A look back at the June Mostra 2017

In June the BSR saw the third and final Mostra of our 2016–17 programme. Our seven Fine Arts award-holders put together a brilliant exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of Roberto Apa’s fantastic photographs of the Mostra works. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the support of The Bridget Riley Foundation, the Helpmann Academy, The Incorporated Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Scholarships, The Linbury Trust, The National Art School, Sydney, and the William Fletcher Foundation.

 

Chris Browne (William Fletcher Foundation Scholar)

Clockwise from top left: Carrara, oil on canvas, 45 x 85 cm; Portrait Study, oil on canvas, 32 x 30 cm; Sub, oil on canvas, 26 x 54 cm.

 

Gary Deirmendjian (National Art School, Sydney, Resident)

GaryDeirmendjianTendency

Clockwise from top-left: gripping, lead, 20 x 26 x 16 cm; skull & bones, lead, 30 x 29.5 cm;  classica, lead, 30 x 29 cm; tendency – BSR theatre wall, thread and tape, 975 x 300 cm.

 

Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

Clockwise from top: Kiss, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper; Volpetti, A4,
acrylic and gouache on paper; Dinner, BSR, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper.

 

Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

Clockwise from top-left: Carry me from Garbo’s, Indian ink, pastel, oil pastel on
fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; Campari Spring, coloured pencil, pastel, watercolour on fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; sticky as an ant, and
shining like a hothouse flower, acrylic on canvas, 85 x 120 cm.

 

Kate Power (Helpmann Academy Resident)

Insidious distance, timber, cardboard, bubble wrap, papier mache, gesso, paint, fabric,
dimensions variable.

 

Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power

ParsonagePowerCondition

a condition for doing things together, single channel video, 20 mins 11 secs.

 

Sinta Tantra (The Bridget Riley Fellow)

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Tuca Tuca – Spring Time in Rome, tempera on linen, 130 x 180 cm.

 

Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

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Bonbon circuit, mixed media on canvas, 122 x 102 cm.


All photos by Roberto Apa

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Catherine Parsonage

There are still three days left to see the fantastic show put together by our resident artists for the June Mostra! In the final instalment of the Meet the artists blog series, we spoke to Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture, Catherine Parsonage, about her residency and how her practice has changed over the course of the past nine months.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Catherine Parsonage uses painting and sculpture to pursue the ultimate reduction of the female form, condensing the body to its most elementary essence through single deft lines. The drawings and paintings carefully choreograph the body as the fashion photographer might its subject, creating a distilled mis-en-scene, where the subtle shifts in weight and angle are imbued with movement and poise.

With this being your third Mostra, you have by now worked alongside three different groups of artists with very different practices. Have you noticed your work changing in response to this? If so, how?

Every three months when the new artists arrive an entirely new energy is exchanged at the BSR. I think that watching and understanding how different artists approach their work but perhaps more importantly their time at the BSR has been really valuable. I think I am still absorbing a lot from my first three months here where the conversations and relationships I had shifted everything about my approach to painting; similarly recent conversations have encouraged me to work through my ideas in other mediums.

In the past few months, you have been collaborating with artists both inside and outside the BSR. How did these projects came about, and are these collaborations are a new practice for you?

Yes, they are a new practice for me, the collaborations and conversations I have been part of during the last few months have been so nourishing for my approach to thinking and making. The exhibition FULL FOR IT with Tomaso de Luca and the process of making the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power have resulted in work I am not only excited by but which I know will have a huge impact in the future.

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Still of video installation ‘a condition for doing things together’ by Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power.

Artist Celine Condorelli cites in her work on the politics of friendship this beautiful quote by Bertrand, which comes to mind when I think about these relationships and collaborations:

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection.

In your last interview, you mentioned that you have been working with stained glass. How did you go on with that in the last three months?

Some of the smaller pieces have in fact just arrived in the studio, and I think they will be exhibited in Italy in late Autumn. The development and production of the stained glass pieces has been a long process: the initial ideas and drawings have had to be constantly adapted through conversation and tests with Paolo Corpetti, the artisan I have been working with. There has been a reciprocal push and pull to find a balance between the vision for the work and the potential and limitations of the materials themselves; I think this is one of the most significant elements of these exchanges – for example even seeing the pieces in my studio this week has shifted how I will install and treat them and this forced fluidity is a welcome challenge.

