Happy Birthday GOMA

Little bears love birthday celebrations! They have the best birthday parties!

They went to check out GOMA’s birthday party. GOMA is 10 🙂

Headlining the celebrations is Sugar Spin, featuring over 250 contemporary artworks exploring light, space, architecture and the senses. From brand-new immersive works to large-scale visitor favourites, the exhibition reflects our complex connections to the natural world with an explosion of colour, sensation and spinning delights. These are little bears’ favourite art works.

Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave

HEARD consists of 30 ‘soundsuits’, made to be worn or displayed as sculptures. Nick Cave created his first soundsuit in 1992 in response to the now infamous beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police and his awareness of the danger of being a black man in the United States. Describing the creative process, he speaks of picking up a twig from the ground, something of no value, and adding another twig, and then another, to form a protective suit. Cave’s soundsuits offer a way to express individuality while shielding identity markers such as skin colour, gender or sexuality.

Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave

HEARD comes alive both as a large-scale community performance, and when walking around the soundsuits, hearing the rustle of the raffia and imagining the sculptures fully in motion. In performance mode, each horse is brought to life by two dancers who develop its behavior and character. HEARD involves a group of individuals working together to become something larger – firstly as a pair, and then as the ‘herd’ – and relies on the strengths of the individual and the massed group. Similarly, the choreography shifts from free-form improvisation to a trained body of dancers moving in unison; open-ended creativity and co-ordinated structure are of equal value, as they are within our society as a whole.

Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave
Heard, by Nick Cave

HEARD has a sense of ceremony – it is full of pageantry, colour and sound. ‘Hearing’ each other is a hopeful metaphor for an inclusive, energised society sharing a sense of wonder and having the space to realise dreams. The soundsuits draw on longstanding performative traditions, from the abundant ornamentation of African ceremonial costume, to the elaborate garb of the New Orleans ‘Mardi Gras Indians’. By joining everyday materials collected on his travels – raffia, buttons, beads and crochet – together with music, dance and community participation, Cave encourages us to smile and remember that change and transformation are always possible.

Biosphere Cluster, by Tomás Saraceno
Biosphere Cluster, by Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno is internationally renowned for his ambitious sculptures and installations that take the form of webs and interconnected spheres or bubbles. Frequently created through weaving and looping elastic rope into complex geometric forms they often resemble spider webs or clusters of galaxies.

Taking his cue from architects such as Frei Otto (famous for designing the Munich Olympic Arena based on experiments with soap bubbles) and R Buckminster Fuller (the avant-garde architect who popularised the geodesic dome), biological systems inform the formal qualities of Saraceno’s work. In an ongoing body of work entitled Air-Port-City, the artist presents installations as designs for interconnected floating cities that function like clouds separating and coming together, thereby blurring political distinctions between nation states. In this body of work, architecture moves away from bricks and mortar and becomes malleable and responsive to specific issues at hand.

Biosphere, by Tomás Saraceno
Biosphere, by Tomás Saraceno

Each of the four Biosphere works recently acquired by GOMA demonstrates the artist’s signature technique of intertwining rope, in this case weaving it around transparent, inflated bubbles. Their architecture is similar to that of geodesic domes. In parallel with ideas of interconnected floating cities is the artist’s ongoing interest in the structure of spider webs and their flexibility in a changing environment. Biosphere resembles a spider’s web – each threaded and knotted piece of rope within it is equally important to the structural integrity of the whole form, acting as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

Saraceno is influenced by ideas of networking and ecology, and by philosophers and social theorists who look to the systems in nature in order to provide new approaches to thinking about the world. He is specifically taken with the way that French philosopher Felix Guattari in The Three Ecologies (1989) ‘extends the definition of ecology to encompass social relations and human subjectivity as well as environmental concerns’. Saraceno suggests that we:

… start talking about the aesthetics and ethics of the economy, social ecology, politics… I think we should learn from the principle of ecology as a system of cohabitation of different cultural areas and understand the need for a principle of cooperation.

This is apparent in his artworks, where the political and the aesthetic come together to reimagine the way we live.

