Kit Wise – Where the city meets the sea

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, Arts, December 29, 2009.

Inspired by the giddy delights of St Kilda, artist Kit Wise’s new video works turn idealised resort towns into surreal dreamscapes, writes Dan Rule.

As beautiful as it is, there’s something uncanny about this scene. The sky is such a vivid blue it almost borders on iridescence; the sand radiates the purest of white glows. It’s only when we focus on the beachgoers milling about on the sand, or scan the bordering hillsides dotted with beachside hotels and opulent coastal homes, that the flawless symmetry of it all becomes – almost eerily – apparent.

The video frame of this Marseilles beach scene is split down the middle; its vibrant summer scene duplicated in a seamless mirror image, its sequence set to short, repetitive loops. It’s a characteristic common to each of the eight video works that comprise Summertime, the new installation by British-born artist Kit Wise, which runs until the end of summer at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s satellite gallery, Mirka, in St Kilda’s Tolarno Hotel.

Inspired by his fascination with St Kilda, the 35-year-old’s “hyperreal” coastal vistas offer an augmented view of some of the world’s most famed coastal resort towns and cities. Drawing on footage garnered from Getty Images and other open-source online archives, and playing out on variously scaled LCD screens, the works “mash up” images of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema, Monte Carlo and Waikiki, among others, creating perceptibly constructed and accentuated composites of the various spectacular sea and landscapes.

“I’m very interested in this idea of arcadia and these idyllic natural spaces and where the city meets these spaces,” says Wise, a senior lecturer and acting head of fine arts at Monash University, who arrived in Australia in 2001, later settling in Elwood with his young family. “In Australia, and particularly in places like St Kilda, that sort of beach culture and coastal, waterside way of living is a big part of that. Coming from England, the palm trees of St Kilda kind of represent this exotic paradise for me.”

Themes of paradise and the spectacle can be traced throughout Wise’s work, which has seen him complete residencies in Rome, Paris, New York and Tokyo, and is currently on show in Taiwan as part of the 2009 Asian Art Biennial.

His 2006 exhibition Superhappiness comprised a fantastical reinterpretation of Tokyo’s flashing neon cityscape, while in 2007’s Rhapsodia he created a glittering, utopian city bordered by the most spectacular of natural landscapes – however altered. Natural Disaster in 2008, meanwhile, featured footage of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2006, duplicated and mirrored to create an equally beautiful and horrific mutation of the gigantic waves striking the land.

While Wise sources imagery that promotes widely held notions of the idyllic, his subtle manipulations result in outcomes that prove as unnerving as they do pretty. It’s no mistake. “The beach, for example, is something we’re fascinated with and something we idealise and it saturates the media,” he says. “But underneath that is the fact that at the same time as consuming nature as this glamorous spectacle, we’re destroying it.”

Wise sees Summertime, with its mirrored beachside images, as a gentle reminder of such a paradox. “Symmetry is a classic device for describing perfection, whether that’s in architecture or constructed landscapes or the human face.”

When such qualities are applied to images of nature, Wise explains, a shift takes place. “There are moments in each of these works where they flip from being really beautiful to being really kind of wrong.”

In one of Summertime‘s works, a duplicated Waikiki beach borders either side of the frame, while the ocean fills the centre like a lake. Ocean swells emerge as a single rising lump in the middle of the frame, only to rupture and roll off towards opposite, mirror-image shorelines. While filled with familiar signifiers, the image is alien. “You could see it as quite … disturbing or even quite monstrous if you wanted to,” says Wise.

This evocation is at the heart of the exhibition’s St Kilda setting. “St Kilda is sort of the epitome of hedonism and pleasure and consumption,” says Wise. “Whether it’s the beaches or the cake shops or Luna Park, it’s sort of saturated in pleasure.

“I don’t want to criticise it at all, but underneath all of that one has to be aware of the price of all that pleasure and consumption, not just on a local but a global scale … Living in Elwood, I know all about things like water levels rising because it’s front-page news every few months.”

That said, Wise understands Summertime as celebratory. “I love the way this part of Melbourne makes you realise we live in a coastal city. I want the work to celebrate all the pleasures that brings, but I hope it can also remind people of the price.”

Summertime runs at ACCA Mirka until February 28.

accaonline.com.au/mirka

Aaron Martin – ‘Chautauqua’

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, 48 Hours, December 26, 2009.