Do you feel an affinity with these new mediums – performance,  glass, printmaking– and do you think you will explore them further after your residency?

Definitely, I think I am still processing my thoughts about the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power: the piece involves a single shot of Kate and I at dawn wearing these stilt-like pointed shoes which we made from pieces of wood left around the workshop; the experience of performing in these shoes – of falling, struggling, supporting one another was an incredibly intense, rich and new one for me. Kate and I will continue to work together and in this performative manner in the future.

With all the other 2016-17 residencies ending at the end of June, the next three months at the BSR will no doubt have a very different atmosphere to work in. Can you anticipate how this might affect your work? Do you know yet how you intend to use that time, which will be more open-ended than the October—June period?

The residency thus far has been an intense time of change for my work, I hope that the upcoming months will provide a quieter moment to digest and reflect on these shifts and to process the immense visual fullness one experiences in Rome.  I will be spending these months working towards solo shows in London and Italy later in the year.


Catherine’s work is currently being exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Kate Power

Last Thursday saw the opening of this year’s June Mostra, and it was a great pleasure to see the work of our resident artists brought together for a fantastic exhibition. Here we give you an insight into the practice of Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power, who discusses here the process behind her Mostra pieces.

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Kate Power. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Kate Power embraces video, performance, textiles, sculpture and installation to investigate enforced social constructs that can complicate the way people relate to one another. Power observes social interactions to consider how seemingly insignificant moments have psychological and physiological impacts. These ideas form a framework to consider humour, loneliness, uncertainty and suppressed desire. Through a lens of queer and feminist theories, Power considers modes of generating knowledge through observing everyday experiences and making processes.

What will you be showing in the Mostra?

I’m showing a work of three sculptures. The forms are made from things I’ve accumulated here, like packaging I don’t need anymore and things I’ve found in the workshop, and covered with layers of gesso and paint. The process of making the forms has been ongoing over my residency and I think reflects things I’ve noticed about Rome. I’ve been interested in movement and gesture in sculpture and the way the architecture is layered, changing form and adding new parts onto old structures. Making these works has been a process of adding and taking over time. It’s a development of my usual process that has been inspired by being here and observing the layers and textures of the city.

 

Part of your practice involves ‘observing everyday experiences’ – how does being at the BSR, and in Rome more generally, feed into that?

These works seem to embody a feeling or reaction and I think they are responses to lots of things I’ve been seeing and experiencing here but also the intimate social environment of the BSR. It’s been interesting living in such close living quarters with other artists and scholars. I think being in a country where I don’t speak the language and you feel like a foreigner increases my awareness of the kind of otherness I think about in relation to feeling alienated or distanced from other people. That space and the ways people intercept it are what interests me and I think being here has made me more sensitive to this, so I’ve drawn on it in new ways.

How has working alongside this group of artists and scholars impacted your work?

I’ve connected with another artist here, Catherine Parsonage, and we’ve made a collaborative work together. Our ideas cross over and we’d been having lots of conversations that led to kind of embodying the conversations we were having, or perhaps embodying the process of communication. Spending time with the scholars has made me see things from other perspectives too and knowing about their projects has certainly informed the way I approach looking at history. Thinking about layers and the way things develop on top of one another actually started from walking around with a scholar here who was talking about the way new structures were added on to existing buildings and so a lot of the architecture is an amalgamation over time. I liked this idea for thinking about human interactions and the moments that build up in people to shape the way they see things or even the way they hold their body.

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Still of video installation by Kate Power and Catherine Parsonage.

Which spaces in Rome – either public spaces, museums, or galleries – have been of particular interest to you?