Biosphere Cluster, by Tomás Saraceno
Biosphere Cluster, by Tomás Saraceno

This group of works also takes inspiration from the Biosphere 2 experiments in Arizona in the early 1990s, which analysed the possibility of humans living within closed ecological environments. While the overall experiment was ultimately abandoned, the research undertaken continues to be drawn upon by practitioners in various fields of study. Saraceno’s Biosphere 2 sculpture contains Tillandsia plants – a type of bromeliad that is native to the Americas. They receive all of their nutrients from water and air so are perfect for a closed ecosystem, like a floating garden. Looking at Saraceno’s ‘floating gardens’ we are invited to imagine industrialised cities with similar floating bubbles containing gardens hovering on the skyline, thereby making green parks accessible in places where they had not previously been.

Hungarian-born, Paris-based architect Yona Friedman and the British group of architects Archigram are also key influences on the artist. Friedman and Archigram created designs for futuristic modular and mobile buildings, many of which were hypothetical designs that remain unrealised. This is similar to the way that Saraceno presents his installations as designs for possible dwellings but ultimately chooses not to realise them in the architectural field. Rather, Saraceno draws from these architects to profoundly rethink the parameters of architecture and its nexus with art.

Though the forms and ideas found in Tomás Saraceno’s Biosphere sculptures are layered and complex, the art works have a sense of physical lightness and wonder. The experience of weaving through the threads of rope extending out from the works and of looking up at the Biosphere works appearing to levitate in the air gives a wonderful physicality to these ideas. While the proposition of clusters of biosphere cities in the sky may be utopian, it is a reminder that contemporary art provides space in which we can imagine a profoundly different new future.

Banumbirr: Morning Star Poles
Banumbirr: Morning Star Poles

Ceremonies celebrating banumbirr (the morning star) are performed annually in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. This unique collection of poles was made by artists from Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island), a small island off the northern shores of Arnhem Land. Both men and women contribute to making the lengths of feathered strings and pul pul (bunches of feathers) attached to them. The tufts on the tips of some poles represent the bright star (Venus). Though made for public viewing, these poles are still held sacred by their makers.

It is told that each day at sunset spirits on Burralku, an island to the east, hold a morning star ceremony. As dancing intensifies the rising dust creates the twilight which gradually becomes darkness. During the day and into the night the star is hidden by an old woman in a special feathered bag; just before dawn she releases the star on a long string. First it ascends to the top of a tall pandanus tree to survey all the places it will visit, then flies over Arnhem Land heralding the dawn, pausing over each of the clans related to it. As the sun rises the old woman reels in banumbirr by its feathered string to be hidden again until the next evening.

In Bed, by Ron Mueck
In Bed, by Ron Mueck

Born and raised in Melbourne, sculptor Ron Mueck is today recognised as being among the most significant contemporary artists working in a realist tradition. His first major outing as a visual artist (having previously worked as a commercial model maker) was in one of the defining exhibitions of the 1990s – Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. Held in 1997 at the Royal Academy, London, Sensation included works by many of the leading contemporary British artists of the day including Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Chris Ofili and Rachel Whiteread. Mueck’s contribution to this exhibition – Dead dad 1996-97, a sculpture of the cadaver of the artist’s father – was considered by many to be the stand-out work of the exhibition. American critic Robert Rosenblum described his experience of seeing this work as ‘something both so shockingly real and so shockingly unreal that, like an unexpected trauma, it left an indelible imprint’. In many ways, this seminal early work set the scene for Mueck’s practice. Not only did it incorporate the extraordinary degree of realism that has since become synonymous with Mueck’s work, but also it declared the artist’s interest in the grand artistic themes of life and death. At approximately two-thirds life-size, Dead dad is also emblematic of Mueck’s ability to employ shifts in scale, affecting the viewer in a manner far beyond that of the initial shock at the work’s exceptionally naturalistic appearance.

