This blog has been fun and I’ll keep it up on the Net for a while, but I have moved my content to my website: www.jonasropponen.com
17May-8th June (opening, Thu 16th May)
Upcoming show: ‘Pulp Fictions‘, a collaboration with Andy Hutson at West Space
Andy also makes papier mache sculptures. We have taken the act of pulping matter, mixing it with adhesive and reforming it (a la papier mache) as the methodology for this show. Not all our work in this exhibition involves literal papier mache, however. We have swapped objects, ideas, pointed to various inspirations and have engaged in reforming these.
One of the objects I gave Andy to work with as a departure point was a childhood book of mine. A couple of years ago I had ripped some of the already loose pages out of this Swedish, hardbound Winnie the Pooh book, pulped them together with glue in the food processor and applied the goop so it totally covered and sealed in the book. The resultant effect was that of a papier mache ‘stone’ tablet of sorts. I never painted or exhibited it; I just let it sit there. Andy cracked it open like an oyster and examined the contents and has developed a body of work influenced by the scribbled drawings of cars and what-not that I had done in biro throughout it as a child.
One of the items Andy gave me was a printout from an Internet image of a painting of the ‘Snowy River’ in the Victorian Alps . It wasn’t the most materially interesting object he handed over in our exchange, yet it struck open fond memories. It reminded me keenly of the time of our emigration.
Buoyed by new hope and a promise of better weather, my father dragged the family half way across the world on a migratory adventure thirty years ago. We left southern Sweden sleeping under a 50cm blanket of snow and arrived at an airport covered in red dust that had just blown in from the west during the great dust storm of 1983. Peering out over the expanse of Tullamarine from the plane, Mum was convinced we had moved to a desert nation. A week later, from the sauna-like caravan parked in our sponsor family’s driveway, we heard reports of the Ash Wednesday bush fires that ravaged Eastern Victoria. This only further underscored her distrust of the massive dragon continent that was to become our home. Dad, on the other hand, embraced the heat with a passion. On thirty five degree days he would let out a loud, satisfied ‘aaaarrrrggghh’ and stretch out in a kind of hearty embrace of the New Country. In his estimation, the heat was better than the 35 degree (minus) temperatures he was used to from his upbringing in Finnish Lapland (he had been born in a sauna after all). Australia was to be a land of fishing, lower taxes, endless summer and beer (that ol’ dream).
On the Philippine Airlines flight on the last section of our arrival to Australia we watched The Man from Snowy River flickering on a retractable screen at the far end of the cabin. Through the cigarette smoke of others, Dad imbibed the new mythos and took mental fashion notes. For summers to come after that, Dad would leave Mum safe at home away from her own hysteria about the bush and take me fishing in the Victorian High Country. It was an opportunity for Dad to get out his akubra and oilskin jacket and use the array of birch-handled fishing and hunting knives he was importing as a side business from Finland. In the rushing rivers, we caught trout and blackfish and sat in enforced silence for hours. Monstrous eels wrestled bait under willows and walnut trees at abandoned homesteads hidden behind walls of Mountain Ashes and granite boulders.
I often wonder what Dad’s inner thoughts were regarding the Australia he was thrown into everyday as a builder. The ‘real’ country of the bush that he experienced ever so briefly in respite from a life of hard labour, in some ways resembled his upbringing in the rural wilds of northern Scandinavia. I know that the cheaply built houses with their lack of proper insulation and poor design that was so commonly encountered in his work throughout the ugly expanses of suburbia dumbfounded him.
In response to Andy’s swaps, I have made some writhing looped forms, slimy rock-like sculptures and engaged in some more-than-usual DIY carpentry. Looking at what Andy and I have both made so far, I look forward to the finished exhibition.
A bloody tissue I gave to Andy as part of object/idea exchange
Andy Sawing up one of my old sculptures to make new work from.
I am currently in the show Community and Context at MADA gallery (Monash Art Design Architecture gallery) curated by Marian Crawford. 6 Feb – 12 March. The premise of the show is to see how the 24 artists invited extend notions of print/printmaking in their practices. See the online catalogue for essays and a peak at my work. I will post photos when I get a chance. Other artist in show: Raymond Arnold, Mitchell Asquith, Rosalind Atkins & eX de Medici, Gene Bawden, Thomas Coish, Marian Crawford, Neil Emmerson, Caren Florence/Ampersand Duck, Emily Floyd, Frank Gohier, Richard Harding, Nicci Haynes, Bridget Hillebrand, Lucas Ihlein, Ruth Johstone, John Loane, Fiona Macdondald, Ruby Pilven, Stuart Russell, Warren Taylor, Trent Walter, Lucy Williams.
