Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals – Gertrude Contemporary

Words – Adam Robertshaw

Photos – J Forsyth

Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals at Gertrude Contemporary, 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy until August 18th

Last week I was very kindly asked by Melbourne Arts Club if I would come along to the Gertrude Contemporary to review their new exhibition Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals (Part 1). Now, I have minimal experience in writing about art shows. I usually write music reviews for Beat Magazine (shameless self promotion over) but I thought it would be fun to check out the exhibition and have a go at contributing to the blog. Another string to my bow and all that. Plus there was the possibility that there wine and nibbles on offer. Now there is an area in which I do have plenty of experience. So along I went. And I was pleasantly surprised as to how good a night I had. What began as a quick trip to a new exhibition turned into a full night of hopping round Fitzroy to not 1 but 3 different galleries imbibing a variety of beers and wines that ranged from cheap to free, and even seeing an experimental alt-rock band in the process.
The Gertrude Contemporary’s Octopus series is a program that allows leading curators across Australia to develop exhibitions that enhance curatorial and cultural debate. This year’s curator is Leigh Robb, who is also the curator of Perth’s Institute of Contemporary Arts.

On display in the spacious, brightly coloured rooms were works by Rebecca Bauman, Len Lye, Elizabeth McAlpine and Paul Pfeiffler, each picked to compliment each other through their shared connections of their use of kinetics, colour, sound and time. The pieces span all the way from 1935 to present day.
The first piece you when entering encounter is the massive Square Describing a Circle (Leaves) by Elizabeth McAlpine. It’s a huge piece which covers pretty much the entire wall, made up of hundreds of shards of metal and glass which have been carefully placed to give the impression of a wave passing across the surface as a whole, or as the title suggests, leaves being blown in the wind. In the same room is a video installation showing a frantic onslaught of colour and pattern, with a message about the postal service thrown in for good measure. It’s A Colour Box by Len Lye and it’s a remarkable piece of work considering it’s 77 years old. It’s the main room where most of the pieces in the exhibition are displayed. One of the themes that runs through the exhibition is the image of 2 rectangles. For instance Elizabeth McAlpine’s Pan (in 2 parts) features a constant super 8 film of 2 yellow rectangles, where as Rebecca Bauman’s Colour Clock shows a strikingly similar image of 2 rectangles, however this time they are depicted by rectangles of laser cut paper on a timer, which flip to reveal different colours throughout the evening. I’m not too sure what these images are supposed to represent but they’re striking none-the-less.

Other pieces worth mentioning are Black Noise; a gramophone painted entirely white, again by McAlpine, and Paul Pfeiffer’s Morning After The Deluge, a 20 minute long video of the sun setting. It was an enjoyable start to the evening. Although some of the pieces are slightly baffling to the untrained eye, I’m sure there was plenty for the more astute art critic to get their teeth into. It certainly was a good turn-out with a lively atmosphere once the beers and wines started flowing. The night unfolded into a bit of a mini-pub crawl, albeit with art galleries instead of pubs, as it just so happened that Rae & Bennetts and Every Sunday Gallery, which are only doors apart from each other on Brunswick Street, were having their own exhibition openings. Unfortunately by that time I was out of work mode so you’ll have to look elsewhere on The Melbourne Arts Club site for a more in-depth account of the rest of the evening.