Many critics place Mueck’s work within the tradition of realist sculpture. American artists Duane Hanson and Charles Ray, who rose to prominence in the 1960s, might be considered influential predecessors for a current resurgence in this mode of sculptural practice. In recent decades artists such as Matthew Barney, Maurizio Catelan and Jake and Dinos Chapmen have, like Mueck, been interested in marrying a high degree of realism with often shocking distortions of scale or deformations of the body.

In Bed, by Ron Mueck
In Bed, by Ron Mueck

Mueck’s sculptures result from an extremely time-consuming process that requires meticulous attention to detail. He often begins in a traditional manner: sketches on paper and plaster maquettes, which he uses to experiment with the subject’s pose and demeanour. For In bed, the next stage involved the construction of a large metal armature, which was covered in plaster and then modelling clay. A silicon mould is made of the sculpture, which is painstakingly prepared by the artist in order to give a naturalistic texture and colour to the skin. Hairs are individually inserted into hand-drilled holes and, finally, finer details such as veins and imperfections in the skin are painted by the artist directly onto the work.

In bed depicts a middle-aged woman who has been carefully composed so that the position of her body and facial expression are highly naturalistic, while also suggesting a range of narrative possibilities. Holding her right hand to her face, she glances upwards and to her right with an expression that could equally be interpreted as apprehensive, wistful or even pining. The pose, with knees drawn up under the bed clothes and head propped up on two pillows, is utterly familiar. At over one-and-a-half metres high and almost seven metres long, the size of the subject has been massively exaggerated. While the viewer may at first be taken aback by the monumental scale of the work, this experience is ultimately tempered by the decidedly unspectacular nature of the subject. The frozen moment of solitary reflection captured in the sculpture belongs to the order of the everyday, eliciting a strong feeling of empathy, in spite of the absurd scale, and prompting us to reflect on the psychology of prosaic, everyday situations.

Lightning for Neda 2009, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
Lightning for Neda 2009, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s Lightning for Neda 2009 is essentially an abstract work that draws on the Islamic use of geometry to structure and develop complex architectural ornamentation. The characteristic mirror mosaic of Farmanfarmaian’s work is an Iranian decorative form known as aineh-kari. The technique dates back to the 16th century, when glass was imported from Europe and would often arrive broken. The work’s intricate mirror mosaic and reverse-glass painting explore the geometric possibilities offered by the hexagon. Arab mathematicians of the 9th century added considerably to Greek and Indian scholarship, and Muslim craftspeople have long relied on this knowledge to produce the patterns embellishing the facades and walls of buildings.

Lightning for Neda 2009, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
Lightning for Neda 2009, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

In this work, the six sides of the hexagon provide an underlying structure and are expanded and elaborated on as a repeated motif. Additionally, the hexagon represents the six directions of motion (up, down, front, back, right, left) and the six virtues (generosity, self-discipline, patience, determination, insight, compassion). In each of the panels of Lightning for Neda, Farmanfarmaian has used over 4000 mirror shards to create myriad patterns across a sublime, glittering surface.

Infinity Nets 2000, by Yayoi Kusama
Infinity Nets 2000, by Yayoi Kusama

In the work Infinity nets, Yayoi Kusama revisits iconographic aspects of the large white paintings she executed from 1958 to the late 1960s. The characteristic, obsessive repetition and variation of the net and/or dot forms an important basis for much of Kusama’s work. Kusama describes developing the dot and the net motif at a very early age when she began to experience hallucinatory episodes. To cope with the terror she felt when overcome by these episodes (which continue to haunt her) and to attempt to understand them, Kusama began to paint. She has written:

Dissolution and accumulation. Proliferation and fragmentation. The feeling of myself obliterating and the reverberation from the invisible universe. What were they? I was often troubled by a thin silk-like greyish coloured veil that came to envelope me… While coming and going between this world and the unknown one, I fell sick a number of times… By painting pictures on paper and canvas and by making weird objects, I began to gradually repeat in the work the calling forth and back that took place in my soul. For me, these experiences were not temporising artistic endeavours nor makeshift art to catch up with the trend of the times – like a chameleon changing the colour of its skin according to its circumstances – but were an attempt at artistic creation based on the inevitability that emerged from within me.