In Community and Context, I reflect on personal history by pulping publications (Watchtower and Awake magazines) that have had a large impact on my upbringing and family life and by creating lump-like sculptures from the resultant papier mâché. I have thought of my work in terms of fossils for this show—the past understood in terms of entrapment and preservation through catastrophe. Some of the work has arisen from the interaction of deflating party balloons and the encasing papier mâché. Other works incorporate older sculptural works cut up and rebound into new forms. I present these sculptures, Paradise Lost, Paraside Lots, Sarapide Tols, Rasadipe Slot, together with the short story, Apocatasasis which I wrote on a balmy holiday whilst planning and preparing the making of these pieces. In the story, I contemplate the themes of apocalypse and utopia and how these resonate strongly in my personal life.
What a fun show! A show put up in an disused building in Collingwood. See the blog for more details http://outsideprojects.tumblr.com
What this building actually was used for is hard to say. Perhaps, it was a residence at some stage. It had a business renovation in the 50’s by the look of things and then an incomplete renovation in the naughties too in which the ceiling was removed and various decorative painting ideas had been tried.
I made a mask from a large piece of styrofoam that I found abandoned on the side of the road and covered it in papier mâché that I made from mashing up old Watchtower and Awake magazines found at my laundromat. I suspect the laundromat owners were the ones depositing the religious literature. I’ve seen them a few times — an elderly, southern European husband and wife team. Just the type to convert to the JW’s in their post-migration resettlement. And, I have trained eyes for these things. (Read my story ‘Apocatastasis’ below).
In amongst the paint I mixed in a few of my fingernail clippings and pubic hair offcuts I’ve been collecting. They aren’t noticeable from a distance — they’re not really easy to spot up close, either. If I don’t snort with immature laughter at some point of making my work I don’t think I’m doing it right. I can’t believe how unsubtle my work is becoming. I mean, pubes! But there’s something compelling about mixing in these dead strands of protein into my sculptures. Bits of myself in with the rest of the stuff which, too, is essentially made of waste. Fingernails and pubes are the body’s stories — little sentences of my life. They are little bodies in their own right. Into the mix they go. Keep the sculpture nice and strong, little ones.
Other artists in the show: Andrew Atchison, Nadia Combe, Lauren Dunn, Arie-Rain Glorie, Amy-Jo Jory, Kali Rose, Salote Tawale, Yandel Walton, with promotional design by Tamara Coles.
You are not able to see my face, because no man may see me and yet live.
92cm x 66cm x 24cm
polystyrene, pubic hair, nail clippings, acrylic paint.
Getting ready for my next show ‘Outside’
A little photo taken by Lauren Dunn, one of the curators.
I’m making a sculpture from a large discarded polystyrene block, applying papier mache on to it. Sweat, static electricity and polystyrene in a very hot studio….
Here are two photos that are part of Bryan Sun’s photography project. Throughout 2012, he’s chatted with and photographed artists around the world in their studios. He’s met c. 70 artists so far and it’ll be interesting to see the complete body of work when the project’s finished.
Bryan Sun’s site: www.comehellandhighwater.com
Below is a written piece that will be part of a show in some form at Monash Faculty Gallery in January. I still haven’t had it edited but happy to put it up now. If you get the chance, read it from start to finish.
I was originally going to travel to central Australia with friends. We were going to head to ‘The Rock’. Due to an unexpected, tragic event, my friends needed to cancel. I’ve headed to the periphery by myself—I’m at the most easterly point of the continent. I haven’t gone for swims or rainforest walks yet. I’ve been writing in crouched postures in the shade, instead. Bush Turkeys wander around the underbrush of the palm trees here in Byron Bay and the ocean waves shush in the wind along with the cicadas. However, it’s not the paradise I expected. In the town centre ‘Sportsgirl’and ‘Ripcurl’ line the streets and rugby player types, with their booming voices, wallow by the edge of every waterhole. They are paper weights holding down a new contract for this place. (I almost got knocked over by a very clean four-wheel-drive yesterday!). I sense that the elves are starting their retreat to The Eternal Realms. Crystals can’t keep progress at bay.
I don’t know Byron Bay at all—its history or people. I’m neither jock nor hippy. I’m only here briefly on a whim. I bring my judgements and expectations (like everyone else) to the hinterlands of all Edens. We all try to sneak back into Paradise with our histories covered by fig leaves. Persistently, the angelic sentinels keep us out with their flaming sword. The fruit of knowledge has left its effect on us but its fibre is not inside us anymore. It has passed through us violently and we spray that shit all over the place. We can only console ourselves with facsimiles of Eden these days—with theme parks. Without let up, we make many types of faecal patty-cake and fling them all over the landscape irrespective of how close we are to our drinking water. We make do.
