daniel dewar & grégory gicquel

Melbourne, June 2006. The story of an exhibition.


The feed-back session

Rather than explaining the exhibition of Daniel and Gregory, we thought it would interesting to let other voices speak about it. That's how we invited the artists members of Clubs Project Inc. to operate what they call a "feed-back session". They come for one hour in the exhibition and comment it both formally and conceptually. The exhibited artists can be present but can't intervene. The idea is to recreate the conditions of the viewer's experience who see the works for the first time without knowing the intentions that lay behind. The result was truly interesting and we decided that we would post a.s.a.p on the blog the transcription of the session.
(coming soon)


D Day


Almost there

After two days of baking in the kilns, the ceramics are finally ready. Surprise: the elements of the giant fishing reel have some bad crackles. But Dan and Greg have decided to play with the broken effect, and the reel looks now like some alien archaic structure.

Now they have 24 hours to assembly the thirty lures, hooks, woollen threads... And would that be enough to fill the 300 sq meters of the exhibition space?


Interacting... how far?

Dan and Greg are working like hell and I feel bad. The lack of time has modified the whole idea of the project, i.e. the wish to interact with Australian art and culture. They've been working all days in the studios and there's no time left for encounters. Of course, it's already great that they manage to create this new body of work. But what will remain of their confrontion with a different aesthetic field?

Artist residencies are supposed to provide a time frame that allows interactions and encounters. But how much time do you need to really start to get what the other culture is about? I am more lucky. Usually curators have a very short time to dedicate to visits. We come for a few days, go in cabs from one artist's studio to another, and bring back home some kind of rough idea of where we've been. The level of fantaisies and prejudices remains almost the same. For example, if they come to Australia they might want to see 'aboriginal artists'. Not those that are doing the traditional paintings, but artists who work with contemporary means and representations. Well, I haven't seen many of these artists. I met the great Destiny Deacon and Geoff Lowe took me to encounter Johnny Targan, an activist and an artist, one of the leaders of the Black GST Collective (Genocide Sovereignty Treaty). In his fifties, Johnny decided a few years ago to go back to school in order to make an example for 'his people'. There are not so many indigenous students in the school. But how many black people are attending French art schools? Almost none. I am not in the position to judge. But this issue should be addressed somehow or somewhere, no?

Yesterday I met two (white) artists whose work focuses on collective memory and Australian history. At first sight the carefully crafted wooden sculptures of Nick Mangan seem to refer to nothing known. They just have their own sprawling life, or they've been made by an ancient lost civilisation - before colonization. Most of the time the artist uses native natural elements or wooden artefacts made for tourists that he transforms into these ambigous and quite threatening structures. Like if the indigenous 'repressed' of Australian consciousness was emerging again there.
The work of Tom Nicholson is more straight-forward. I like particularly the project Action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835 which consists of a poster representing William Buckley, a famous Australian figure who escaped prison in the 19th century and lived in an aboriginal community for 30 years. His life was romanticized and read as an act of 'reconciliation' with indiginous culture. Stuck up in Melbourne streets Nicholson's thousand posters, annoucing a fictive lecture by Buckley, bring back the urge of an historical reconciliation for all Australians.


We love Channel 31

Channel 31 has been a precious companion and a constant source of amazement. The community TV show the most weird things: home-made videos showing local rock band concerts, Tai-chi for old people in the morning, guys that are reenacting Andy Warhol's Interview show on Saturday night (The Ugly Stick), hot-rods and cars race in the desert during the afternoon (Rodders life), Chinese opera, lessons on how to make good oil paintings (Ken Harrison's Masterclass in Oils), fishing trips, biker competitions, serious talking about foosy ['babyfoot' in French] every Friday night, transexual's hot shows in the night. whatever 'community' you think of it is there. We are not afraid to state that Channel 31 is the most crazy and creative thing that we've seen in Australia. And it's a pity that artists aren't acknowledging this.


The fee issue

Kiron Robinson

Melbourne is famous for its many artist run spaces. This situation corresponds to an urge: many art schools, many artists, few public institutions, and few good commercial galleries. The majority of these spaces doesn't receive any funding. Like in European alternative spaces, everything is more or less based on enthusiasm and voluntary work. But unlike Europe (and US), they apply a very awkward rule: each artist has to pay a fee, from 150 to 500 Euros, in order to have an exhibition. This is the way to pay the rent and survive I was told. I really find it problematic. From my experience of the art system, most of artist run spaces survive upon two conditions: either they were lent the space for free, or they may receive a small grant that covers the rent and small expenses. Then artists have to pay for the production and the installation of their work. Basta. So what's the problem with this fee issue? First it might lead the artist run spaces feeling obligated to 'fill' the exhibition space in order to pay the rent. Therefore it might blur the understanding of its aesthetic orientations and its contribution to the critical debate. To be strong and challenging, the art scene needs to have different aesthetic families and currents that can be clearly located. One might argue that the role of an artist run space is to help as many artists as possible to show their work. Of course. But this only can be considered as the first stage in the development of an art scene. Then things have to be more conceptualized.