The net and the dot are iconic motifs in Kusama’s work. They exist as descriptive devices of an imagined reality, a method by which to grasp her situation, which she often refers to as ‘sickness’, and as a device through which her perception of the world is mediated. The net is the veil that reconciles the ‘real’ world and her ‘invisible universe’; it is a screen that protects her from these worlds and is also a symbol for seeing the dynamic and monumental nature of life. Thus the ‘net’, as the positive expression of the absent ‘dot’, or vice versa, is a central motif in Kusama’s work.

In Infinity nets the ‘dots’ emerge as spaces delineated by the painting of the net. Hues of white construct the net; the first layer of paint laid down uses shades of grey-white. Over this Kusama applies paint in rhythmic waves that seem to move across the surface. She skilfully manipulates the viscosity of the paint during its application, varying its thickness and density, and in the infinitesimal variations she is able to achieve with the whiteness of the paint – from a brilliant clear white to luminous shades of grey and cream – to create a surface that ripples and vibrates. Like the early net paintings of the 1950s and 1960s, Infinity nets (2000) is gestural in its execution. The demarcation between the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ spaces remains fluid, so that the viewer’s eye is led between an image of a net to the surface that consists of dots, an oscillation that encourages contemplation of the notion of ‘infinity’.

Kusama often uses the word ‘infinity’ in the titles of her works; she gives infinity a form through repetition. In her ‘mirror rooms’ she uses reflection as another inventive formal statement of this idea. Like her obsessive constancy to the dot or net, Kusama’s repeated use of the word ‘infinity’ to describe her works signals a dedicated commitment to her way of perceiving the world as a place of wonder and sensation.

Untitled 2006-07, by Anish Kapoor
Untitled 2006-07, by Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor has said: Red is the colour I’ve felt very strongly about … Of course it’s the colour of the interior of our bodies. In a way it’s inside out … I’m interested in the idea that form in a sense turns itself inside out, that the inside and the outside are equivalent to each other.

The scale and saturated colour of Kapoor’s sculptures engage the viewer both physically and psychologically. Using simple, strong forms, these enigmatic works enable audiences to directly experience primal states of being: from sensations of emptiness, to darkness, intimacy, and desire. In the specially commissioned work Untitled, perception is manipulated through the use of a single rich colour, a highly reflective surface and monumental form, which inspires an elemental encounter with infinity – the work appears to devour and permeate our sense of space. This experience – the heightening of the senses and an instinctive response to form – is at the heart of Kapoor’s practice.

Born in India in 1954 and currently living and working in the United Kingdom, Kapoor is a leading contemporary artist of international repute. In his practice, Kapoor employs a broad range of materials including stone, Vaseline, steam, pigments, and highly reflective, polished and mirrored aluminium and lacquered surfaces. Kapoor uses the language of sculpture to explore ideas of metaphysics and the sublime, and his dramatic and monumental works often push the scope of sculpture into the realm of architecture.

Steiner rainbow 2006, by Emily Floyd
Steiner rainbow 2006, by Emily Floyd

As a spectrum of vibrant colour, Emily Floyd’s Steiner rainbow 2006 has considerable physical presence in space, unlike the natural phenomenon it recalls. Rainbows are cultural symbols often associated with alternative political movements, signifying utopian ideals and a desire to do things differently. With this in mind, Floyd took something humble – a popular wooden children’s toy – and scaled it up to adult height.

The toy she references was first manufactured in the 1970s, inspired by the educational ideas of Austrian Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), in whose name the Steiner school movement continues today. The stacking toy is designed to encourage open-ended play and Floyd’s interest is in its modular character: a child can use the coloured components as building blocks, or to model worlds of their own invention. Like the toy, this sculpture comes with an instruction that is suggestive rather than didactic: the work can be ‘played with’ (exhibited) in a variety of ways. Floyd suggests this is similar to the way artists work, to imaginatively envision the world as a different place.

