Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Conversation: Chaco Kato

Artist collaborations are a fascinating and growing area of arts practice. They are not new but they are on the rise. The idea of the singular artistic genius slavishly working away in a private studio has given way to artists who work collaboratively with designers, with fabricators and with each other. Slow Art Collective is just such a collaboration and has built a reputation for itself over recent years. Town Hall Gallery is very pleased to be able to exhibit their work as part of Conflicted: Adversaries in Art. Currently comprising core members Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorall, Slow Art Collective employs an interesting philosophy in its work and produces engaging, thought-provoking art. We put some questions to member Chaco Kato about the artwork we have on display, some of which includes art made by her young son, and the ideas driving the group's work.

Bow River (2014), by Slow Art Collective 

Could you explain the connection between your son Ringo, the weapons we have on display and where the idea for them came from?

Ringo has been constantly making things since he was really young. By the age of 6 or 7, he started using electric drills and sanders to create 'weapons' - swords, shields, etc - which he was using for dress up and play. Then he learnt simple bows and arrows, followed by rubber-band guns and cross bows. 

When he was about 10 yrs old (a few years ago), he decided to have a small stall selling of his creations at a school market. He sold almost everything in a minutes. (Just a note here, he goes to 'Steiner school' which is a great arty school but not really for weapon making). The next year, the school committees decided not to allow Ringo's weapons stall, so he was very disappointed. 

Artist Chaco Kato's young son Ringo, carving out an early career as an artist
I told the story to (fellow artist) Dylan Martorell and he suggested that we should make a healthy path for his creative passion, even though it was not really welcomed nor accepted by some sections of society. Dylan has a daughter, Ines, who is about the same age asRingo, and who was also really into bows and arrows after the influence of the  'Hunger Games' movies. So we decided to 'invite' them to Slow Art Collective, and organised a show about it, (last year at c3 Contemporary Art Space). We set up the venue for a 'shooting' stage with sound component. and let the kids run bow- and arrow-making workshops. 

One of the philosophy of Slow Art Collective is break down the boundary between artist and audience. So, we invited children as the main creators and the majority of participants were children. It was also great to incorporate a gameness and play element into a contemporary art arena too. So that was the first show's intention.

And for this show at Town Hall Gallery, i think the project built up more layers and interesting meanings. Showing 'Dangerous Boy's Club'- 'documentary' clips of young boys making weapons - it is showing interesting double edges: while their passion is so pure and full of joy, but so potentially dangerous too, it can lead to the great danger of harming themselves or others, or potentially being deemed a criminal act (as Ringo is so interested making something like real hydrogen bombs, oil making using a parts of microwave etc. crazy!) 

In the real world, there are many kid solders. Are those who are involved with serious wars, or terrorism, were they originally like those boys? Young boys are so full of potential and full of energy but so pure too. It seems like a very fine line between where they end up:  this end or that end. In fact, the exhibition is juxtaposing paintings with beautiful young soldier images, it is really interested.

I think it is interesting to think of the fine lines between art, imaginative creation, curiosity, weapon-looking work (like Juan's work) or actual devices for violence, that would lead us (or kids) to a disaster. That makes me think that things can be so subtle and ambiguous rather than black and white.

One of Ringo's incredibly well-designed, and fully functional weapons,
as part of Dangerous Boys' Club (2014)

How long has Slow Art Collective been going and who have your members been?

We started as four artists in 2009, with Dylan Martorell, Chaco Kato, Tony Adams, and Ash Keating. Originally, the opportunity was given because I won an installation award from Artecycle 2008, and the prize was a solo show with promotional pack. At that time I was thinking of 'Slow Art' as a strategy of art-making; interested in a process-based, site-specific, collaborative and environmentally-experimental project. So I organised a transfer station (recycle depot) as a partner and asked those artists above, as I was interested in their methodology. Since then, we have been invited to explore work in many different fields. Now Dylan and I are kind of the core, and we invite guest collaborators according to the project - Joseph Griffith, Brian Spiri, Kate Hill, Jolinde Deprez, Hiroshi Fuji, for example. Many artists are involved. It is a very open and flexible collective. I think we aim to create artwork with  a collective consciousness.