Since I arrived I’ve been drawn to the empty apses on the outsides of buildings. Something about these spaces that seem designed for something that isn’t there has stayed on my mind. Something about absence but with an implied object or thing is compelling to me. My work centres on non-specific connections that impact on people in subtle ways and I think something about these elusive spaces has provoked my thinking about things in between, a kind of engagement and non-engagement. Also I have the desire to put my sculptures in them. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at sculpture. Not in a particular gallery but I’ve been drawn to certain gestures like hands holding objects and reaching behind, covering bodies.

 

Have you been experimenting with new techniques or new mediums since being at the BSR?

The technique or wrapping things together to make forms isn’t new to me but layering plaster and paint the way I have on these sculptures is new. I wanted to expose layers underneath while still applying more layers and also give a kind of humourous reference to marble. When I came here I wanted to do marble carving but given the time restraints I wasn’t able to do a course. I took some close up photos of marble and I think the new process I’ve developed might look as if it’s trying to pose as marble.

Looking ahead, do you have any projects lined up for when you return to Australia?

I expect I’ll be working with my experiences in Rome for a while. I’ve done a lot of drawing and planning for new works while I’ve been here and I anticipate I’ll turn that into a body of work when I go home. I would like to expand these sculptures into a larger installation and I also have some plans for wall hangings, curtains and videos.


Kate’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

All photos by Kate Power.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Peter McDonald

The final Mostra of works by our 2016–17 artists-in-residence will open at the BSR this evening. For a taste of what to expect from the exhibition, we bring you our latest interview, this time with Abbey Fellow in Painting, Peter McDonald. Here Peter discusses the works he will be showing in the June Mostra, the process behind them, and how being in Italy has shaped his practice during the past three months.

Peter McDonald

Peter McDonald. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Peter McDonald’s paintings depict a colourful world inhabited by people engaged in everyday activities. Images of teachers, hairdressers, chefs, shopkeepers or scholars are constructed with an elementary graphic language. They have a cartoon like simplicity and waver at the point where figuration might tip at any moment into abstraction. Human forms veer towards the geometric; circles stand in for heads, flat planes describe rooms and crude poses denote narrative. Yet these simplifications appear to create a community of superhumans living in a world that has a harmonious transparency.

What will you be showing in the mostra and can you explain the process behind the works and how they came about?

I’ll be showing about 25 works on paper, A4 size, painted with this acrylic gouache paint, which is water-based, which I buy in Japan – but then I found some interesting colours in an art shop in Rome too – and then six of these cigarette box works.

You have to lift up the lid then flick the front part down. I’ve been making these boxes for years – I showed them in an exhibition in Japan [at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa] and even then I’d been making these for a while. They ended up going to bookshops, bakers, hairdressers, record shops, places like that. So it’s something that I do when I travel. Altogether I’ve probably made between 45 and 50 of them.

Do you ever match up what you paint inside of the box with the images on the outside?

Yes, sometimes – for example, one cigarette box had a photo of smoke being blown onto a baby’s face on the outside, and inside I painted a couple kissing, in a very romantic and idealised scene in contrast to the outer image.

PeterMcDonald

Painted cigarette box by Peter McDonald. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

With this one, I collected some bits of broken glass from the street outside, and turned it into a contemporary art piece in the scene inside this box, and then a shaving from a pencil-sharpener became a sculpture.

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Gallery scene inside a cigarette box. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

There will be six of these boxes in the mostra, and they’re going to be on little shelves placed throughout the exhibition.

The images come about from my daily life, so I walk around with this pocket-sized sketchbook, and inside I quickly sketch ideas, and that’s the starting point for my paintings. Some of them don’t make it out of the sketchbook. They’re just little moments that I see in my daily life and that I think might translate well into my painted world. I often find that the process of painting reveals more information about the subject, and gives it more sense or makes it more interesting, and I just follow it through.

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Scenes of daily life in Rome by Peter McDonald in the BSR exhibition space. photo by Ellie Johnson.

With your paintings looking at ‘people engaged in everyday activities’ – how has the context of the BSR, and Rome more generally, fed into this?

