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Mark Siebert

 
 
   

“In Mark’s work, often a deadpan pun or wordplay will serve the purpose of bringing together in co-incidence most unlikely partners. The White Stripes meet Dan Buren; the Strokes meet Frank Stella; Nick Cave and Lascaux. And it is not simply a one-liner art in-joke relationship.”

(excerpt from Juvenihilism? by Paul Hoban, 2005)

 
   
Works chronology  
   
Miscellaneous Fan Letters Apples  
     
Essays  
 
GAUCHE PRAISES COOL, by Wulfe Hubermann, 2011
 

Mark Siebert’s work is characterised by provocation and coat-trailing, and by a focus on conceptions of art and value.  Consider his work to date.  There is the 2007 Downtown exhibition Fan Letters (not to go too far back).  In this instance the fan’s ordinariness and the star’s untouchable glamour are crucial elements.  They make an essential binary: the two things maintain each other.  In the exhibited letters Siebert attempts to celebrate, but more importantly to define or isolate, some essence of the particular musician’s oeuvre—or of the aesthetic to which the artist subscribes.  The deliberate and amusing ineptitude of these celebrations, of these definitions, enacts that divide between artist and fan.  The major, though unacknowledged move each letter makes is to touch the recording star: the Siebert persona will claim an equivalence, a familiarity with the star addressed, will insist that their meeting, their conversing as more or less equals is imaginable.  The letters then go on to imagine that scenario.  The letters—badly typed (anachronistically, you might think), words overtyped with Xs, and with corrections, typos, hand corrections—praise and admire, but offer also advice and criticism, they offer adulation with caveats and reservations. Thus the fan/star gap is bridged, the tension defused, the terms conflated or collapsed.  What price the ideal?

Siebert’s proposals are tendered at one level sincerely, at another as tongue in cheek.  The purpose, or the effect, is to test our own identifications and reservations, to bring them into play—presenting a difficulty, pushing impossibly for resolution: comic impasse, comic dilemma, for some people an irritation.

The recording star’s imagined horror and distaste at this lapse supplies some of the humour here.  The writer’s comic hubris itself represents a storming, an envisioned storming, of the ideal.  It may be amusingly Quixotic, but if it is Quixotic then it partakes, too, of idealism, of ‘greatness’.  We can’t doubt, either, that this is also part of the work’s mission—an apprehension or statement of something abstract, ideal, an approach to the condition terrific music confers.  The listener, too, can be cool, great.

These are very early 19th-century, Romantic conceptions, miniaturised (?) made bathetic (?) or merely democratised—by being instanced through rock n roll and pop music.  We will be aware that this is High Art’s institutional perspective—even if we do not share it.  (Maybe this registration of ‘bathos’ is High Art’s reserve position.)  For Siebert’s purposes our recognition of discrepancy is enough.  In any case Siebert’s ostensible persona can live with many contradictions.  Just as we do, is the implication.

Mark Siebert’s 2008 Greenaway exhibition, Apples, was in a way quite perfect—a hymn to cool music and the new listening technology.  Its centre-piece was a life-sized model of himself—of the artist-as-fan lying in state under glass, dressed in a cherished Velvet Underground t-shirt, an ipod clutched to his chest, head-phones on, his face beatific, relaxed.  Paradise achieved.

The paintings that fleshed out that show were formatted like (i.e., they ‘referenced’) current bus-shelter size advertisements, deliberately just a little daggy and artisanal—so as not to be passed over as slick advertising and so as to emphasize idea over execution.

Siebert’s next, Forever 27—at AEAF in 2009—also dealt in hero recording stars, all of whom had died at twenty-seven? Was that it?  This was Siebert’s (approximate) age at the time.  The opening included Siebert’s claiming rock-star equivalence with the angry performance of a loud, amplified song.  (The artist accompanied himself on electric guitar and, with his minder and body-guard, stormed out immediately he hit the last note: the star must not touch the audience.)

The tribute depictions that made up the exhibition were perhaps not strong enough technically to state the idea clearly from one piece to the next—though as a body perhaps they did.

Siebert is precise, where the usual mode of much Adelaide art is imprecise and vague allegory, imprecise and vague metaphor or metonymy—endless meaning claimed but unearned, distinctly un-summoned, 'themes' standing boringly and inevitably in the wings, like barely willing extras on a movie set, dubious of the lighting and askance at the script. The content is a cliché. Siebert's subject is a cliché—the irony—tinctured content is not.