Since entry is barred, our desperate hope is for disaster. We want Nature to have the tantrum for us because we can’t get our own way. We want to be smugly confident that we are the rational ones in the argument. We want the gale-force winds to blow down, the waves to swallow up and the lava to spread itself thick all over our cultural concrete. We want a sizzling new state of affairs; we want to see the washed and uncluttered horizon again. And, if Nature, in its indifferent patience, is not forthcoming we know just how to get it all started if we need to—which buttons to push. We are powerful now that we know what happens to flint smacked together. Surely, Primal Life will always germinate and rise from the razed. Surely, dawn will always kiss the darkness. Surely, Alpha will greet Omega and Genesis will find fulfilment in Revelations. Surely, Jonas will always find himself through myth and by way of heavy-handed metaphor. Surely, you do to, don’t you guys?—Guys!
I was a purveyor of paradise as a teenager. I was an aficionado of Armageddon. I would go from door to door selling God’s ‘New System’—a literal governmental intervention from Heaven that would soon sweep away the present global problems and replace them with ‘Heaven on Earth’. This ‘Kingdom’ had already begun its invisible rule in 1914 and I was lucky to be a baptised citizen of the ‘Theocracy’ living in the ‘Last Days’. One of the ancient tribal gods of the Middle East, Jehovah, was my shield in daily life and my armour for the anticipated cataclysm. Even though Armageddon was going to be a trying time, I was confident I was going to dodge every fiery meteorite, leap over every widening abyss and bypass all eruptions of sulphur on the ‘Final Day’. I had cups of tea with elderly ladies in their cottage gardens; I told them how to live their lives in order for them to make it too. I walked unfalteringly up to front doors past cars set up on blocks in high grass and over oily driveways strewn with Harley Davidsons. In front of ripped flyscreens, I squeaked out spiritual survival strategies in my breaking voice to the bearded, tattooed and smacked-out. No one missed his or her opportunity to hear the ‘Good News’. I had ready comebacks to ‘I’m not interested’; I had post-it notes in my zippered bible. The pleats in my cheap suit pants helped me plough through general apathy and my two-dollar-shop neck-ties held my head erect. Doors may have slammed in my face but the door to the Ark was still wide open (for those willing to make the required changes).
In the coming paradisiacal Earth, no one would grow old, get sick or die, I cheerfully informed my neighbours. The millions who had died before the coming Judgement would come back to life shortly after Armageddon in ‘The Resurrection’. They too would live forever as flesh-and-blood beings on—if the pictures in our magazines were anything to go by—planet Earth transformed into a giant, landscaped golf course. All needs would be met. No one would be hungry, there would never be any conflict and nothing sad would ever happen. Carnivores and herbivores would get along (which was a comfort when I had to navigate past Rottweilers to make it to some doors). We, the survivors and the resurrected ones, most likely would be naked, speak Hebrew and be vegetarian but this was considered conjecture as the Bible could not confirm it and only made the congregation squirm a bit when brought up. So that prospective survivors wouldn’t be swept away with the degenerate, ‘worldy’ people, no true Christian wasted their time studying anything useful for the great rebuilding project due to start after ‘God’s War’. This would have taken us away from our obligation to preach and filled our heads with the whisperings of Satan. None of my friends studied engineering or science (let alone art). As the End was ‘coming any day now’, there was, obviously, no use studying medicine for six years only to have your profession made redundant by the Almighty half way through your degree. Window-washing, kitchen-hand work, labouring and menial office jobs were OK. The meek would inherit the Earth.
I had decided to be a full-time preacher when I left school. This was a step above the required door to door preaching that all Jehovah’s Witnesses were required to do on a monthly basis but was not financially supported by the ‘Organisation’ as missionaries were. Missionaries got sent to butterfly-filled islands, I got to plod the streets of Frankston and the roads along asparagus fields and hobby farms in the mudflats of Western Port Bay. Six million others of my ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ brought ‘The Truth’ to over one hundred lands in printed material published in two hundred and twenty five languages. During the late 90’s, when I was channelling my hormones into this street-walking endeavour, the magazines I was carrying were being pumped out bimonthly at a staggering eighteen million copies per edition. The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses) made the Guinnness Book of Records. We brought virgin rainforests back to the Tapirajé, Tutsis and Solomon Islanders in stapled-together, thin slices. We brought pictures of hibiscuses and coconuts to the Saami, Samoyed and Inuit on pulped and rolled out birch.
