Chris Dolmans, installation shot ‘Empty Vessels’, image: Wellington Street Projects

One of the great things about Sydney is that there is so much fantastic art to see, on the mainstreet, and off it. Those who want to explore the art scene do not have to wander too far; institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art sit proudly by the water in Circular Quay, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is perched at the top of the city’s Botanical Gardens. For out of towners and tourists who want to explore off the beaten track and find some hidden gems behind the main streets, I went exploring to find these top 5 galleries for the Culture Trip to share some of Sydney’s local spots for good art.

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The amazing gals at Lumi have asked me to be regular blogger and I’m super chuffed!

Lumi exists to connect, inspire, and empower women to reach their full potential in their personal and professional lives. I am passionate about supporting strong women and believe in everything that Lumi represents. I feel so blessed to be able to support their cause through my writing!

I you haven’t already you should follow them on WordPress and on social media @Lumi on Facebook and @WeareLumi on Instagram and be inspired!

See my latest article for them below, that looks at the power of saying ‘yes’ when what you really want and mean is to say ‘no’.


So, let’s talk a little bit about yes and no conditioning. We’ve all been in those situations where someone catches you with your guard down, ‘Hey, you want to help me move/pretend you’re Santa/cat-sit while I’m out of town?’ In the moment, you gaze vacantly towards your thinking-spot ‘uhh…?’ Your brain goes into overdrive and pulsates with the mantra think of an excuse, think of an excuse. You look behind the person to see your partner/mother/best friend gritting their teeth with wide eyes, shrugging their shoulders emphatically. But all you can come up with is ‘uhhhhh, yes sure, sounds great!’ WHAT THE HELL, BRIAN?

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Studio W is an artist run initiative near Woolloomoolo pier. With two levels and an outdoor courtyard space, it’s the perfect venue for emerging artists to displays their latest and greatest works of art. I visited Studio W to see the exhibition Inanimate objects that was on display recently. The exhibition consisted of 8 emerging artists working in ceramics. Although all work in ceramics, the exhibition showcased a great range in styles, making it an extremely diverse show.

Mechelle Bounprasueth’s Circle of life series displayed pieces such as Pigeon & Vomit, which were as real-to life as it’s title. Mechelle’s display of quirky pieces reflected not only the urban environment that the exhibition was hosted in, but interestingly, the daily lives of the show’s patrons. Although these sights in the every-day are not exclaimed about nor documented on most mainstream Instagram account, it seems that everyone has at some stage witnessed a pigeon eating vomit or a pigeon doing something equally as gross and for this reason the works served great purpose in fostering this conversation – how gross are pigeons?! Let’s talk about that.

Other works in this series such as Ciggies and Carlton Draught long neck act as a social comment, again reflecting a sense of inner-city urban grit that all viewers, at some point or another, can or have related to. In their humour and un-filtered take on city life, these works presented an astute observation of the artists immediate environment.

Artist Rachael Harrex takes us away from the inner city feel of Mechelle’s work and presents a unique view of landscape in her work. Harrex deconstructs landscape views and re-creates fragments of scenes in porcelain ceramics and when presented collectively, individual works come together in a collage effect to create the final work.

Within an exhibition context, Harrex’s works explore the relationship between tactile installation elements that enhance and alter her pieces in playful and experimental ways. For example, in her work Mirage, porcelain shapes are exhibited on a mirror and lit at an angle to propel their shadows on the wall behind.

'Mirage', Rachael Sawyer, Wood-fired and saggar fired porcelain, dimensions vary

‘Mirage’, Rachael Harrex, Wood-fired and saggar fired porcelain, dimensions vary

The effect of this is intriguing in it’s exploration of visual elements, and stunning in it’s execution. The effect is like a mountain sitting behind a lake a sunset. At first glance you see the work as a whole and as you move closer towards it, the light and mirror merge with the colours of the porcelain fragments that becomes an overwhelming feast for the visual senses.

Similarly, we see an exploration of ceramics with tactile materials in the work Shardscape. In this piece, we see Harrex breaking away from traditional displays of ceramics. The ceramic movement that is sweeping across Sydney and Australia at large is inspired by artists such as Rachael Harrex whose inspired works are breathing new life into the display and creation of ceramics as a genre. No longer are we subject to considering ceramics to be practical or solely ornamental pieces, and works such as Shardscape are evident of this.