Since the Greenaway and AEAF exhibitions of a year or more ago we have seen in CACSA’s New New survey a DVD film of the-artist-going-to-perdition, drinking himself to death and ruin—or to purgative apprehensions of an absolute, an ideal, an ur-truth—in the bars of the seedy East.  Or the seedy bars of the East.  A cliche, of course—of Rimbaud, of Graham Greene, of Mr Kurtz?—and its being distinctly invoked and only indistinctly or approximately evoked is again intentional.  We see him playing chess, a hand regularly picking up the glass and drinking, drinking. Almost like a discipline, right? 
The themes are the usual—of art, the absolute, truth and abjection, idealism and the material world’s  gravity.

Siebert’s current show promises to deal similarly with concepts of the artist and with the contradictions they contain.  Is it a calling, a vocation, a job, a gamble, a delusion, a confidence trick?  Did Rilke have to write so many letters?  (and he was a success story!  Must you toady for money?)  Does the system depend upon the failure of the many?  Can you, come to think of it, spare a dime?  Buddy?  M’am?  Cool!

Wulfe Hubermann

 
 
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Artist statement, 2008
 

Apples is a series of work that takes as its focal point the Apple iPod. Appropriating the formal qualities of advertisements of the product, the content is updated with subjective imagery. This suggests an autobiographical account through engagement with consumption (the life of objects and the life of the personal). This is evidenced further through the artist’s hand and relationships with traditional modes of recording life and culture, such as the still life or landscape and media such as water colour painting.

More than self evident autobiography, this is a position of rejection; a rejection of the macrocosm of consumerism and mass culture, defiant in its individualist position. But that’s without taking into account the position of the viewer. Looking at the work, judgments are filtered through taste and association with the cultural groupings evident within the work. Further, allusions to music, branding and autobiography combine to form my own brand, switching back to the macrocosm of not mass culture, but fame.

 
 
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Songs of no Significance, by Aaron Seeto, 2008
 

A couple of weeks ago I threw away a box of mix tapes. They had been forgotten in a corner of my studio. I told this to someone and they were appalled, I think they care for music much more than I do. I don’t really care that I threw them away, I didn’t really have a need for them, and it wasn’t even because the technology is old and obsolete. I think I no longer wanted the tapes. I was annoyed because there wasn’t anything to be nostalgic about, no songs that defined pubescent relationships, no lyrics that shaped rebelliousness, just reels of magnetic tape lying unwanted of forgotten moments from my youth in the suburbs. I vaguely remember copying them on my brother’s dual deck cassette player, or recording them from the radio, but that’s about as far as it goes. I can’t remember what the songs were I think I’ve always had really bad taste in music. I remember listening to an artist once say that they thought that every artist really wanted to be a rock star, or play in a band. I never really understood what he meant. I certainly have never felt the same way.

I know that Mark Siebert likes music. I’ve seen the watercolours of play lists and album covers and the fan letters he has sent to bands around the world, bands he likes, bands which frustrate him, bands which for one reason or another remind him of an event, or a person or a relationship. Maybe for him music is a marker.

There is a compulsive intersection of music and art in Mark’s life, but I don’t think it is there to just make apparent the interior world resonating with the musical. I think it too simplistic to suggest that the act of Siebert painting an album cover is merely an act of translation –to stroke into existence the emotional stirred by the sonic turned into a visual artefact. I think what is in operation in Siebert’s work, whether through the rendering of music, its creators, its method of distribution and transmission is a territory which is ultimately about loneliness, our social world marked by interiority. We can also see this in much earlier works of his, the watercolour stacks of paintings derived from scenes of cult television shows such as Iron Chef and Futurama. In both cases Mark makes us think about being separated in the world by walls of sound. At least that’s how I read it in the context of my own lack of musical connection.

