April 22, 2014

Read: Sneakers

Like the 300 pairs of sneakers inside it, this new book, Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide, is a highly-collectible compilation of the best in limited-edition contemporary sneakers from the past decade. Detailing the rise of sneaker collecting from subcultural to mainstream, the book particularly focuses on collaborations between brands and artists, designers, musicians and cultural icons, with pieces by Adidas, Nike, Vans and Converse included in full colour.

Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide, 
written and designed by U-Dox, $35, Thames & Hudson. 

April 20, 2014

Heart of Darkness

With popular culture entranced by society’s evil underbelly, an art exhibition celebrating Australia’s own dark history seems timely, writes Alison Kubler. 

A quick assessment of popular mainstream culture would suggest that dark is the new light. Our televisions, cinemas and bookshops are replete with vampires, zombies and post-apocalyptic scenarios. Our appetite for destruction is insatiable. When anthropologists look back at the 21st century they might confuse an average mother from Sydney for a member of an outlaw bikie gang, such is the contemporary popularity of tattoos across age and class. Where tattoos were once the hallmark of rebellion, an outsider art form, they are now something of a suburban rite of passage, mawkish at worst and mediocre at best, certainly no longer shocking. To extend the analogy, outside is the new inside.
This universal fascination with the abject, the ‘other’, suggests a societal disaffection or disillusionment, a social malaise borne out of a real apocalypse; in this case, the global financial breakdown. Out of these straitened, conservative times has emerged the mainstreaming of counter-culture in the form of an obsession for ghouls and monsters, and a fair few handsome vampires. So prevalent are monsters that, well, they are no longer very scary. We may as well blame Lady Gaga and her legions of ‘monsters’. To paraphrase Andy Warhol, if everyone’s a monster then nobody is. This leads me, in a roundabout way, to the 2014 Adelaide Biennial, entitled Dark Heart, which features 28 artists (including Brook Andrew,
Del Kathryn Barton, Martin Bell, Julia deVille, eX de Medici, Fiona Hall and
Ian Strange) working across divergent media.
Dark Heart is as ambitious as it is big. The Adelaide Biennial is an exhibition that historically receives significant critical attention for its showcase of Australian art and aims to attract large attendances, coinciding as it does with the Adelaide Festival, which in turn includes the Adelaide International 2014 (curated by Richard Grayson). It’s a busy time for Adelaide that sees the city challenge Melbourne and Sydney for cultural hegemony. Large-scale thematically curated exhibitions such as this are most successful when they take a risk in an attempt to describe the Zeitgeist, whether through the selection of artists, the theme itself or the logistical complexity of the exhibition (artist Ian Strange is developing a massive site-specific work that will see an entire house come to rest off kilter outside the Art Gallery of South Australia, like a prop from a prosaic version of The Wizard of Oz). Group exhibitions are inherently risky, fraught with tensions. Dark Heart was to feature a catalogue essay by Germaine Greer that at the time of writing had just been nixed, so we must imagine its contentious content. At the very least a show of this national cultural importance should provoke more questions than answers and it would seem that this biennial, at the time of writing, is well on its way to achieving this.
It is perhaps worth wryly observing that staging an exhibition with this title in Adelaide is a provocation of sorts, since its reputation as the city of churches has been tarnished in recent history thanks to the Snowtown murders. The image of bodies in barrels is hard to shake when you journey in from the airport past industrial areas on a grey, rainy day.

Self-appointed 2014 biennial curator and Art Gallery of South Australia director Nick Mitzevich explains: “In its 13th iteration the biennial will tap into the hearts and minds of contemporary Australian society to explore the political, the psychological and the personal. I am after an inherently emotional and immersive exhibition, one that is unafraid to ask difficult questions and expose the underbelly of society.” A challenging remit, although it is the last statement in particular that intrigues in light of my introductory thoughts. Mr Mitzevich’s interest in exposing the nation’s underbelly (through painting, sculpture, video and installation) points to an aspect of our national character that is far removed from the comfortable stereotype. We are a nation girt by sea, an island geographically defined; outwardly we project the image of a sun-kissed sporting nation of Valkyrie-like proportions and promote ourselves in international tourism campaigns with imagery of our beaches and bush.

