage even being ‘undrawn’ as the film is run backwards.  As a dear friend’s mother always said, “time is a human construct” and we are beholden to it. It is a destructive yet predictable force and it is because of this, we seek to hold onto order. Kentridge is quoted in John McDonald’s essay in the accompanying cataloge: “What we do as people is to try and keep coherence in the face of disintegration.

Kentridge has shown with Annandale Galleries since 1995, and has featured in Biennales here too. There was a major video installation of his on Cockatoo Isl in the most recent one. This exhibition is one not to be missed.
In the meantime, I’m back out on the hustings. 

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