'Shardscape', sagger-fired ceramics on folded cotton stretched over frame, 120 x 40cm

‘Shardscape’, sagger-fired ceramics on folded cotton stretched over frame, 120 x 40cm

In Shardscape we see individual porcelain pieces displayed on folded cotton stretched across the frame, reiterating the playful experiments that Harrex explores in her exhibiting practice. This work represents a meeting point between two dimensional and three dimensional displays, like if Rauschenberg was intrigued by wood-firing fine porcelain and curious about how it would look on a canvas. This work perfectly articulates the ceramic movement in contemporary culture, as Harrex’s creative experimentation clearly breaks from traditional notions of what constitutes porcelain works and indeed, how these are to be displayed. ◼︎

You can read more about Rachael Harrex on her webpage here and view information on Studio W exhibition schedule here

Rose Jurd, still from 'Sparks fly' image via http://rosejurd.tumblr.com

Rose Jurd, still from ‘Sparks fly’
image via http://rosejurd.tumblr.com

I recently had the privilege of writing an excerpt for the catalogue of the IS THIS ART? program for dLux MediaArts, hosted by Artereal Gallery.

IS THIS ART? compiled videos by emerging and recent graduate video artists to produce a video art program that considered both the medium, and the contexts that artists wished to explore. In an effort to promote video art within the field, dLux invited emerging writers to respond to the pieces and write about them in an accessible way.

After viewing each piece, I was struck by the common theme of identity that ran through each work and decided to explore this in my writing.

You can read the full catalogue here

This story has completely captured my imagination ever since I first heard about it trending online. Meagan Irene Abell discovered some abandoned slide transparencies that had been shot on a medium format film in an op-shop. Being a photographer, she was curious about the images and took them home to be developed. Intrigued by the story behind the photographs and of course about the photographers creative intention, Meagan posted the images online to see what response they generated.

She received a swell of responses to the post, including a news reporter who came forward with 4 more transparencies from a second film shoot, which generated even more interest around the images. Although there are some that believe the images are a mere publicity stunt for a yet to be released sequel to the Notebook, Meagan and the rest of the Internet are now in a Nancy-Drew-inspired mission to try and find out who the women in the photographs are to the point where even CNN has joined in.

The key facts that we know so far are:

  • Based on the numbers marking the edge of the transparencies, the photographs were shot on a Rexo 431 series 6082 (medium format film)
  • Given the fashion of the women in the photographs, they are said to have been taken around 1958 – 1965
  • The landscape in the distance perfectly matches that of Dockweiler Beach, Los Angeles, which is where they are now believed to have been taken

Similar stories have made it to the mainstream, such as the success of John Maloof discovering Vivian Mier’s extensive body of photographic work. Maloof discovered Mier’s photographs in a storage auction. In developing the negatives he realised that he had stumbled into the collection of a great photographer. He then began printing and promoting her work simultaneously, discovering details of her personal life as a nanny living and working in New York, as he travelled along. He recorded these details and in 2014 released the film Finding Vivian Mier, which catapulted her to the forefront of 20th century photography. The film celebrates her photographic legacy and sheds some light on the dark life that she led.

What we know for sure about these photographs is what the present and the mystery that remains about their back story makes them intriguing, but does not come close to being as fascinating as their aesthetic qualities. These photographs perfectly capture the moment that comes in everyday when day and night slip into each other. The movement of the waves carries the sense of time forward in each photograph and accentuates the moment in time where earth and sky meet. The photographs are at once striking and powerful as well as soft and pastel, inviting us in to their dreamy landscape.

The sharp detail of the water in this image allows us to draw in the reflection of the pastel sunset on the water as well as the turquoise movement of the waves themselves.

image via Looks Like Film blog

image via Looks Like Film blog

Whatever the story behind them, I’m definitely inspired enough to dust off my Holga and head down to the beach.

You can follow the story via Lookslikefilm blog

I have always been interested in how we read culture and its importance within our social fabric. All forms of culture; high and low, traditional and popular, mainstream and underground, all encapsulate varying social values and personify social trends amongst collective groups.