Yet beneath this bronzed exterior there flows a darker undercurrent that relentlessly pulls us along, one that is manifest across Australian literature, cinema, art and fashion, from the melancholy romanticism of Nick Cave lyrics, to films such as Lantana, Warwick Thornton’s heartbreaking Samson and Delilah, or Snowtown (a tale of urban decay and boredom, it describes an Australian masculine malaise), to artists from Albert Tucker to the late Adam Cullen, and books such as Picnic at Hanging Rock. There persists in Australian historical culture an artistic willingness to expose the difficult side of our national character, to turn an unflinching gaze inward and see that which is most unattractive about ourselves, which catalogued might include, amongst other things, a nationalistic spirit that borders upon jingoism, the racist overtures of the contemporary sovereign borders campaigns and a shameful history of Indigenous neglect, all shot through with a parochial attitude that persists. Australians are adept at being self deprecating and ruthless in their self-analysis. This may be one of our better character traits.

The temptation with an exhibition such as this is to fit the artist to the theme, though this strategy invariably disappoints. Substantially different in their individual approaches, the 28 artists featured all make uncompromising work that is authentic in its intention. Dark Heart illuminates two concurrent art histories or cultural trajectories that frequently converge and diverge: an ancient and contemporary indigenous art history, and a white (albeit ethnically rich) art history. In this regard, Mr Mitzevich’s central premise is an interesting one for the complexity of context it throws up; the central premise, the ‘dark heart’, is an unfixed and shifting thing. It means one thing and another completely at the same time. It is both the heart of the land and the darkness of our character. It suggests unease.

The history of Australian art could traditionally be understood as a history of landscape painting, from the earliest colonial painters responding to the harsh exoticism of their new climes through to the iconic paintings of Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale and more recently artists such as Shaun Gladwell and Indigenous artists Sally Gabori and Brook Andrew. For the majority of Australians the bush remains unknowable, inexorable and at times malevolent. The indigenous connection to the land is indisputable; the land is not a genre, rather it is the great story of existence and humanity, that which connects us collectively to a larger story that is eternal, complex and deeply politicised. In this context we might understand the dark heart as more than just the literal land itself – it is perhaps, as Mr Mitzevich has conceived of it, the evocation of a collective dark night of the soul. In the hands of the artists collected in Adelaide, it is a metaphor realised in myriad permutations.

Mr Mitzevich has said “in a way, I’m saying contemporary art at the moment is very much about a return to the narrative, very much about a return to figurative art, very much about a return to aesthetics – that’s the point I’m making with this list [of artists].” Mr Albert’s work is a highly subjective response to the stolen generation that employs kitschAaboriginal themed memorabilia to underline our discomfort with our past. His house of cards beautifully entitled I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear points to the fragility of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships. Brook Andrew’s raison d’etre is a cold-headed examination of the sins of a colonial nation visited on its Indigenous people via quaint etchings rendered on a large blown-up scale on canvas in elegant gravure detail and overshot with colour. His work pulls no punches. It is designed to unsettle, as is the work of eX de Medici, who appropriates the polite Victoriana genre of watercolour as the starting point for works of extraordinary detail in which she juxtaposes imagery of weapons with feminine tropes such as flowers. The final large-scale images are alluring confections that hide a malicious beauty.

Del Kathryn Barton is best known to Australian audiences by virtue of her successful Archibald prize winning works, yet to label her a portrait painter is to diminish her practice. For Dark Heart she has created a sprawling opus entitled the heart land, as well as a video work. Ms Barton’s work enthrals with its at times sentimental, illustrative flow. She is a mark maker par excellence, her mode of expression a frenetic outpouring of tightly controlled gestures. With the heart land, a huge, multi-panelled work, Ms Barton describes her own experience of motherhood while she makes analogies about creation, home and hearth. It’s almost psychedelic in its rendering, hippy and trippy. It’s a showstopper.