Collaborative art-making is something growing in the art world, and is quite interesting. Can you explain more of the philosophy behind SAC?

We like being flexible, intuitive and improvisational. Also, i believe art derives from real life and real life also becomes an act of art. So, we like to be responsive to the given parameters, like materials, site, time frame etc. Also, collaboration is central, and we aim to blur the boundaries between artists and audience. Another important aspect is what is slow. We think 'Slow Art' is not about slow in making speed, but rather art with slow absorption within the community and society. It is about slow exchange of values rather than art commodities in direct exchange with money. We are not against the gallery system as such but want to widen and diversify the art arena in the social context. If Slow Art Collective can keep sustainable in this way, there will be more chance for other artists. I think more artists in society means a richer culture and a more interesting world, as life becomes full of artistic visions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Conversation: Juan Ford

Town Hall Gallery is delighted to be showing the work of Juan Ford as part of Conflicted: Adversaries in Art. It's the second opportunity we've had to work with this wonderful artist and his highly sought-after artworks. Juan has generously offered to answer a few questions and offer some insight into the works he has produced for the show. He's also been very forthcoming about the deeper intent in his work and the ideas that drive his creative energies.

Juan Ford's, We, The Enemy (with Michael Peck's painting at left)

Can you tell us how the idea for your weapon sculptures came about?

Sure. The idea for these was inspired by seeing Siri Hayes' photos of the weapons her son Oli had made [also exhibited as part of Conflicted]. I loved the the simplicity and honesty of them, and it reminded me of how I did this too when I was his age. I made some and put them into paintings as absurdist props, then I made an installation of them for the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale in 2013.

How do you find the difference between sitting methodically and quietly in your studio to produce fine-detailed oil paintings, and the more bodily manufacturing of your sculptural works?

I revel in making my detailed paintings slowly, often over weeks. But it's not always roses. It can be rather tedious, very boring sometimes. So often my installation work takes on a shadow personality to the paintings; they're made quickly, and brutally

I really enjoyed making these using nothing more than an axe, and old bits of crap I found lurking behind my shed. It's a great release! You can only be so refined with such an instrument.

I'm a very physical person, and yet this aspect of me is a counterpoint to working at the easel. When painting, thoughts, observations and realisations come slowly and in their own time. When smashing together an installation, one must improvise, and think on your feet as you create. But without the slow thoughts coming in the painting process, I'd never have had the idea to make something in a quick and nasty way in the first place. They're strangely interrelated.


Juan Ford, We, The Enemy (2015), photo by JIM LEE PHOTO (c)

Your works often celebrate the beauty of nature and its fragility in the face of human intervention on it. Are you optimistic about the human relationship with nature? Will our creativity save us?

Oh hell. I really fear for the wilderness we have left. Thinking how wilderness is turned into disposable junk is a very sad and disturbing thought. We emerged from the wilderness, and without it we cannot exist. At least not in any form that I can relate to. 

I think our collective ingenuity and creativity has helped greatly in tackling the colossal environmental problems facing us. And yet this ingenuity and creativity is put to use with equal or greater effectiveness in pillaging and destroying the natural world.  I'm not optimistic, but I do think that no sane person wants to live in a world where no wilderness remains.

You often utilise wrapping in your art - branches wrapped in tape, people wrapped up in chains and material, and these weapons are mostly held together with tape. Is that a deliberate way of combining materials? It seems somehow less aggressive, like things are hugged together, rather than pierced together. Although, it could imply suffocation …

I really do use a lot of wrapping, don't I? 