With the rise of internet streaming and on-demand access to TV shows, movies, music, even e-Books, we digest culture at a rapid rate and have the ability to filter out that which we don’t like and only take in what we do. There is no need to apologise for our taste and although some of us may not readily admit to the kind of pop culture that we enjoy consuming (Real Housewives, anyone?!) we can have easy conversations about why or why not we do not enjoy particular forms of pop culture. There is little shame attached to stating your preferences and tastes, and most of the time we can all agree to disagree. Specifically, we can have jovial conversations around why we don’t watch Game of Thrones, because we cannot subject ourselves to that kind of emotional trauma, in the little free time that we have.

But why can’t we speak as freely about art? In my line of work I seem to encounter a surprising amount of people who do not trust their opinions on art. They fear that they may get it ‘wrong’ and resist sharing their thoughts on art, particularly on the big, bad, non-traditional, contemporary kind. Others may be more willing to state what they are drawn to in a particular piece but qualify their statements with something along the lines of ‘I like it, I don’t know if I get it, but I like X, Y, and Z.’

I think the central catalyst to the fear of sharing frank interpretations of art is because there is this pressure to ‘understand it’, as if all fine art within a gallery of museum whether it is performance, painting, video, or sculpture, derives from complicated high cultural references. Hence, the overarching fear that unless we know the artist’s true intentions behind a particular piece, we can either get it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. The fact that street artists such as Banksy seem to be the exception, rather than the rule, supports this claim. Banksy’s art, filled with obvious references to corporate America and consumer culture, is more ‘easy’ to understand, and therefore, more popular in the masses.

The point that I’d like to make is that Banksy’s art still fits the rule, and he isn’t the exception. All art appropriates high and low culture, past and present, across including literary, musical, fine art fields, in the same way that Banksy does. In fact, once you’ve devoured enough high and low culture from varying points of history you can start to see it referenced in all forms of pop culture.

In music, we often see rifts and bridges appropriated from previous decades. What was once a pop song in the 1970s can be revised as a techno track in 2015. Please don’t stop the music by pop princess RiRi is an appropriation of Michael Jackson’s riff from Wanna be startin’ something. Interestingly, Michael Jackson had appropriated the melody himself from Manu Dibango’s 1972 hit Soul Makossa. So across three decades we have the same riff repeating itself in the music charts.

Look, someone cool on the Internet already did a mashup for us to listen to:

We see this all too similarly in movies that steal plot lines from the literary canon. Clueless, for example, is famously based on Jane Austen’s Emma and the Brother’s Grimm’s story of Cinderella has been reinterpreted too many times to count. Most fairytales, in fact have been altered by Walt Disney’s filter that appropriated the good and made the ugly more child-friendly.

Reading art as appropriated culture in the same way that we do films, novels, music, and trashy TV is an important tool to understand underlying concepts of contemporary art. Quite often if a particular symbol reminds viewers of another form of culture, we can assume that the artist has done so with purpose. And importantly, if there is something that seems to vaguely reference politics, you can be sure that it’s political. Always go with your instincts.

Mirka Mora once told me that when she is fully immersed in the act of painting, she hears music; loud symphonies that echo through her mind. Upon hearing this I longed for the day when I could be so creatively free. And then I discovered that when I look at Craig Handley’s paintings it reminds me of Raymond Carver’s writing. Carver is one of my favourite writers and in viewing Handley’s work it is like reading a passage from one of his short stories. Handley paints only sections of a scene and never presents the entire scenes to viewers. In this way his is similar to Carver, who only ever told us so much but never gave the full story away. I like that both writer and artist have confidence in their readers and viewers alike, that their interpretation and impression of where the narrative is going and has come from, is just as strong as what they had already imagined themselves.

When we look at art, we aren’t just looking at what we see, we are looking at everything that surrounds it and that has influenced its creation. As time ticks on and history is made appropriation continues to influence and wriggle it’s way into all that is now being produced and what will eventually emerge in the future of art history’s canon. In this way, high and low culture from the arts, music, and literature, comes together to form part of a collective human footprint, a mark of our social trends, values, and politics.