Several artists in Dark Heart make works that deal with the uncanny, that which unsettles by virtue of its apparent normalcy. In the work of Shoufay Derz, butterflies swarm over a shrouded face, beautiful and weird. Tony Garifilakis taps into a commonly held mistrust of politicians, turning the faces of recognisable power players from Vladimir Putin to Kevin Rudd into malevolent harbingers, spray painting them black in a series entitled Mob Rule. Everyone’s favourite goth taxidermist, Melbourne artist Julia de Ville, is creating an as yet unseen installation entitled PHANTASMAGORIA that includes a baroque inspired chandelier that evokes the form of an octopus. Fiona Hall’s inimitable work employs found objects and artfully carved bones and filigreed metal to create shamanistic items such as a skull cuckoo clock, a creepy memento mori. Ms Hall, who has been named Australia’s representative artist for the 2015 Venice Biennale, is a well-established artist whose oeuvre examines political and environmental themes. Alex Seton’s meticulous sculpting in marble is a marriage of archaic techniques with contemporary issues. Someone died trying to have a life like mine is an installation of marble life jackets that lie on the gallery floor like the flotsam and jetsam from another failed asylum seeker attempt.

Appropriately named artist Ian Strange’s perfectly normal suburban house flung to earth as though rejected for its prosaic facade is reminiscent of architect Robin Boyd’s declarations several decades ago on the Australian ‘ugliness’. Internationally based, Mr Strange has been making photographic imagery of abandoned and gutted American houses, the remains of the subprime mortgage crisis that stand bereft and empty. And flying above this extraordinary collection of art is the strangest thing of all – Skywhale, a pendulous, fecund and strangely benevolent creature, the creation of Patricia Piccinini. Skywhale taps into a subconscious fear of horror rent from the skies, and yet Ms Piccinini’s whale is, in that traditional definition of the word, cute. It’s figurative, all right.

Missing from the exhibition’s original line up is Australia’s pre-eminent photographic artist and past Venice Biennale representative Bill Henson who withdrew from inclusion after official announcement spurred yet another media fracas and allegations of child pornography surrounding his work. The farce of trial by media that Mr Henson has suffered would suggest that mainstream Australia can’t yet face its own dark heart. 

Images from top: Tony Garifalakis, Untitled 5 from the series Mob Rule, 2013. 
Alex Seton, Someone died trying to have a life like mine, 2013. 
Ian Strange, Burn series #4, 2013.

April 17, 2014

Jac+Jack Opens in Melbourne

There's really no stopping Australian luxury basics label Jac+Jack with the opening of its fourth standalone retail store earlier this week in Melbourne. Located in the city's new Emporium centre - also home to Calvin Klein, M.J. Bale, Saba and Uniqlo - the store was designed by longtime architectural collaborator George Livissianis (read more about Mr Livissianis from issue VIII of Manuscript here) and, as he explains, is "an ever evolving conversation", a hybrid of its existing Strand Arcade, Paddington and Hawksburn spaces with the use of plywood, concrete, Arabescato marble and Belgian linen. In celebrating the opening, Jac+Jack teamed with photographer Stephen Ward and hairstylist and Manuscript contributor Jenny Kim to create a series of unique portraits, pictured above, that capture the spirit and instinct of Melbourne.

April 16, 2014

Watch: Man on the Move

French fashion house Hermes has released a new video, Man on the Move, to coincide with its theme for the year: metamorphosis. Ballet dancer Jeremie Belingard o the l'Opera de Paris is seen moving through different pieces from Veronique Nichanian's spring/summer 2014 collection.

April 15, 2014

Opening Ceremony x Adidas Originals

In the fourth iteration of an ongoing collaboration, Opening Ceremony and Adidas Originals has released a baseball-inspired collection of menswear. The all-American red, white and blue palette is employed in shirting, sweats and zip-up bomber jackets, as well as a pair of high-top Stan Smith sneakers, embossed with a baseball patch and stitching on the iconic stripes.