Being in Rome and at the BSR has fed into my work, but quite subtly. It isn’t reflected so much on the surface in terms of the imagery, but it has had an effect more internally, and that will probably start seeping through later. Being in Rome has allowed me to visit sites and cities which have given me a sense of the historical and artistic lineage: going from Pompeii to Palazzo Massimo and seeing the frescoes, then on to Venice, Florence and Siena, and after that Arezzo and Assisi and Perugia. I really felt the lineage of history and how imagery and techniques were developing, especially in the depiction of space, which I have always been interested in, and which was one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Rome in the first place. So it’s been more than I expected, really. Also, using the Library at the BSR for books which talk about the development of space in paintings, from Roman times to the Renaissance, has been a really good thing to be doing in the evenings – I can read up about it, and then process it when I’m working the next day.

As your residency is relatively short at just three months long, how have you divided your time between being inside the studio and being outside of the BSR, engaging with the city and with Italy?

It’s been a challenge but in a good way. From the beginning I knew that I should try and think about how to divide the time, and at first I was actually thinking, if I can’t make any work then I will give priority to being in Rome seeing places and visiting places, and then if I can make some work, I will at least make some sketches or some notes. As it happens, I have managed to do enough: I’m happy with the work that I’ve made, and also I’ve managed to visit so many places. There are still two or three places I’d like to visit before I go – Cortona, Tarquinia and Ostia, if I can.

Since being in Rome, have you come across any new styles or mediums or techniques that you’d like to pursue after your residency?

In terms of materials, just these acrylic paints which I found in Rome. The fresco workshop was something I’ve always wanted to know more about, but I don’t know If that’s something I would go back to in my practice. However, it will help me understand frescoes a bit more when I see them now, and understand how difficult the process is.

Have you found that working alongside artists who have very diverse practices to your own impacts upon your work?

This studio is great, because it’s your own space and it’s very quiet, which allows me to just get into my own work. But it has been good to be alongside artists every day, and to see what they’re doing and the variety of different practices has been really interesting. Especially in comparison to London, where the other artists you interact with tend to be doing similar things in terms of art, so it has been really refreshing to see different practices.

Has the interdisciplinary nature of the BSR, working alongside scholars as well as other artists, influenced your work? 

With the scholars, it’s been good to hear their lectures and hear how they think about things, because that’s definitely something that I don’t have much access to in London – people doing PhDs, researching classics or history… there’s no way that I would normally meet people like that when I’m based in my studio in London. I’ve found that to be really interesting, and perhaps it will come out in my painting somehow.


Peter’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists … Vivien Zhang

We caught up with our Abbey Scholar in Painting, Vivien Zhang, for whom the June Mostra will be her third exhibition at the BSR. Here she reflects upon her residency  and how being in Rome has had an impact upon her practice.

VZ

Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Vivien Zhang’s work looks at the idea of repetition and painting as a site for assemblage. Context-specific motifs, such as the mathematical shape gömböc and aluminium foil, enact as well as interrupt fields of repetition. Layering in Zhang’s work often simulates algorithms found in digital imaging software – an approach influenced by our ways of engaging with visual material today. Zhang explores through her work our expanding accessibility to images and information today, our shifting authorship and authority over such materials, and our increasing re-identification as trans-border inhabitants.

What will you be showing in the Mostra?

Trompe l’oeil! This is a preparatory drawing for the painting I’m showing in the Mostra-ultimo:

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Preparatory drawing for Vivien’s June Mostra painting.

Has working in Rome stimulated any new projects in Italy for you outside of the BSR?

Definitely. I did a show called All As Long Distance Neighbours in a seaside town in Pescara, Abruzzo, at a new project space called SOYUZ. This was curated by Italian curator Marialuisa Pastò. And… a show at this absolutely out-of-this-world site in Tuscany, called Monteverdi. The Monteverdi Gallery is situated in a 900-year-old village on a hilltop in Tuscany, called Castiglioncello del Trinoro. The programme of the gallery is curated by UK-curator Sarah McCrory. The show had just finished this week.

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Vivien’s work at the Monteverdi exhibition.