Nervescape, by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir
Nervescape V, by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir

Nervescape V by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir adorns the walls of the Long Gallery. Exuberant, tactile and sprawling, the installation is constructed from massed bundles of synthetic hair. Under the artist’s influence, the smooth white walls of the gallery become something much more animal, untamed and surreal.

Arnardóttir works with the unusual medium of hair, her bold application of colour reminds us of dynamic painting traditions such as Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism. Here the colour has a life force and energy all of its own, gaining volume and texture as it spreads across the wall.

Nervescape, by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir
Nervescape V, by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir

Many of us tend to our hair every day: brushing, fluffing, smoothing, curling, clipping and colouring. This can be a way of projecting a story about who we are – perhaps signalling that we are a unique individual (crazy purple), or a member of a club (neat trust me). Underneath this outer layer of hair, immediately beneath our skull, is the nerve-scape of grey and white-matter from which a more internal sense of self develops. Long hair-like neurons hum with electrical impulses as we process sensory input, access past memories, appraise complex situations and make new decisions. Our nervous system underpins these mechanisms and governs more unconscious bodily processes also. Nervescape V is a super-sized nervous system connecting people and ideas within the ‘body’ of the gallery.

Arnardóttir invites visitors to be embraced by the abundance of Nervescape V. The work is sensual and enveloping, its softness evokes maternal comfort, suggesting a child cuddling a soft toy. It is also unsettling. To see such a volume of hair is strange, even grotesque. Immersive and tactile, Arnardóttir’s work invites a return to our primal instincts.

Bodhi Tree
Bodhi Tree

Just over 2500 years ago, a young prince from Nepal by the name of Siddhartha Gautama, renounced his family and began a journey in search of spiritual meaning. He came to a place now known as Bodh Gaya in Northern India and was sitting under a type of fig tree when he achieved enlightenment. From then he became known as ‘Buddha’, ‘the awakened one’, and the sacred tree took the name ‘Bodhi’, meaning ‘awakening’. Bodhi Trees continue to hold great spiritual significance for people around the world, not only as a symbol of enlightenment for Buddhists, but the very foundations of the fourth largest religion in the world.

An enormous Bodhi directly descended from the original tree now sits in Bodh Gaya where the event occurred, along with two other known saplings taken from the original that were planted in other temple grounds. One was planted under the sanction of Buddha in Sravasti, one of the largest cities in India at the time, and on Buddha’s deathbed he instructed that another branch be broken from the Bodhi in Bodh Gaya, and taken to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka).

King Ashoka ruled India soon after the death of Buddha and was responsible for spreading Buddhism throughout the empire during his reign, which is heralded as one of the greatest in Indian history. His daughter is believed to have taken the sapling from the detached branch to Sri Lanka and had it planted in the city of Anuradhapura in 249BCE. One legend explains that in order to avoid the eradication of Buddhism after Ashoka’s death, his daughter hid the branch in her hair and travelled with it secretly to Sri Lanka. It was named Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and is not only one of the most sacred trees in the world, but also considered the oldest living planted tree with a known planting date.

The Bodhi Tree at GOMA arrived in Australia as a small sapling and grew up in a nursery before being planted near the entrance to GOMA in 2008. The event marked the culmination of a long-term collaboration between Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei, Brisbane’s Chung Tian Temple and the Queensland State Government.

Planting of the Bodhi Tree, GOMA, April 2008
Planting of the Bodhi Tree, GOMA, April 2008

Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei developed the Bodhi Tree Project specifically for the space near the entrance to the GOMA. The bodhi tree, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, is the oldest depicted tree in Indian art and literature and is described as the mythical ‘Tree of Life’. This bodhi tree has direct lineage to the original tree in the Indian state of Bihar where Sddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, is said to have achieved enlightenment.

Every year as part of Brisbane’s Buddha’s Birthday Festival, the Abbess and members of Chung Tian Buddhist Temple perform a special blessing ceremony on the front lawn of GOMA, to honour a tree descended from an ancient Bodhi Tree at the site which gave birth to Buddhism.

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