Close your eyes. Open them and imagine. A stack of paintings on paper. Watercolour defining images of play lists, album covers, music which might have marked the beginning/the end/the middle of a time when you felt like… when you felt different… sadder, happier, indifferent. Sculptures. A human figure, in a Velvet Underground T-shirt, yeah, that’s right, the famous one that you can pretty much buy anywhere with the Warhol banana. A sculpted figure peacefully clasping an ipod, lying in state on a huge ipod box under an acrylic canopy. It’s an open casket, someone has passed, I think it might be Mark? Open your eyes. Look. An advertisement of dancing youth, each connected to an ipod, listening individually, and paradoxically dancing together. Close your eyes. Remember. You are walking through a public space, a shopping centre, a carpark. What is that sound? Music on the offensive, guarding, controlling, protecting. It’s music moderating the social, they’d like us to believe the anti-social. Close your eyes again, open them quickly. Listen. You’re on the bus, there’s a girl ahead of you, her face blank from the early morning start. You wonder whether her facial expression should be more upbeat, happier, perhaps a smirk set off by the sounds of the dance music escaping her earphones. At least a rhythmic head jerk. Ultimately you wished she would just turn it off. Doesn’t she know that she’s entering your personal space. It’s too early in the morning.

As a friend of mine put it in a different context “In the spaceship of myself…” .

Siebert’s work has been analysed in the past through the tenuous relationship of music, and television with a coming of age, and worse through a representation of youth. His interest in music might mark a particular generation and his choice of television show might represent a particular moment, but his investigation goes much further, is much more poetic. I’d say he was talking about the end of an age.

The use of a technology, such as the ipod, is the present that has already becoming part of the past and this is not just in a technological sense. The song that once made you happy now only makes you aware of gaps in time, of how old you are, how young you were, how music was going to change the world and how you were somehow going to be there when it happened. There is a sense of the human and the social transforming; of obsolescence and revolution. Think about the image of individuals dancing as a group. Think about Siebert’s preference for watercolour and painting.

Again, “the spaceship of myself”.

We are floating in and out of the spaceships of other people. We’re all plugged in to our own worlds, our own nostalgia. Lives touching, at certain points, embracing, rejecting, bouncing off into the world - alone. Maybe we all listen together but maybe we all listen alone.

Aaron Seeto
Sydney, July 2008

John von Sturmer, ‘The Death of Geography’ in News From Islands (Cat) (Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2007) p110

 
 
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Juvenihilism?, by Paul Hoban, 2005
 

Juvenihilism?

Television, say that you love me

Television, say that you care

You’re the Devil’s Fish Bowl, honey

My kids will look like you, I swear

Robyn Hitchcock

Mark Siebert transforms consumption and appropriation into ingestion and regurgitation.

It is a pragmatic approach… Work; production seems to become the subject. Stacks of small watercolour paintings stand on the floor, like footnotes for the pieces on the wall. For some reason I think of medieval manuscripts – tabletops and the labour of the copying and recopying of received images. Bu these images are not precious… They wait to collect our fingerprints. The paint application is loose, expedient… as if faithful rendering was less important than the ritual of making. Perfection is ignored – the hand does not compete with the machine. Virtual to tangible?

There is a sense of obsessiveness in the compulsive copying of mass-produced imagery. A personalizing happens. I wonder if our prehistoric ancestors had been similarly motivated…. To paint the walls and assume a responsibility in the real spectacle of the beasts. Myabe in this spectacle, In Mark’s museum, the fans storm the stage. The Museum was invented in the same year as the guillotine (Georges Bataille). Could this be an attempt to reclaim something from our enculturation by the popular media?... I could be an affirmation of autonomy, or a revolt against cloned experience… Or it could be Serious Fun? The animated cartoon operates as caricature… a parody of reality… A representation of the world arrived at by formal reduction. Is the function of the Collection and the Museum very different?... Distortion by encapsulation? Doesn’t that make Art History a caricature? An ironic joke?

(Human Creativity) …is the sudden interlocking of two previously unrelated skills or matrices of thought. Arthur Koestler

The joke. In Mark’s work, often a deadpan pun or wordplay will serve the purpose of bringing together in co-incidence most unlikely partners. The White Stripes meet Dan Buren; the Strokes meet Frank Stella; Nick Cave and Lascaux. And it is not simply a one-liner art in-joke relationship. Consider the intersection achieved between cultures, sometimes the most remote superficial similitude becomes and access point, a diving board for reinvention and reconciliation. African gods meet Catholic saints; The Simpsons are reinvented as This is Modern Art; Futurama wants to be Futurism; and Television is a rock band called the Devil’s Fish Bowl…

Paul Hoban 2005

 
 
 
 