Aaron Martin
Chautauqua
(Preservation/Inertia)

Since he emerged from Topeka, Kansas, Aaron Martin’s rickety instrumentals have read like a personal chronicle of a decaying Midwest. The young composer’s beauteous 2007 debut Almond and harrowingly personal 2008 opus River Water were melanges of unlikely materials, approaches and place, drawing on children’s toys, household objects and field recordings as a foil for his cello, banjo and organ-based compositions. Third album Chautauqua sees Martin reduce his instrumental and compositional palette to its most elemental hues. Cello and organ take centre stage here; Martin colours his wiry motifs with a mere clutch of vocal drones and scenes from his family’s home movie recordings. The results are startling, affronting in their sheer personal candour. New Madrid is perhaps Martin’s most realised sketch yet; its squall of strings, textures and layered voices opening out into a lilting, shimmering drone. Located somewhere between contemporary composition, rusty American folk and postmodernist collage, Chautauqua isn’t always the easiest of listens. It is, however, Martin’s most exposing and perhaps rewarding yet.

DAN RULE

Beats – December/January 2009-2010

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

BEATS with Dan Rule

Blakroc
Blakroc
****

There are so many reasons why Blakroc shouldn’t work. Live rock and hip hop have made the most uncomfortable of bedfellows. But this collaboration between blues-rock wunderkinds The Black Keys, producer Damon Dash and a clutch of hip hop’s finest wordsmiths – think Mos Def, Q-Tip, RZA, Pharoahe Monch, Raekwon, NOE, Jim Jones and others – flips the script, and in a big way. The descriptor here is chemistry. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s rugged guitar/drums aesthetic just seems built for hip hop. Mos Def’s sprawling On the Vista and the slithering psych of RZA and Pharoahe’s Dallaz & Sense are classics in the making.

V2/Shock

Felt
Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez
***

There was a time when Rhymesayers were at rap’s cutting edge. The label roster’s characteristically bounce-laden production style and densely packed rhyme schemes set a new precedent for alternative hip hop. On Felt 3, the latest instalment in marquee artists Slug and Murs’ ‘romantic’ collaboration series, the aesthetic seems more dated than ever. Slug and Murs spit as tight as ever, but their rhymes take far too effort to unpack. Ring-in producer Aesop Rock, meanwhile, offers up some intense, floor-shaking beats but his production lacks light and shade. Fans will love Felt 3. Plenty of others – perhaps including Rosie Perez – will be left scratching their heads.

Rhymesayers/Shock

DJ Spooky
The Secret Song
***

For some, New York’s resident turntablist-author-academic DJ Spooky is a beacon of music’s progressive, postmodernist frontier. For others, his hoity, scholarly posture and penchant for berets grate to no end. His latest kaleidoscopic musical vision, The Secret Song, will do little to ease divisions. Drawing on electrified free jazz, dub, rock, hip hop and classical tropes, you have to give Spooky props for his points of reference. But as is often the case, he seems so hell bent on pinballing amongst his influences that he never quite succeeds in presenting a stylistic vision of his own. The jury is out on Spooky, yet again.

Thirsty Ear/Stomp

Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen
Inspiration Information
****

From the faux-sleaze freak-out of its first cut, this unlikely pairing of legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and Finnish cabaret/techno/lounge/jazz odd-sod Jimi Tenor comes up trumps. Jammed out over five days in Berlin, Inspiration Information brings out the best in both of its players. Allen is on point here, firing off his full inventory of kinetic African rhythms and multifarious drum patterns, while Tenor is his usual offbeat self, bleeding nuances of noir jazz, esoteric, psych-riddled lounge and his hilariously meek vocals into the swirling analogue brew. It’s a joy. “Lean against the wall,” squeaks Tenor. “I’ve got my tightest pants on.”

Strut/Inertia

Marina Rosenfeld
Plastic Materials
***1/2

Marina Rosenfeld’s arcane turntable and dub-plate excursions defy their very means. The visionary New York turntablist and composer creates sound worlds unbound from time, context and space; she pieces together instrumental recordings, deconstructed voices and sonic artefacts, only to recast them on hand-crafted dub-plates, replete with fields of underscored static, hiss and textural noise. While not for everyone, Plastic Materials makes for a fascinating, positively ethereal experience. Shimmering piano and electronic textures ring-out amid echoes movement, crackles of vinyl and decontextualised teenage voices, only to disappear into a gloomy void. It may be esoteric and obscure, but Plastic Materials is also thoroughly engaging.