April 14, 2014

The Brit Pack

The British Fashion Council plays an invaluable role in supporting emerging design talent in the United Kingdom, but its remit extends beyond womenswear to include menswear, too. Having begun in 2009, NEWGEN MEN has played a pivotal role in supporting now-established names including Christopher Shannon, James Long and J.W. Anderson. For the spring/summer 2015 season to be showcased at London Collections: Men in June, the British Fashion Council has announced it will support rising stars Alex Mullins and Craig Green, offering financial support to help in staging their shows, increasing their visibility to press and buyers, as well as legal and commercial advice. The two desigers join Agi & Sam, Astrid Andersen, Common, Diego Vanassibara, Kit Neale, Lee roach, Matthew Miller and Nasir Mazhar, also part of the initiative.

April 13, 2014

Mr Porter Presents Nike x Riccardo Tisci

Unless you have been living under a sartorial rock recently, you'll know that sneakers have become big business in designer men's fashion recently. Naturally, the collaboration between Nike and Riccardo Tisci (artistic director of Givenchy) has been eagerly awaited since its announcement, and the designer's take on the sportswear brand's classic Air Force 1 collection is something to behold. Available in several styles (including low and high-top), MrPorter.com is the exclusive online stockist of the special capsule, with the white colour available now and the black to follow it next week.

April 10, 2014

MBFWA: Song for the Mute

Before Song for the Mute's show at Australian Fashion Week last night, the only full menswear collection being shown at the annual event, we went backstage to document the preparation that went into the presentation. Legendary American musician Lupe Fiasco joined Manuscript models Elijah, Mason, Hugh, Jacob and Sam on the runway, adding some international star quality to the show which was presented by Harrolds, the store having long supported Song for the Mute.

Photography Richard Sawyer

MBFWA: Emma Mulholland

There wasn't a great deal of menswear in Emma Mulholland's spring collection, but the easy-to-wear styles and fun, eighties-inspired prints compelled us to share them nonetheless.

April 9, 2014

MBFWA: Strateas.Carlucci

Following Strateas.Carlucci's recent win of the Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award, all eyes were bound to be on the label at Australian Fashion Week, and this was a strong debut. The collection's more structured pieces were the strongest, and while things looked well executed in terms of cut and finish, this wasn't Savile Row; the trans-seasonal men's and women's collection comprised traditional cornerstones of tailoring - blazers, peacoats, trousers and collared shirting - but the pieces were cut in such a way that they seemed like complete reinventions, testament to the designers' unique voice. A men's black wool blazer, for example, was spliced open at its side vents, creating a gill-like effect that worked well with the double collars shown in other looks, with the layering becoming an important element of the collection. 

April 4, 2014

See: Modulations

It was music producer Stephen Pavlovic that brought The Cure to Sydney during his tenure as director of Vivid festival, so it stands to reason that his program for Modulations, a project in partnership with Carriageworks as part of Vivid 2014, is so fantastic. Held on site at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, Modulations focuses on the intersection of art forms, bring together music performances, art, installations and innovative street food. Headlining the event is multi-award winning electronic outfit Pet Shop Boys, for which creative director Es Devlin (known for collaborations with Kanye West and Jay-Z, and who designed the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games), has created a spectacular show of film, lasers and choreography, offering a truly immersive experience. “This is not a traditional arts program, nor is it a traditional music program,” explains Mr Pavlovic. “My vision is to create an intimate, fun, truly creative event that appeals to a wide audience brought together by a shared interest in all forms of creativity and imagination.” 

April 3, 2014

Winter is Coming

Following a brief hiatus from the spotlight, Australian actor-musician-artist 
Noah Taylor’s career is, yet again, on the rise. 