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I was invited to collaborate with a gallery to exhibit at the Milanese art fair – MiArt. It was such an exciting project to have on my plate, though it was right after our March Mostra. It was an opportunity for me to learn about the Milanese art scene – one that’s exceptionally vibrant in Italy – and the city itself. Also through the project I met a bunch of brilliant people – both curators and artists!

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Vivien’s work at the MiArt exhibition

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Vivien’s work at the MiArt exhibition

You referred to some ancient elements last time – the Etruscan vase handles, the pointing hands from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Have ancient motifs continued to be of inspiration? 

This one, a half-dolphin half-pirate figure, crept into my work. It comes from an Etruscan vase, now in the Toledo Museum of Art. It’s based on a tale about how Dionysos transformed pirates into dolphins and the pirates were captured in the middle of that transformation. The pirates were leaping into the sea from their ship in fear of a lion and a raging bear, which the god, angry, had invoked on their ship.

As you approach the end of your residency, what do you think you will miss the most about Rome?

The people I’ve met at the BSR, the community, and environment of this place. I think it’s pretty indescribable and can only be understood having experienced it… Everything from our Assistant Director’s Prosecco-segues to tales of the old girl Fragolina…

I will also be participating in High Noon, a group exhibition of works by artists from the different foreign academies in Rome. The opening of the show is on 24 June. Stay tuned…

VivienZhangHighNoon

Paths Stamper (Rip Tyde), Vivien Zhang, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 56 x 51 cm

And I am currently showing works at Art Basel in a group presentation. Here is one of the paintings you can see at the art fair:

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Octant Bounty, Vivien Zhang, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 210 x 170 cm


Vivien’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Chris Browne

With only two days to go until the opening of the June Mostra, we bring you the next interview from our Meet the artists series, this time with Chris Browne (William Fletcher Foundation Scholar). Here he gives an insight into his practice and discusses the surprises, the benefits and the challenges of working in Rome.

ChrisBrowne

Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Chris Browne has an ongoing interest in spaces, particularly man-made, and how these inhabited environments influence and shape people’s behaviour and sense of themselves, as individuals and as groups. Elements that contribute to the character of these architectural spaces, such as time, climate, colour, texture and scale are key to the development of the current group of works. Browne’s mode of expression could be classified as contemporary realism, working mostly in oils and various graphic media.

You have previously been based at the Florence Academy of Art: I was wondering how you find Rome as a city to work in in comparison to Florence?

I knew it would be different, but I was surprised by how different it is. Rome is a lot more diverse in terms of colour and texture and influences. It’s not as unified, but that’s part of its character, and there are so many layers – it’s great.

Given your interest in classical and renaissance architecture, in a city like Florence or Rome you are spoilt for choice for subjects to focus on. Have you found it a challenge to narrow your focus?

The images that I’m doing came pretty soon, and other images have built up but I’ve had to put them on hold and I’ll work on them when I get back to Australia, or in Rome if I can come back here. It’s a matter of logistics: because I’m a slow painter, there’s only so much I can do in the given time.

Have you found yourself drawn to a particular area of the city?

I’m drawn towards the textures, graffiti, decay, colour and variation of the street life, and of the churches too. I was looking at marbling in a church the other day and there was this tiny little area of a trompe l’oeil moulding, and it was one of those instances where you are struck by the quality craftsmanship and the discovery of it. I’ve been looking at a lot of marble; the churches here have such a range of it, and I’ve just been trying to build up my knowledge about the types of marble – I sat in on the City of Rome lecture on marble which was really good. I’ve been looking at those materials which unfortunately in Australia, you just don’t get.

Taking for example this image of the piazza overlooking the Piazza del Popolo [the central painting in the photo below]: what is the process behind this? Do you take a picture, do you work on site, or do you revisit it many times? 

I revisit a place to see it in different conditions, different groupings, and just to get a sense of how the light plays in the space. The figures tend to come last – I first suss out the context, and I don’t paint a picture from beginning to end in a short time frame. I take it to a stage, then leave it, then come back and decide what works, and the figures come later. Obviously, in that particular place there is such a range of figures and types of events – you can’t really distil that.