Second problem: if the artists are paying fees on the top of spending a lot of dollars to produce their work, they might not be urged to be completely experimental. One always has to worry about selling something in order to get some cash back. So most of the shows I have seen in artist run spaces are object-based. The 'hit and run' phenomena as they call it here.

Of course some spaces have tried to change things. Ocular Lab, which is located in Brunswick far from the center, doesn't ask for fees and concentrates on inviting artists from abroad through international funding. Conical Inc. (which requests fee) is nevertheless trying hard to show works that are process-oriented and site-specific. As a result, Conical's 'line' is the most coherent and therefore appealing. Since they lost their space that they had for free, the artists of Clubs Project Inc. have engaged into a series of publications and feed-back sessions where they discuss in an extensive way an exhibition they've seen.
Finally, in order to sustain their choices, some spaces (Uplands, Neon Parc) were conceived as commercial galleries. And that's the most visible sign of an art scene in its prime.



Living as a curator in the same apartment as the artists is a great and a strange experience. All of us often wonder if there are any cameras hidden in the ceilings, showing our daily life on some unknown tv channel on the other side of the world. Great experience because conversations are often getting pretty wild and crazily funny. Strange because you also share the moments of 'artistic' crisis... which are many.
Up to today, things were going smoothly. We finally succeeded in getting out of the city for a ride to the sea. Being in Australian nature seems like it's entering the Twilight Zone: everything looks the same, but everything is slightly different. Plants look like some cuckoo cousins of what we have in Europe. Birds are much bigger, colorful and louder. The sea is rejecting some giant seaweed and shellfish. And when you think you've seen enough, you happen to meet at the bend in the path a massive herd of kangaroos! Then the layer of representation has changed: you've entered Jurassic Park. And I didn't tell you about driving on the right side of the car. Extreme.

And today, the crisis. The 'disco' side of the installation is not resolved yet. Dan and Greg went to the theater department of the VCA to inquire about lightning. The result is way too showy. Too many spotlights and stages seen in art exhibitions lately. Now the mood is quite morose. What's the curator to do in these moments? Offering a beer and being nice... Not much.


What about style?

From Jon Campbell's catalogue

In Phaidon's Vitamin P, Barry Schwabsky writes about the state of painting today and concludes that the practice has switched in the past years from 'WHY to paint' to 'HOW to paint'. It's more about style and less about the act of painting. It's a lot about 'how to paint' here in Australia. A lot of very good practitioners and a lot of styles. Well, I prefer more self-reflexive practices. Why art? why painting? why being here? what's the context? and how it interferes into our reading of the work?
Daniel says style 'is ok'. Which I find very puzzling. It's true that style and ornament is a important component of his and Greg's sculpture. So why do I like their work so much? Let's go back to another notion: 'life-style'. Its meaning has been quite emptied these last years, and the focus has turned a lot around life-styles being hijacked by brands. But Dan and Greg stay on a different ground. 'It's ok' to have a life-style, if it is lived 100%. It's ok to play Nirvana's songs in an amateur rock band, it's ok to go surfing or skating with branded boards, it's ok to spend the day in a DIY store to look for the perfect gadget that you need for gardening. Their work is about finding some visual equivalents of these life-style experiences. So it's not about branded signs and iconic features, but about feelings - improvisation, risk, endurance, balance, tension - rendered in a formal way.

Two artists I've met two artists in the last days who share the same kind of focus. Alicia Frankovich, a young artist who is currently in residence at Gertrude Contemporary Space, started life doing acrobatics at a high level. Her paintings, sculptures and installations are reflecting this past experience in a metaphorical way. Words are floating on canvases, faded pastel colours evoke the gymnasium atmosphere, wooden unstable structures remind one of twisted jumps, trajectories made on a trampoline.

On the other side, Jon Campbell has been producing works for almost twenty years. His painting, his music, and his performances feed each other in a circular way. Here life-style regains all its power. The pleasure of making music and singing songs finds its perfect match in the simple, glossy and languorous word paintings. There is no 'façade' in his work, as suggested by the Backyard paintings series. It's all about loving suburban culture and acknowledging its own language.
Campbell is a major (yet underrated) Australian artist and I love his 'style'.

Jon Campbell in his studio



While the 'boys' are under pressure, stuck with modeling clay all day, I'm busy at home working on the blog. Well, I know something now: it takes a whole lot of time to blog on a daily basis! One should not forget to take notes about the many places and people they have encountered. Then of course a blog would not be a blog without photos! Is the blog community only made of strange beings that keep documenting and scrutinizing their daily life in an obsessive, time-consuming way? As Carry Bradshaw would say: But if we spend too much time blogging, what's left for real experience?
I've arranged to escape the blog-trap by organizing a whole bunch of visits to artists studios, galleries, and art spaces. Melbourne has more than four museums presenting contemporary art, and dozens of artist-run spaces. And, obviously, thousands of artists. It's THE artists' city, and that should keep me busy for the next two weeks. Like many other places round the world, Melbourne's art institutions have adorned themselves with 'contemporary' finery, i.e. show-offy architecture. While ACCA looks like a tormented Richard Serra, the premises dedicated to contemporary art of the National Gallery of Victoria is now located in the Liebskind-getting-nuts architecture of Federation Square. (To be continued)

One of VCA's buildings


Our little factory

Dan and Greg bought 400kg of clay to make their sculpture! It has appeared quickly that they would never have enough time to model everything by themselves. That's how they ended up with working with James, Ben, and Matthew, three tall, strong, and charming art students.