Whilst slowly walking the suburbs and rural back roads, in and out of people’s private spaces, I felt an uncanny bliss. I carried small, laminated maps of the street blocks the congregation elders had prepared as I entered every nook and cranny within a ten kilometre radius of my home. Not many have been lucky enough to experience their neighbourhood so thoroughly. (Permissible trespass must be every teenage boy’s dream). As a ‘Kingdom Worker’ I didn’t just traverse the environment, I transcended it. I had it in abstract form in my pocket and mind and I saw and felt it intimately at ground level. I would eventually return to the same houses with new magazines with the same old story. With no apparent personal ambition other than to serve and no registered major thoughts of my own, I felt a holy resignation. God lifted the corners of my mouth in a perpetual, Mona Lisa-like smile with, seemingly, no strings attached. I unabashedly cocked my leg for Him on every tree and fencepost whenever his Son took me for our walks. In the silences between each door visit and when the gentle sun shone, the purple bougainvillas entwined on the verandahs of the bogan villas actually were moving to approach and be enveloped by. The roses did smell sweet because I did stop to literally smell them along carports and in front of patio pots. The alpacas, poodles, and budgies that greeted my visits could only cheer me and induce wonder at the majesty and diversity of life with their banter and nudging. There were precious moments of joy and exploration before each doorbell was rung that I’m sure no householder ever suspected. No matter how hard the rejection, I could see New Eden already germinating wherever and whenever I took the time to meander the dirty, disappointing streets of the world (which I would do anywhere from two to nine hours a day).
As for the Fall, do I need to go into the details of my Armageddon—the door slam of all door slams? Should I tell you how the strangling vines of the flesh eventually took over Paradise? Do I have to point to the chameleons, funnel-web spiders and moist-eyed pythons that were always in the trees? I could narrate bloody and tiresome stories of who-doesn’t-speak-to-whom, anymore. I could tell you what I did with my body—about the cosmic orgasm that ruptured time and space, if you care to know. I could let you in on the teary-eyed fear of a pimply, homeless boy. However, I am beginning to get slightly tired of retelling this story of late. How do I even insert myself into a narrative of punctured skies and blown-to-bits expectations without evoking myths of heroism? Let me tell you the riveting story of the ant and the rain storm and how he made it to shelter instead. I don’t need to insert my name, the name of my estranged mother and father, my siblings and congregational elders who passed judgement and my friends who disappeared in the Rapture. Running away from home late at night through the streets that I once preached on, scurrying over the splitting ground and fallen limbs, I made it to safety.
I’ve known Paradise and I’ve seen the dark back of Deity. I know Paradise and I know Pompeii. This process does not stop—not here in Byron Bay nor will it end on my return to Melbourne. I am good at it. I can make the world disappear and reappear every time I shut and open my eyes. It is a metanarrative that may not ever fully be neutralised. My life is mapped out so, above and below—the Eternal Return, the Apocatstasis.
The End (The Beginning).
I was sitting on a park bench with my baggage in the half hour before the mini-bus came to take me back to the airport when a very uncanny event took place. I had written the above text a number of days before but my contemplation remained with me through my swimming and forest walks. However, I felt very relaxed and at ease with life by this stage—the usual effect of a week in the sub-tropics.
I looked up from my reverie of decision making about possible last minute gift purchases to find a scrawny, old man in a white shirt, pleated pants and fit-over sunglasses standing two centimetres too close to me in a hovering position. He smiled gently. He talked to me yet I don’t remember a particular beginning to that conversation. He leapt straight into the heart of his stories. He told me of local young men in Lismore who are just getting fat looking at porn and living off benefits. He told me of the young Arab men who go crazy over here when they see women with hardly anything on. He spoke of blue-berry picking season and the young Japanese guy in town who he was trying to secure a job for, but who could only speak ‘so much English’. He squeezed his thumb and finger together, stopping an inch apart, as he explained. He let me know how hard it was for him to sell his farm and how cold it had been the other night. I glanced at his slim-line, vinyl briefcase, his polished business shoes and weather-beaten but cleanly shaved face. My bones were picking up on the tune strongly; the old anthem was building momentum. I knew who this guy was. I had seen him a thousand times growing up, yet I still wanted to believe, somehow, that he was just an unbalanced and talkative lonely farmer in town for business. His lack of necktie threw me, and then I remembered the special dispensation for preachers in hot climates. I could never get away with not wearing a tie door-to-door, even on forty degree days. Victoria was not mapped out as a hot place.