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Works in progress in Chris’ studio. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

I don’t paint in public if I can help it. I don’t mind drawing in public, that’s less noticeable. I tend to do a lot of watching, looking, and I take photos as well. I mainly draw with a sketchbook quietly somewhere, and take visual notes on colour, scale, tones.

Your works have a tranquillity to them, and I was wondering, because Rome has its very beautiful and picturesque and monumental side, but it also has the chaos and the crowds of tourists and graffiti and rubbish, do you think that infiltrates your work, or do you actively distance yourself from it?

There is a tension: I love the baroque and the classical, and coming to Rome I did want to incorporate more baroque and more movement and chaos into these images which are very still – but I keep going back to the quiet churches and things like that, so I’m gradually trying to force myself to put a bit of movement in, it just doesn’t come naturally. I tend to still things down, but I’m trying to go against my tendencies and bring a bit more life, texture, things like that. It’ll probably take me a couple of years to do it properly. Patterns of behaviour keep repeating themselves. But I am already planning my next trip back as the process needs to be ongoing, rather than just a one-off. I feel an affinity with Italy and with Rome, so I am happy to focus on this area than, say, other parts of Europe.

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Works in progress in Chris’ studio. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

How have you balanced the relative brevity of your residency with your practice, in which you paint a layer and you have to leave it for a stretch of time to dry properly before you go back to the next?

I like the long process of letting the layers dry properly but it’s a bit tricky here, and I’ve actually been experimenting with a few mediums. Take this canvas here: the paint keeps sinking in, so I’ve had to adjust my mediums so that it doesn’t dry matte all the time. I don’t want it to crack, but for the mostra I’m taking a few risks in terms of not waiting as long. They’ll probably be about 70% finished for the mostra and in the last few days I’d like to put on an overlay, otherwise they will stay quite matte and dull.

Has the residency presented a challenge with regards to working alongside artists whose practices are so different from your own?

It was interesting, with the Florence Academy, the style and technique is very uniform, but here it is more unexpected. Initially I felt I had to compromise and adjust my practice, but in the end I continued doing what I do, as they continued doing what they do, and so I’m quite comfortable with that.

Would you say that, despite not having to compromise you practice as you at first felt you might have to, your practice or approach has changed in the past three months?

There’s bound to be an influence. I probably couldn’t pinpoint it exactly, but certain things seep through. For example, at the Florence Academy I’d learn something, but it wasn’t until six months later on that it became engrained and I knew what to do with it. There’s not a eureka moment but there is an accumulation.

The residency has been good because being in this environment with this group of people – researchers, archaeologists, historians – is a richer, broader experience, with a diverse set of influences.


Chris’ work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Gary Deirmendjian

The second artist-in-focus for our Meet the artists blogs for June Mostra 2017 is Gary Deirmendjian, National Art School, Sydney, Resident. Here he discusses how he has been interacting with Rome during his residency, and explains the process behind some of the works he will be showing in the June Mostra.

Can you reveal a bit about the work you will be showing at the June Mostra?

I came to Rome loaded with ideas of engaging with the city’s architectural palimpsest, but those have been side-lined and the city itself has been pulling me towards it and I’ve just followed my nose. In the Mostra, I will be using one of the cabinets next to the lecture theatre as a display for things that have washed up at the footsteps of the BSR. I’ll be displaying them as archaeological dig finds. You can imagine someone digging this up in 2000 years’ time – if we ever make it that far – and they’ll be just as excited as archaeologists today upon making a discovery and pouring into its tiniest details.

The other is this notion of lead handkerchiefs, and that’s what’s on this table here. These are impressions taken of the city itself: some of them I’ve wrapped around the physical objects that already existed in public space, like the foot of a sculpture in the Borghese gardens.

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Cast away objects picked up by Gary for his Mostra display. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Impressions made with lead handkerchiefs. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

How do you work with the lead handkerchiefs? Is the material quite malleable?

They’re thin enough to be malleable but hard enough to keep the form – I made my own tools to work with them. This is an impression I made of one of the statues in Villa Borghese. You can see it’s quite baroque when you look at the drapery, acting like a cloth that’s shrouding something.