Photography Paul Scala | Story Jemima Sissons

Interviewing Noah Taylor is an interesting gig. Having been stung a few years ago, he is reluctant to meet you in person, so what ensues is a meeting with a shadow – exchanges late at night on email, and on phones in hotel rooms 2000 miles apart. One’s visual references are varied. One minute when he is describing his dislike of modern art (“I have a complete phobia of it”), we are in Milan and Brighton (where he lives), and it is Mr Taylor in Shine that seems to be on the other end of the phone: a wild-eyed, restless ball of energy. Further down the line and we are conversing while he is on a train back home. He is describing his detachment from social media (“I am too old for it”), and it is the comical Mr Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that springs to mind, that expressive face and furrowed brow, his brain whirring too quickly, as you get the impression it often is.

His multifaceted roles are perhaps an apt reflection of his own life. Although most well known as an actor – in particular for his role in Shine as the troubled young David Helfgott, and more recently in cult US TV series Game of Thrones – Mr Taylor is also a talented musician and artist; a man with many strings to his bow. The elder of two sons, Mr Taylor, 44, was born to Australian parents in London, but moved to Melbourne when he was five, where he lived in St Kilda. Bizarrely, for someone who comes across as such a sensitive soul, he wanted to join the army before becoming an actor. “Boys naturally gear towards that kind of thing, crawling around on the floor on all fours, but I’m a coward at heart,” he explains wryly.

It was after he left school at 16 that he fell into acting, without any formal training, and was cast in his first major role a year later, in The Year My Voice Broke, directed by John Duigan. This was followed by Flirting, alongside Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton, where he played the sweetly awkward young Danny Embling discovering love. Yet it was his raw vulnerability in Shine as the young piano playing troubled genius that cemented his name as one of Australia’s leading actors of his generation. With roles as diverse as Hitler in Max, the harrowed band manager in Almost Famous, and a father undergoing a mid-life crisis in Submarine, he is equally able to show raw vulnerability and master the comedy turn with a simple sideways glance or raise of his eyebrow.

A few years ago, however, he seemed to quite simply disappear, go to ground, only to bounce back three years ago in more roles than ever. What happened? “I took a few years off from acting to pursue music and assumed I could just slip back into it,” explains Mr Taylor. “But actually it was like having to start from scratch, which was a bit humbling, but probably quite healthy. I think I'm more comfortable doing it now and enjoy the sort of roles that come with a bit of age. I actually find it more difficult now these days but that's maybe to do with it taking it a little more seriously.” 

He is now the busiest he has ever been. With six forthcoming film releases including Predestination, a sci-fi psychological thriller; The Double, by Richard Ayoade, about a man driven mad by his doppelgänger; and Epic, a comedy shot in Georgia, made by an old friend of Mr Taylor’s, Ben Hopkins, about a director trying to make a film about a former Soviet Bloc country's national history. Taylor plays “an obnoxious B-grade action move star past his prime.” Then there is The Menkoff Method, a “good old-fashioned Aussie comedy” directed by David Parker, who wrote the classic Melbourne comedy Malcolm, in which he plays the villainous Russian Max Menkoff. As for Game of Thrones, he remains, as you might assume, very tightlipped. “I can't say anything or they'll kill me.” And he certainly wouldn’t be the first.

It is impossible now to pigeonhole Mr Taylor, and he seems to relish in taking on these multiple and very different personalities. Which, then, does he enjoy the most? “It's good to try and stretch your limits doing the more demanding, difficult roles, but they can be taxing on you and those around you,” he says. “These days I like to try and do comedies and slightly over the top villains, which is kind of a form of comedy. As far as favourite roles, I enjoyed playing a Texan serial killer in a fairly obscure film called Red, White & Blue, which is a great film but a bit too heavy for the art film crowd and a bit too arty for the gore brigade so it didn't get much of a look in.”

But certainly since Game of Thrones, famous for its obsessive fan base, he is recognised more and more. “I wasn't really aware of the whole phenomenon until I actually started working on the show. I don't watch much TV and I'd never come across the books, so it wasn't till a while into filming the series that I realised it was kind of a big deal to a lot of folks. If I have a beard in civilian life then occasionally someone will yell out ‘fuck the Lannisters!’ [the evil family in the series, for those living under a rock], I'll give them a thumbs up and that seems to be enough. I've never really had trouble with fans; most people are pleasant enough and I know what it is to be a fan so I try and be polite and friendly if approached, but really it doesn't happen much.”