Room40/Vitamin

5 Things – Martha Wainwright and her Muse

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

Raised on the lovelorn recordings of Edith Piaf, Martha Wainwright has released a suite of her own live interpretations of the legendary French songstress. By Dan Rule.

1. Piaf was a defining influence on Wainwright’s entrance into music. “She was my favourite singer as a kid and I adore her greatly. When I was about seven or eight my brother Rufus introduced me to her music via my mother’s album collection. Looking back, she started my love affair with very emotive female singers, who I still really enjoy listening to today. She affected me and affected the way I perform myself.”

2. For Wainwright, the project was about assuming the role of the professional performer, rather than the confessional artist. “This was about being a singer; it was about walking into a room with a great bunch of musicians and great bunch of songs and trying not to look like an idiot and deliver something that, as a singer, wasn’t lame. So it was about using my voice to the absolute best of my ability.”

3. Wainwright isn’t afraid of flaunting her ego. “Divas, like opera singers, have this attitude and ego and it’s there for a reason. It’s because they too can bring something to the table and have that belief in themselves and in how they are going to live up to the material. You have to put yourself in that frame of mind when you interpret songs like this; you have to believe and feel that you can do it.”

4. Recorded live with a full ensemble over two nights in New York’s Dixon Place Theatre, the pressure was on. “I tried to have a good time, especially in the last performance, but it was really about the challenge of trying to get something on tape. I knew that we only had a couple of chances with each song and there was an audience of people watching and money was being spent. So it was a very challenging and focussed performance.”

5. While the recorded results speak for themselves, the performances were not the most, err, appealing sight. “It was very physical and you can see – we filmed it – that my arm is up in the air and my face is contorted into these crazy, screwed up faces (laughs). It’s not a very pretty sight, but it helped to convey the songs and the sound in that way, then no problem.”

Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris is out now via Shock

Visit: marthawainwright.com

Daniel Johnston – Forever Young

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

Texan outsider musician Daniel Johnston has battled mental illness to become one America’s most prolific and most loved songwriters. By Dan Rule

VITAL STATS
Name Daniel Johnston.
Born 1961, Sacramento, California, USA.
Passion Marvel Comics, The Beatles.

‘60s/Early 70s Born in Sacramento, California, Johnston moves to rural West Virginia as a child. It’s clear from an early age that Johnston isn’t like other kids. Intermittently shy and manic, he spends much of his early alone listening to the Beatles and poring over Marvel and DC comic books.

1970s Johnston avidly takes to drawing and music and soon begins writing his own Beatles-inspired material on guitar and piano. He buys a Sony boom-box and begins recording his songs.

1980 Johnston’s often obsessive behaviour takes a turn for the worst and he becomes deeply depressed and self-destructive. He is later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He releases his first, crudely recorded cassette Songs of Pain, replete with hand-drawn packaging.

1983 Despite his illness, he moves to Austin, Texas and is embraced by the eclectic music scene. Releases his classic album Hi, How Are You?

1985 Features on an episode of MTV’s The Cutting Edge. Almost overnight, Johnston becomes an underground cult hero.

Late ‘80s/Early ‘90s Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Tom Waits name-check Johnston in interviews, but while his star is on the rise, Johnston’s mental health becomes increasingly unstable. He releases his classic record 1990 between stints in a mental facility.

1994 A major label bidding war breaks out after Kurt Cobain is snapped wearing one of Johnston’s Hi, How Are You? album t-shirts. Atlantic eventually releases the acclaimed Fun.

1995–2003 With his illness under relative control, Johnston records a string of catchy, intelligent, refreshingly honest pop records.

2004 Releases Discovered Recovered, a collection of Johnston covers by the likes of Mercury Rev, Tom Waits, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips and countless others.

2005 Dutch documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston receives the Director’s Award at Sundance, though the the experience leaves Johnston disillusioned.