It began as a symbol of a weak stranglehold, and blossomed from there. It's an evolutionary thing. Taping something together is unstable, temporary and rubbishy. We all now seem to go about this way of doing things collectively, from built-in obsolesce in products, to crappy houses, disposable everything. It says, "yeah I could fix it, but fuck it, use duct tape". It's a symbol of an admission of failure, of kind of trying but coming up short. And it can be applied to anything.

Juan Ford, Rocket Surgery (2010), oil on linen, 76 x 61 cm, (c) Courtesy of the artist

Your work could be said to reveal a dark side of the interface between nature and human interaction. Plants covered in plastic, urban warriors fighting unknown combatants. And yet you render everything with such captivating beauty. Realistic beauty too. Do you think that reveals a faith in the majesty of truth? That reality is truthful and therefore beautiful?

Ooh, big subject… how to answer this in paragraphs?

Firstly I think our interaction with nature is natural. We are products of natural evolution, and yet we think we are not. Perhaps the 'foreign' thing here is technology, which preys on us like a virus to a host. It develops and mutates exponentially of its own volition, and warps our behaviours. We adapt to it. Our relationship to nature is now irretrievably mediated by this parasite. And yet technology has come from us. It's all very complicated. 

I think about this kind of thing often, especially in terms of our relation to the ecology that begat us and sustains us. Why do we insist on shitting in the stream we drink from? 

My paintings are highly driven by technology, but I have always sought to use it as a tool to make paintings. This is why I was so interested in photorealism. My problem with photorealism is that I think it's perverse, that it has it's priorities backwards. I don't want to 'become the camera', as Chuck Close did. It's a zero sum game. Bam! photography wins in that scenario. I think the urge to paint, draw, create is something very very ancient in us, and it has always existed uneasily with technology. Even the technology of a burnt stick on a cave wall. I  see it as a battle, and I want creativity to win out, not the technology. 

This is why the photographic image is but a tool for my paintings. It helps me paint better. I can improvise, create and divert; but if I submit to the photo's authority, I cannot. 

I cannot know if truth is beautiful. I hope the resulting work is. In paintings, I've tried to rescue these half-digested, messy ugly scenarios and dioramas I make, and reconstruct them with deep care and time. Perhaps this is what is majestic, or beautiful?

I'm reminded of Magritte's 'The Human Condition' . A painting of an easel depicting what it blocks out. It is a work of genius; saying that to understand something, we must recreate it. And in doing so we misunderstand it, cease to see it. Our reality is second hand. True, unmediated reality doesn't involve us, and is thus not comprehensible. it is neither beautiful, ugly, whatever. Adjectives cannot apply.  It is simply there, and unreachable through our senses. 


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Juan's work will be showing as part of Conflicted: Adversaries in Art until May 31.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Artist Talk

Town Hall Gallery is pleased to host The Hawthorn Artists Society's series of free artist talks. We've so far been very privileged to have had the likes of Graeme Drendel, Geoff La Gerche, Ann Howie and Heather Betts come through the Arts Centre, thanks to the good work of Philip Kreveld and the great team at the Artists Society. Coming up on the 16th of May the series continues with a lecture by artist Lewis Miller.

Lewis Miller, A self portrait in three panels (detail), (2014), oil on linen

A highly awarded painter - Hugh Ramsay Portrait Prize, Archibald Winner, Sporting Portrait Prize at AGNSW, among many more - Lewis was also appointed an Official Australian Artist for the war in Iraq in 2003. His work is represented in private and public collections here in Australia and overseas. This talk provides a wonderful opportunity to meet the artist and learn about his experiences firsthand.


  Large Nude 2013 . oil and charcoal on Italian linen. 122x92 cm
Lewis Miller, Large Nude (2013), oil and charcoal on linen


The event is FREE and runs from 2.00 to 3.30pm on Saturday 16 May in the Zelman Room at the Hawthorn Arts Centre. Please call ahead or email, to assist with our seating arrangements for numbers.