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2024

WALL HANGINGS

/ DANI MARTI

Lingering behind the woven works and assemblages of Dani Marti’s third solo exhibition at GAGPROJECTS – simply titled Wall Hangings – is a body longing to be represented and remembered. Wall Hangings continues Marti’s longstanding assertion that abstraction is portraiture, a threshold to what he calls ‘sexual minimalism’. Emptied out and beyond conventional recognition, the body represented on these walls belongs to the artist, now in his sixties, and grappling with the conundrums of aging, health, mortality and existence as a queer man living with HIV since 1989. Stitched and woven back together, this body is like an old coat reunited with its corporeal imprint. Like a seat still warm from human skin.

Marti’s wall hangings are a visual and tactile invitation to human connection and intimacy – elegies for self and others. Polyester ropes of pink, blue and grey are woven into a grid as a tribute to murdered British transgender teen, Brianna Ghey (2006–2023).  Elsewhere, a collection of Tupperware containers once belonging to art collector Peter Fay – the subject of Marti’s earlier work of sculptural and video portraiture, Bacon’s Dog (2010) – are torched into fleshy landscapes, referencing bodily interiority. Where skin meets what lies beneath is where hand meets heart, igniting transformation within a swirling landscape of torn and exposed flesh.

Indeed, the hand is what keeps the thread of connection alive for Marti. It’s as if each work is imbued with human traces of the handmade/handheld as a counterpoint to the stone-cold modes of production rife in the machine age and beyond. What lies beyond is the same void uniting us all, tacked to the walls, a public hanging. He regards one work as an anxious act of self-revelation amid the flickering white-noise rabble-rousing of social media. Like dust particles floating in space, Marti trades one abyss for another as his customised road reflectors catch light if not fire.

Wall Hangings. Nothing could be more utilitarian and unadorned as a title. But with it, Marti sets the emotive stage for the stories untold, histories new and old. None blunter than the art historical reference to Wall Hangings, the landmark 1969 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, ‘devoted to the contemporary weaver whose work places him [sic] not in the fabric industry but in the world of art’. Ironic considering the ‘universal’ male pronoun was applied to an exhibition with a gender ratio of twenty-five female to three male artists. Evidence of the gendering of craft-based practices, then. And the queering of that same tradition, now.

Previously, Marti shunned being categorised as a queer artist, despite the flagrant homoeroticism of his video practice or the ‘sissy abstraction’ – a term coined by Australian artist Peter Maloney (1953–2023) – that ensues when the male frat house of modernism is queered. Marti repressed a queer political position that is now in full bloom, ironically, through the so-called purity (or danger?) of abstraction: ‘In the past, I kept saying, “My work is not about gay art. I'm not a gay artist.” With age, I'm starting to realise, “It is about gay issues, gay life, the gay body.” And so, I'm starting to be more relaxed about the queerness that I have repressed in the past.’

Wall Hangings is where Marti is hanging it all out to dry: past anxieties commingling with the tense present against a backdrop of specific cultural histories. We see how the gendered art/craft debate of one art historical moment (New York, 1969) coexisted culturally alongside the urgent (but not yet intersectional) politics of gay liberation birthed from the Stonewall Riots (also New York, 1969). It’s like Marti wishes to underscore how past curatorial gestures can ignite queer capacities for remembrance further down the track. This is what, for instance, the AIDS Memorial Quilt says of queer ‘craftivism’ in another context (or at the very least, the life-affirming power to memorialise through making). Or what, for Marti, the wall does for the ground when abstraction is asked to tell stories and pave the path forward.


Words by Daniel Mudie Cunningham

AN OLD MAN'S MIXTAPE

/ GARETH SANSOM

Gareth Sansom is one of Australia’s most highly regarded artists. His work is held in major public and private collections throughout the country and internationally. He has created works of major significance within contemporary Australian art. Eclectic and wide-ranging in his approach, he references both high and low culture, forming charged connections via artful juxtaposition. Sansom draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, including art history, popular culture, religion, cinema, sexual identity, and direct personal experiences. His media includes painting, drawing, collage, printmaking, photography – often in combination. So unique is his visual language that it defies easy categorisation. His creative strength is the independence of his uncompromising vision. Now in his eighth-decade, Sansom paints with the energy and brio of an artist in their twenties, but with all the technical acuity that comes from a lifetime’s dedication to his practice. An artist of wide visual intelligence, Sansom has an unerring understanding of placement and composition. He is one of the great colourists of Australian art. Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA, states that Sansom is ‘a rare and an intimidating phenomenon in Australian art – an artist who thinks deeply, is fiercely independent, is visually literate, and who has mastery over an extensive range of skills.’ 

Born in Melbourne, in 1939, Sansom was early on influenced by Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker, and then began a formative interest in Abstract Expressionism, which stimulated the young artist to work with loose brushwork and expressive colour. However, he was perhaps more intrigued by the freewheeling, youthful principles of Pop Art, which was gaining currency within Australian Art by the early 1960s. Consequently, figurative elements also featured in his work, jostling with the abstract painterly swathes, as were photographs and other collaged elements. The resulting paintings from this period are a fascinating window into the psyche of a young artist who was even then forging his own markedly original path, quite unique in the history of Australian art.