2006 Johnston’s artwork is included in the esteemed Whitney Biennial.

2009 He releases his reflective, lushly produced new album Is and Always Was.

JOHNSTON’S WORD

On creativity… “I just like to get to work, you know. I feel my best when I’m doing something, but when I’m not doing something I’m like the laziest sod you could ever know, just laying in bed and sleeping all day. Because I’m a manic depressive, when I get depressed it’s serious business, you know. I think that being creative, in whatever way, is just the best way of staying alive. It’s good therapy.”

On comics… “Jack Kirby was always my favourite, but I like all kinds. I like Paul Glacey – he did The Master of Kung-Fu with Marvel Comics – and all kinds of guys. A lot of my favourite art comes from Marvel and DC really. I’m into Batman right now. I like Batman.”

On The Beatles… “I was very shy and withdrawn and I didn’t have any friends, but I started listening to the Beatles and the first thing I knew, I was coming onto girls in an English accent. I started to get popular and I started writing songs and destiny was calling me, you know. It was the Beatles that led me.”

On collecting… “Because we go on all these tours, I buy comic books and records a lot – I can spend 500 dollars in one shot. And now, I have so many books and so many records and so many albums and things that dad’s going to build an addition to the house.”

Is and Always Was is out now though huB the laBel/Albert Productions

Visit: hihowareyou.com

Fable of the Label – Music at Warp Speed

December 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

Fable of the label profiles iconic labels past and present. This issue, Dan Rule celebrates the first two decades of groundbreaking UK electronic imprint Warp Records.

Iconoclastic Sheffield-born label Warp Records may have been widely endorsed for its voyages into electronica’s new frontiers, but for co-founder and owner Steve Beckett, the label’s focus has never followed a path so limiting as genre.

“Electronic music perse was never what we were about,” he says matter-of-factly, chatting over the phone from Warp’s head office in London. “We’ve always been about what we think is at the forefront of music, and in the late 90s and early 2000s it just happened that a lot of that music was electronic.”

Founding the label with Rob Mitchell and Rob Gordon in 1989 – “out a bedroom in Glossop Road, Sheffield” – Beckett and Mitchell went onto build one of the most singular reputations in the industry, both for the signpost output of their roster and their excursions to the forefront of art direction, graphic and packaging design and filmmaking.

Indeed, while Warp’s musical talent has included cult artists like LFO, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Broadcast, Squarepusher, Vincent Gallo, Anti-Pop Consortium and more recently Battles, Flying Lotus, Sydney trio Pivot and Grizzly Bear, the imprint’s landmark videos have nurtured some of the world’s brightest young cinematic stars, such as Chris Cunningham and Alex Rutterford.

“I’m interested in those little mutations and morphing of sounds and images that great artists constantly make,” says Beckett.

“People often think that change comes from the middle outwards, like a revolution, but that’s not actually how it happens. It usually comes from the edges of art and culture and gradually filters back into the middle. We operate around those edges.”

He understands LFO’s LFO 12” and debut long player Frequencies as two of the label’s defining releases, but credits the first Artificial Intelligence compilation as introducing Warp’s first golden era of artists, like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Black Dog and B12.

That said, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Warp. In 2001, only two years after establishing their film division, Rob Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer and passed away later that year. Beckett, who describes Mitchell as “a brother”, speaks of “a weird and challenging period” in the years following. But the label soon got back on its feet.

This month sees the release of the lavish Warp 20 box set, released to mark the label’s 20th anniversary. With upwards of 40 staff working out of offices in London, Sheffield, Paris and New York, and some of the world’s hottest acts on their books, it seems as good a time as any to celebrate Warp’s legacy. Even in an age where downloads rule, Beckett is proud to be investing in the highest of design and production values.

“Great design and great packaging, are not necessarily about marketing,” says Beckett. “They’re a deeper expression of the care and attention that has gone into an otherwise inanimate object, and the care and attention that the musicians put into what they’re doing.”

Warp 20 is out now via Warp/Inertia

Visit: warp.net

Around the galleries – December 2009

December 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, December 18-19, 2009.