Their mission is to produce about thirty oversized lures made of clay, while D&G are working on modeling a giant fishing reel. Everything should be finished by the end of this week as the clay needs about ten days to dry, be fired, and glazed. Basically the ceramics will be finished 24 hours before the opening!


On the piss

We have many guardian angels in Melbourne: Jacqui, Geoff, Vikki, Edouard... The two artists Amanda and Katie might be our fallen angels. Thanks to their fantastic dedication to our well-being, we've been experiencing Melbourne's night life intensely. The bar Hell's Kitchen has become our den since they have their studio above. Our night perigrinations give us the opportunity to listen to some genuine Melbourne rock bands (The Casino). And to end up in pubs watching the Mundial on a late schedule. Soccer fever is spreading since Australia has beautifully beaten Japan. Hard to follow France's games. Maybe because we're not really convinced by "Les Bleus"' performances.
But all the best things come to an end. The very long days spent in the VCA's ceramic studios don't allow any more hang-overs.


Longing for fishing

The 'boys' (Daniel and Grégory) have come up with an idea for the show. It's going to be an installation, about fishing and disco. Some kind of a fishing party that turns into a clubbing session.
First step: going to a fishing supplies store for inspiration. Dan and Greg are digging into the fishing rod department to search for a good-looking reels, exchanging their impressions in a language that I can't catch. I get completely fascinated with the lures department. I never thought that these tiny things could be so glossy and sparkling. Now I've got the point: it's gonna be really disco!

Dan and Greg's work would not be so interesting if they were not using materials in a completely twisted way. They have decided that the whole show will be made of ceramics. It's all about mixing undermined practices such as the hand-made, the low-tech, the subjective, with outdated and underrated techniques. There's a sort of punkish approach to them. Like you can never expect how things will be mixed. It's always a bit ahead for 'good taste'.

The invitation card to the show

Australian art is in fact also very crafty. All things that I've been seeing lately are perfectly executed hand-made pieces that rely on a sort of technical 'bravura' effect. This 'material-fetish' seems quite strange to me. From where I come we're just starting to reconsider crafts after a long long period of manufactured/ready-made artworks. And that's where Dan & Greg are coming from. They've just been fed up with the manufactured twist. Now I am wondering how they will react to an artistic context that is 'technique-friendly'. If it will generate some crisis? And what about the reaction of the local audience to their work?

Being in Melbourne

We haven't started anything and we're realizing that we have only three weeks to conceive the exhibition and create new works. Then how can we think of a project that could be confrontational and interacting with people and local culture? Some things are already pretty confronting. Like our appartment, in this tower on South Bank with a gorgious view on the whole city and its skyscrapers. We're on the 26th floor, surrounded by glass walls, minimal furniture, all black, grey, and white. We never lived in such a place before, and it feels like a bit dizzying. Just down the street, in the business district, the oversized casino is one of the only places around where you can meet people. Thousands of them gambling all day, eating in its many restaurants. Smells like fish & chips everywhere.

No time to go to have a tour in the countryside, to experience Australia's famous wilderness. After a walk in the city, we ended in the aquarium. Even if the fish & chips smell keeps following us everywhere - fish restaurants at every level! - watching the beautiful fishes from the Southern seas was just what we needed.


Here's the pitch

The whole story starts with the collaborative project More Fools in Town that I have been doing with Australian artists Jacqui Riva and Geoff Lowe, aka A Constructed World. A lo-fi, high energy project with big aims that was presenting exhibitions and artists from around the world in an appartment in Turin, Italy. After two years of collaboration, Jacqui and Geoff tought that I should get a better understanding of the Australian art scene, which is in fact totally indebted to their own vision of it. To make my opinion 'on the inside'. That's how I ended being invited by Vikki Mc Innes to curate a show at the Victoria College of Arts in Melbourne.

What can you do in a country 30.000 km away from your hometown (Paris)? A country that is so far, you feel you just have preconceived ideas and fantaisies about it. Are sports, hobbies, and rock music really the big thing there? And what about the art? Is craft, like Ricky Swallow's hypperrealist wooden sculptures, the only hit practice?

And what about inviting artists that share the same fantaisies? Daniel Dewar and Gregory Gicquel are obsessed with life-styles, red-neck culture, and popular hobbies. Fishing, surfing, or tuning, crafts and self-taught creativity are their thing. They do not 'quote' these references and activities as such. But they try to create a body of works, mostly sculptures, that embodies their lived experience.

Here we are now. Three Frenchies in Melbourne for a one-month residency and an exhibition to produce from scratch. -Charlotte

Dewar & Gicquel, Aruba 49cc, 2005