‘Anyway, great talking to you’, he said (I had barely gotten a word in). Then came the punchline: ‘Would you like something spiritual to read?’ he asked. How sly to use that word in a town like this! I thought. What a suave technique, my brother.
‘Yes, yes I would!’, I said enthusiastically. I observed his face. His eyes glinted and his smile wrinkled his face further.
‘Let me see, I have them in so many languages that I sometimes can’t find the English ones’. He pulled out an array of Watchtower and Awake magazines. ‘How about this one? Have you heard of Armageddon?’ He didn’t bother to look too closely at the cover. ‘ARMAGEDDON Wat is Het? Wanneer Komt Het?’ it proclaimed in Dutch with the international grammar of fear.
‘OK’, I said cheerfully, as thrills coursed through my body. (I am so glad I didn’t get into hallucinogens in Byron because I think I may have been sitting on a space-time wormhole). I didn’t tell him my story or that I had been collecting the Watchtower and Awake magazines left at my local laundromat and, therefore, already had that particular copy in English. I didn’t tell him I was intending to pulp them and make papier mâché sculptures in gleeful, childish and unsubtle ways.
‘Thank you’, I said and got up to gather my bags to catch the bus. ‘You have a lovely day and good luck selling your farm’.
The Vikings used to put on bear skins and work themselves up to frenzy and go ‘berserk’ (Old Norse: ‘bear shirt’). Of late, when I’ve felt anxiety rise and happen to be in the studio, I have taken to making woodcuts in the fighting style of my ancestors. I draw large clumsy shapes with a fat, permanent texta held in my non-dominant hand (left) then I cut the forms out with blunt chisels and hack saw blades. I tear at the wood in a fury and it responds by chipping and breaking in the most inconvenient places. I don’t care too much about the surface fidelity of the wood any more (but am particular when it comes to printing). I like the chips and splintering. I’m always one step on the safe side of blood-letting. Rrrrrooaaarrrrr!
This coming week I’ve got my recent sculptures at the Melbourne Art Fair and I’m due to become a father. When my friends asked me to become co-parent with them four years ago, we didn’t plan that both of them would end up pregnant at the same time and due two days apart. ‘What are the chances?’ Indeed! I should be packing my gym bag for the hospital but am making anxiety prints. I’m nervous and excited. I want my children to be well. I want my friends to have easy births. I want to be a good father. I don’t want to be running from birthing suite to birthing suite like some nail-biting, thirty something protagonist in an American sitcom.
With all this wood and these power tools, all this chiselling and left-handedness, I get to talk to my father again, now that he’s dead.
Family Theory, Colour Practice
38cm x 54cm
jigsaw woodcut on archival paper ( BFK Rives 280 gsm)
edition of 9
If this sentence is still on my blog and you like this ‘commemorative’ print you can have it for a discounted price of $250 (normally $460). It exists in a limited edition of 9. It will help me self-fund some paternity leave. I’m selling it directly. firstname.lastname@example.org
The print that started off the Berserker Woodcuts series will be in the Fremantle Art Centre Print Award this year. You can see it under https://jonasropponen.wordpress.com/keeping-mum/
I’ve been invited to exhibit alongside Oscar Yanez and Cameron Clarke at the C3 Gallery stall at the Melbourne Art Fair Aug 2 – 5, 2012.
My project presented for the fair has come about from playfully constructing ‘totems’ out of cardboard and padding these out with papier mâché. I have drawn inspiration from Modernist sculptors such as Jean Arp (a.k.a Hans Arp) and, as the name of my installation indicates, the ubiquitous Pablo Picasso. In these works, I have enjoyed merging formalist concerns with personal history. Positive and negative spaces of the work echo the open bodily relationship I endeavour to have with each work as I make it. Each work is piñata-like in that embedded in the forms are vessels (plastic take-away containers, bottles and jars) which contain some of my bodily detritus (fingernail clippings and coarse body hair). In one of the works I’ve sealed up the harvested cobwebs from my bedroom from just before I moved house.
In another work, I’ve enclosed a letter to my estranged mother. (No, dang you, Mum! I’ve stopped making work about you. I think I’m going to have to make a surgical incision and take that letter out before the show opens).
C3 Contemporary Art Space has been invited to participate, along with a number of other national artist run spaces, in The Melbourne Art Fair 2012’s Project Rooms initiative. Bus Projects, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Death be Kind, Firstdraft Gallery (Sydney), Gertrude Contemporary, Next Wave and Physics Room (Christchurch NZ), have also been allocated stalls in the biannual event.
Photos by Heath Warwick