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Impression of a statue made by Gary. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Working with something like this, do you aim to get the folds in a certain way – for this impression, were the creases deliberately placed?

No, it’s purely incidental. No two can be formed the same way, so that each time I do it it is unique to that instance. There’s also a cobblestone which has been ‘wrapped’, but the others are impressions of the city itself, so that thing had to have been there, I had to be there to make it happen, and they are a record of that moment in time.

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Cobblestone shrouded by a lead handkerchief. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Another example is an inlaid bronze skull and bones relief from the floor of the church Santa Maria del Popolo: for this one I went in with a group of tourists and dropped the sheet of lead in place and stomped on it over and over again to get the impression, using tourists as a cover. other versions of these are simply leaving lead sheets on a road or pavement, and collecting them a day or two later. in these instances i’m allowing the city to shape the work. So, some are incidentally formed, whereas others are more me in a concerned way.

How do you decide on a space for an intervention – say with the link you did in the studio or the interventions opposite the GNAM [Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna]?

The site ends up choosing you: with the space opposite the GNAM, I was walking there on a regular basis and noticing the biscuits [bitumen pieces], and you’ve got this bombastic gesture of the gallery directly opposite this very humble space, on equal height, where quite a few homeless people sleep at night. My heart always goes towards the ordinary, and so to do something anonymous and ordinary and hope that that might lead to some sort of a dialogue was the impetus, really.

Do you feel any protectiveness over your public installations, or is it the case that once it’s there it’s open for people to do what they want with it?

I’ve worked enough in public space to know that the public have a mind of their own and there’s no way of even trying to control that beast – it’s wild and unruly, and exciting as well. I do get incredibly precious as I’m making something, but for me the magic is in the making and it’s where the art lies. Once it’s there, I tend to distance myself through photography, and then before you know it, you are less emotionally connected.

Would you say you have had to build up to that attitude over time?

Yes, definitely. Working in public spaces, you’re on equal ground with everybody and it’s quite raw and unlike a white cube gallery, where everything inside that white cube has been mediated through some authority, whether it’s curators or critics or gallerists. The ‘specialness’ of that is something I find grating, because the truth is if you shut down all the art schools and all the galleries, there would still be art and it would probably be more authentic.

At first, leaning towards the public was harrowing in terms of being overly protective, but you toughen up. The whole point of the stack was to see what might happen, and it ended up producing some surprising results which were quite satisfying. The roman stack almost became a permission for people to play there, both children and adults. The public can either give or take away, but you just have to take the good with the bad I suppose!

Working in Rome in comparison to working in Sydney, are there any parallels that you have noticed or perhaps been surprised by?

I don’t have a studio in Sydney, but a lot of people give me spaces to work in, like the National Art School. The city itself is my studio and I suppose I have simply continued to act in that mode here in Rome. The parallels are just me being me, but the context is obviously different, and it’s made me aware of other things. For example, in Sydney I wouldn’t have been aware of bitumen, but here I’ve become super aware of it. The two places have been quite different, but being open to the differences, they excite and create possibility.

So, in Sydney the city is your studio, but here you have both the city and you have the studio; how do you think that has made a difference to your practice?

Having a studio is a huge luxury for me. It’s been a home first and a studio second – whatever you see here has happened outside and brought inside just for convenience. Other than the link work, I haven’t really worked in the studio. So I guess old habits are hard to break!

I’m making a lot less than I used to. I’ve never been comfortable rendering one material to appear like another, or making something look like something else, so more and more I’ve been appreciating the actuality of things, and sites do in fact contribute important resonance to any work’s suggestive mix. With those objects in the display case, each one of those things has its own story to tell: each one has been made, distributed, retailed, purchased, taken away, used and then tossed. They’re now individuated things by virtue of the sum total of their incidental experiences.

My definition of art is very much a ‘small letter a’ art, and I can’t see it as being anything more than just a suggestive form of communication. Hopefully, it’s akin to poetry, and it’s got some suggestive power that can lead someone to individual thought and feeling.  If my work can do that for some, then my job is done.


Gary’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)