Having come to the UK in 1998 for work, he ended up living in London before settling in Brighton, a seaside town of faded Georgian splendour, freedom, windy piers, day-trippers and night owls. For him, it is oddly reminiscent of where he grew up. “It actually reminds me of St Kilda. There are still lots of big bums in Brighton, it’s rough around the edges, with a mix of dreamers and junkies. There's some beautiful architecture and I enjoy the slightly tatty seaside holiday resort feel of the place,” he explains. “It could do with a bit more glamour and some more decent restaurants, but that's true of most cities in the UK outside of London.”

He is clearly attracted to the more genteel side of Britishness, citing The Savoy hotel, Jermyn Street and the country’s ‘ancient’ establishments as things he warms to. However there is a part of Mr Taylor that will be forever Australian. “I miss the beaches, the bush and the openness of the Australian psyche and landscape,” he says. Although he doesn’t consider himself an expat as he “hates that expression”, Taylor confesses that he now considers Brighton very much home. “I have grown to love it, I have lived here half my life. I don't attach much importance to nationality, but I am quite patriotic, and am still thoroughly Australian.”

Although Mr Taylor, who goes back to Australia once a year to visit friends and family in Melbourne, confesses that he feels like his home country is increasingly less and less like the place he left. “Everywhere changes, it is one of those weird things about living in another country for a length of time, you go back and after 20 years it is radically different. You can see it in the attitude… it is a lot more materialistic now, it used to be egalitarian, but there is a lot more money obsession. I think this is because the recession didn't really touch Australia and people have got it pretty good there. During the previous government, under John Howard, it became a lot more anti-immigration and hard line, like under Thatcher, with selfish attitudes.” He also feels that Australians can err on the side of complacency. “Australian and British life is markedly different for a variety of reasons, the weather and personal space being a part of it. Life is pretty hard for the average Brit, and Australian life is a dream for many; Australians don't know how good they've got it really.”

Downtime is spent focusing on his other loves, music and art, perhaps where he feels he can be most himself. ‘Film is my work, it is not just for the fun of it, it is very much working for other people, with other people. As I am a control freak I like music and painting as it is entirely my thing.” His art is on the dark side: ghoulish images punctuated with death and murder. He seems, if his pictures of blood-spattered bodies and multi-breasted she-devils are anything to go by, like a very tortured soul. “People often say my art is dark, although I never see that myself, even the ones that involve hangings. A lot of those ones are based loosely on historical events, like bush rangers, but for the main they are, I guess, what you'd call unconscious or subconscious images that float around my head. I tend to repeat myself a lot which I fought against for a long time and then came to the conclusion there was a reason for the images being so insistent, so eventually I just went with them.” He had a sell-out show in the Olsen Irwin Gallery, in Woollahra, last January and is currently working on an exhibition at London’s Lawrence Alkin Gallery, due to open in March.

Music is also a big part of his life. While he was taking time out he focused his energies on this, but even that has undergone a metamorphosis, mellowing a little, like Taylor himself: ‘I've played in and had numerous bands since I was a teen. Probably my favourite is my current band The Rhinestoned Immaculates, a kind of a freaked out, droney, country western band, but I think we've run our course now; they were quite chaotic and violent shows, always resulting in damage both to my guitars and eardrums. I'm going to do something a little bit more refined and romantic next.’

It seems, like his music, Taylor has grown into himself. Having spent many of his years a little tortured, finding his way, he is now riding a wave. He shot to fame early, then disappeared, went to ground, laid low, to get whatever it was that was needed out of his system. Now, back and stronger than ever, he has come full circle. Married to Dionne Loehr, an Australian fashion designer, he is also father to a six-year old girl, Martha, by a previous relationship. Does he think his star is rising, that he is eclipsing the Chris Hemsworths of this world? “Not that I am aware of. I am not really a competitive person, I was just very lazy about my career in my twenties and thirties. Now that I am a parent and middle-aged, I am a bit more driven.”