Around the galleries Dan Rule

WHAT Rebecca Ann Hobbs: To Do
WHERE Sutton Gallery Project Space, 230 Young Street, Fitzroy, 9416 0727, suttongallery.com.au

Staircases, scaffolds, bridges, power lines and witches hats intervene in Rebecca Ann Hobbs’ otherwise lush naturescapes. Taken in New Zealand, her obviously staged photographs and video work establish a dichotomy between not only the synthetic and natural worlds, but memory and reality. None of these beautifully composed works – the strongest of which sees a worker’s scaffold set incongruously amongst an otherwise untouched forest setting – are digestible in one pass. We’re forced to re-evaluate, to double take, to question the scene’s credence and reason for being. The video work is somewhat elucidatory. A slow, panning camera captures a man singing to the tune on his headphones as waters a greenhouse garden. As the camera slowly shifts, we’re introduced to various, distinct fields of sound – the water hitting the leaves, the man’s voice singing to the music, just the music itself – effectively transporting us through the scene’s external and the protagonist’s internal reality. Indeed, Hobbs seems to be employing the manmade as a wider metaphor for the looseness and impermanence of memory and thought. Like our personal recollections and musings, the structures that appear in her photographs are unstable, moveable and impermanent in the great scale of things. Today and tomorrow 1pm–5pm.

WHAT Sophia Hewson: Solstice – City of the Godless
WHERE Lindberg Contemporary Art, 48 Cambridge Street, Collingwood, 0403 066 775, lindbergcontemporary.com.au

It’s impossible not to become enveloped in Sophia Hewson’s debut solo show. The young Melbourne artist’s opulent, neo-gothic, resin-coated oils hang in a gallery painted entirely black. Dimmed spotlights provide the only illumination – a spindly, skeletal vignette composed by Mia Salsjo the only sound. The setting is crucial, for Hewson’s Solstice feels very much like another world. Her beauteous female forms, rendered with near-photographic detail, are themselves isolated by darkness, suspended in moments of what might be ecstasy, pain, regret or calm. We are drawn close – it is a seduction – only to be confronted by our own image in the mirror-like resin surface. Other works – a butchered pig, a ribbon, an antler – offer a lingering tableau of carnal, feminine and exotic symbolism. The sexualised, voyeuristic gaze is subverted, deconstructed, turned in on itself. Wandering alone in the darkness, Hewson’s study of the female asks as many questions as it answer. Today and tomorrow 11am–5pm.

WHAT Record and Analysis
WHERE City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, 110 Swanston Street, city, 9658 9658, thatsmelbourne.com.au

Expertly curated by Melbourne-based British photographer Louis Porter, this wonderful show at City Gallery not only offers an idiosyncratic historical document of Melbourne’s built environment, but encourages a re-evaluation of the presumed role of photographer as author. Comprising photographs, books and various objects from the City of Melbourne’s Art and Heritage Collection, the records of the Engineering Branch and Porter’s own archive, the exhibition compiles decades worth of images created as a record of Melbourne’s growing and changing city scape. What makes the photographs so fascinating, however, is that Porter eschews them from context. Without such background, the photographs’ unusual (in some cases, downright bizarre) aesthetic and situational qualities come to fore, in effect destabilising their intended, evidentiary role. The show’s main series – 40 medium format photographs reprinted from an Engineering Branch archive created in the decade following 1956 Olympic Games – are particularly fascinating. Plucked from context and void of explanation, they take a life of their own, capturing the minute to and fro of life in Melbourne in the strangest, most obtuse and at times seemingly hilarious of ways. It’s this precise sense of malleability that makes Record and Analysis so engaging. As Porter puts it so succinctly in his catalogue essay: “A photograph is quite unaware of any singular intentions that its maker might have.” Mon 10am–2pm, Tues to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat 10am–4pm, until January 30.

WHAT Kit Wise: Summertime
WHERE ACCA @ Mirka, Tolarno Hotel, 42 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9697 9999, accaonline.org.au

There’s an unnerving quality to Kit Wise’s mirrored, screen-based works. In his Summertime series at ACCA’s satellite Mirka gallery, Wise presents his own digitally altered depictions of some of the world’s most famed resort cities and towns, including Rio de Janeiro, Marseille, Miami and our own St Kilda. Looping, mirroring and animating his video images, he effectively abstracts them. Any potential blemish or flaw is cropped out, leaving only the repeated idyllic image. Wise seems to be challenging us to reconsider these apparently ‘ideal’ interfaces between the urbanity and nature. Indeed, Wise’s process of duplication works as its own foil. In the attempt to replicate beauty or perfection of any kind, we create an ultimately alien outcome. Daily 10am–midnight, until February 28.

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