 
[essays should not be reproduced without permission from the authors]
   
 
 
BIOGRAPHY
1980
Born, Adelaide
Mark Siebert
1998-2003 Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting)
2004 Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours)
2005 Co-Developed the program for Artist’s Week ARI forums and workshops
2005-2007 Co-Director, Downtown Art Space
Studio recipient at the Experimental Art Foundation
2006 Speaker at Artist’s week, Adelaide Festival
2007-2009 Guest lecturer, South Australian School of Art
 
 
SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2011 Poetry and Paydays, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
2009 Forever 27, The Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide
2008 Apples, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
2007 Fan Letters, Downtown Art Space, Adelaide
2006

Gertrude St Slide Box, Melbourne

2005

Astro, Firstdraft Gallery, Sydney
Out of Circulation, Downtown Art Space, Adelaide
Is This IT? The Project Space, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide

2004

Top 50, Bank Gallery, University of South Australia, Underdale Campus

 
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2010 The New New, The Gallerie, Adelaide
Songzhuang Art Festival, Beijing Studio Center, Beijing, China
2008 Flipside, Substation, Singapore
The Art of Correspondence,
Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Public Programs, Melbourne
Plastic Theory,
Curator: Lisa Young, Peloton, Sydney
2007 Lee Marvin Readings, Curator: Ken Bolton, De La Catessan, Adelaide
Other Worlds / Other News, Curator: Aaron Seeto, Starkwhite, Auckland, New Zealand
The Heavier We Get, Curator: Wes Hill, Rawspace, Brisbane
Late Nights, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
As It Is, As It Can Be, Bus Gallery, Melbourne
Audio Visual, Downtown Art Space, Adelaide
2006

Mentor\Mentored II, Contemporary Art Centre of SA, Adelaide [catalogue]
Snapshot: Contemporary South Australian Art, Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide
The Drawing Show II, G & A Studios, Sydney
Local Video And Performance Nights, collaboration with Peter McKay, Downtown Art Space, Adelaide

2005 Laura, Mark & Jack, Carclew Youth Arts Centre, Adelaide
The End, Soapbox Gallery, Brisbane
Uncommon Ground, Soapbox Gallery, Brisbane
Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, Adelaide
2004

Interior, N Gallery, Underdale
Painting, SEAS Gallery, Adelaide

2003

To Alexandre Demoule New York, November 26, 1984, at Flightpath Gallery, Adelaide

 
CURATORIAL
2007 Audio Visual, Downtown Art Space, Adelaide
2006-2007

Band Night Project, Downtown Art Space: 28\6\ 06; 13\9\06; 31\1\07; 28\6\07; 1\12\08

 
AWARDS & GRANTS
2010 Asialink Residency to Beijing, China
2008 Adelaide Critics Circle Emerging Visual Artist Award winner
Redlands Art Award Finalist
2003 JC Wright Memorial Art prize
 
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

PUBLICATIONS
Siebert, M. 2007, Fan Letters, artist’s book, edition of 100
Currie, B. 2007, ‘Mark Siebert,’ in ed. Llewellyn, J. Australian Art Collector, Issue 40, pp 184 - 185
Taylor, B. 2004, Adium, Channel 31, Adelaide (Television Interview and DVD)

REVIEWS
Currie, B. 2006, ‘Video/ Performance Nights at Downtown’, in ed. Britton, S. Artlink, vol 26 no 4
Chapman, C. 2006, ‘Snapshot: Contemporary South Australian Art,’ Art Monthly Australia, October # 194
McKay, P. 2006, ‘Out of Circulation’, Photofile,no 77 Autumn 2006
Radock, S. 2005, ‘Out of Circulation,’ Artlink vol 25 no 4 pg 89
Bolton, K. 2005 ‘Adelaide – recent Art, Recent History,’ Broadsheet vol 34 no 4 pp 212-215
Kenneally, C. 2005, ‘Burn,’ Artnotes, Art Monthly Australia, # 184
Radock, S. 2005, Drawing on Memories, in ed. Sly, S. The Adelaide Review, #275
Waters, S. 2005 Is This It?, in dB Magazine, March Edition, # 354
Neylon, J. 2005, A Graphic Way With Words, in ed. Sly, S. The Adelaide Review, # 264,
Radock, S. 2004, Interior, the Adelaide Review, September Edition, # 253