Throughout the 1970s, Sansom’s work explored sexual identity and the tantalising potential of adopting other personae. The photographic works he produced during this decade are mysterious, disconcerting, comic, sinister. His use of masks, wigs, various prosthetics, and even a WW2 gas mask, call to mind both Old Hollywood and Neo-Eurotrash.


Between 1977-1985, Sansom served as Head of Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne. He was subsequently appointed Dean of the School of Art (1986-91). Under his steerage, the college gained the reputation as one of the most lively and interesting art schools in the country. A host of now mid-career Melbourne artists acknowledge being greatly inspired by his example of thinking outside the box. In 1978, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, mounted a major survey of Sansom's paintings and graphic works covering the period 1964–1978.


In 1982, Sansom was a visiting artist at the prestigious Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In 1984, he won the Hugh Williamson Prize, at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, and in 1985 he was Artist-in-Residence at The University of Melbourne.

In 1991, he represented Australia at the Seventh Triennale India. He had spent six-months at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, on a series of large watercolours, making one work per day during this residency. These burst with all the colour, excitement, glorious strangeness, and wonder of being emersed in an alien culture.

In 2005, Sansom painted the large triptych, Sweeney Agonistes, which is one of the many highlights of his career. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Sebastian Smee wrote of the painting, ‘I believe it is the greatest Australian painting of the past 20 years’.  Also in 2005, a major survey of Sansom's work, entitled Welcome to my mind: Gareth Sansom, a study of selected works 1964-2005, was held at the Ian Potter Gallery, at The University of Melbourne. The exhibition consolidated Sansom’s importance in Australian contemporary art.

In 2008, the artist won the prestigious John McCaughey Memorial Prize for his painting, Junior’s brush with Vorticism (2008). The painting featured a heady combination of hard-edge abstraction and figuration. The judge for the Prize, Alex Baker, then Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, suggested that young painters should look to the work as an inspirational mark of where contemporary art should now be heading.

In 2012, Sansom, always acutely conscious of how his environment might be transmuted into his art, produced a large suite of drawings while spending two weeks in the remote Indigenous settlement of Wadeye, south-west of Darwin. Twenty of these works were assembled into a large piece, Made in Wadeye. Full of the artist’s characteristic serious-playfulness, it won that year’s Dobell Drawing Prize, at the Art Gallery of NSW.

In 2017, Sansom was the subject of a major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria. Entitled Gareth Sansom: Transformer, the exhibition contained work selected from each decade of the artist’s lengthy career. The result was a collection of astonishing depth and scope. Sasha Grishin wrote that the exhibition was ‘bold, provocative, exquisitely crafted – and simply brilliant. Sansom is an artist who takes no prisoners, breaks all of the rules, and leaves you spellbound.’ Sebastian Smee, wrote that Sansom is ‘among the most important avant-garde painters of the 21st Century.’ 

- Steve Cox

ANTROPOFAGIA +
OF MERCY AND TIME

/ ARIEL HASSAN

/MELBOURNE ART FAIR, 2024

Ariel Hassan’s Of Mercy and Time (2023) collapses old gods and new technologies into one another. In the work, we encounter a religious figure, whose form is a hybridisation of the Buddhist deity Tārā and the ancient Roman god Saturn. In bringing together the two figures, Hassan—as the work’s title suggests—brings together an amalgam of their qualities: Tārā’s mercy and Saturn’s association with time. Yet one does not need to know these exact cultural references in order to register the figure’s divine antecedence. This is a work whose effect is borne as much out of feeling as it is out of intellect. Seemingly cast completely out of burnished gold, the imposing figure in Of Mercy and Time visually transports us to a theistic context without a single word needing to be uttered. The aural elements of the work that are present only amplify this sense of transportation, as Christian traditions are introduced into the work through the sound of Johann Sebastian Bach’s aria ‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ (“Have mercy, My God”). Hassan’s digitally rearranged soundscape emerges from his figure’s stomach, grounding the transcendence of Bach within the physical form.

 

Although one might expect to behold this central figure in a church, temple, or shrine, Of Mercy and Time exists in an entirely different setting: the space of virtual reality. Here, Hassan’s creativity is untrammelled. He is able to mould forms that are untethered from our terrestrial world. As he explains, there is no gravity or physical constraints in this place: “it’s the capacity of VR to do something that is completely immaterial or intangible.” But while the revolving otherworldly figure in Of Mercy and Time appears to transcend our reality, it also remains indelibly mired in it. On some level, the virtual-nature of the work seems to reflect our hyper-consumption of technology and the conditions of our logged-in, online, ever-streaming existence today. 

 

When looking at the work, I find myself asking, whether it is a portrait of the new religion of the twenty first century, which sees so much of our lives contoured around our hand-held devices. The very form of the work harbours this provocation—as it adopts many of the tropes of religious transcendence, while at the same time withholding the ultimate practice of worship. Yet the work also cleaves a clear path away from the gamification of VR and its familiar deployment as entertainment. “The user is not entitled to operate the actions that are happening. There is no interactivity,” Hassan says. “You are putting yourself in a space that is intangible and is out of your jurisdiction.” Of Mercy and Time transacts in familiar technologies and recognisable symbolism, while ultimately moving beyond both. 

 

Words by Tai Mitsuji