Guest at the Energy Travels opening night. Great turn out. I feel very special. Thanks to Angas Travel for their warm and generous support. On for the month of August 2015.
A sneak preview of my latest exhibition: On until July 26, 2015. Pop in for a coffee and browse. Brick + Mortar, 49 George Street, Norwood (next to the Norwood Town Hall).
Left: New work MA#49. Right: A work in progress, illustrates how the membrane creates the basic structure before it is flattened onto a two dimensional picture plane.
From left to right: MA#45, MA#48, MA#11.
There has been a 40 year shift of priorities away from the aesthetics of painting, both abstract and representational, in favour of a political, sexual, sociological and environmental interest in art-making activities. ¹ ² The cultural focus is now so predominant in art, particularly the ‘pop’ versions, which are led and controlled by the so-called Art world, it’s no wonder that the aesthetics—so crucial to the development of art itself—get little attention at all. ³ In the larger arena of intellectual and cultural life, it appears that we are comfortable with presenting work on the basis of the thematic ‘content’.
The lack of focus on aesthetics has not gone unnoticed. Mainstream art critics, dwindling as they are, have found themselves occupying an almost uninhabitable critical space for which they get drowned out. Recently, Andrew Frost wrote an opinion piece for the Art Guide defining where art is at the moment – in limbo waiting for things to eventually wash out. 4
Whatever the cause, the historical permutations that have led to the situation art critics and artists now find themselves, is largely irrelevant. The real driving force for innovation must come from artists’ themselves. This obviously has to happen before the art critics have something to say about it. And nor should it be up to individual talent. It requires group impacts on aesthetic thought, not individual talent working alone, but art movements working collectively to create visual-shifts that set the kind of agenda on our cultural life that was clearly present during the last two centuries up until the 1960’s, which is recognised as the peak of radical innovation emulated by a healthy mix of fresh and established talents.
Artists can do as Andrew Frost suggests—just wait for things to wash out, or they can act now. To act now you need a reason. You might think that this extended ‘aesthetic drought’, was reason enough, but clearly not. Likewise, hoping that things might naturally materialise because astute artists will suddenly find the resources and impetuous to collectively act is, unfortunately, not how it works either. I believe change is more likely to occur because commerce demands it. The fact remains that the aesthetics of art has been lagging behind the economic and cultural advances being made elsewhere in human endeavours, particularly in the sciences 5. Oscar Wilde put it, ‘life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life’. By this he was talking about all forms of expression. However this is not what we have been witnessing in the realm of painting. A correction is well overdue and commerce could be the vehicle that brings it to life once again.
After all, as a bare minimum, it should be expected that the artists’ obligation is to execute work that speaks to the mainstream consciousness, and builds on our material heritage, not just simply adds to it.
This brings me back to the aesthetics. I believe that I’ve found a reason—I call it Membrane Art. It provides a purpose and direction out of which a discernible aesthetic language has materialised. The release of Membrane Art: An evolving expression aims to start a conversation to break this long-held thirst. Whether it will prompt further discussion into the understanding and validity of those insights remains to be seen.
¹ Art Pulse, Interview With Barry Schwabsky, 29 June 2011. See headline quote and his 13th comment. Barry Schwabsky interview
² Hilton Kramer, Does abstract art have a future? The New Criterion, December 2002. Hilton Kramer
³ German artist Katharina Grosse asks the question why there is a lack of discussion on the aesthetics of colour, April 2015: Painting with Color | ART21
4 A Critique of Pure Unreason, Andrew Frost, January 2015: Art Guide story
5 Book publication: Insight Radical – Where Science Meets Art, 2013. Project and Editor note’s by Carl H Schiesser and Renee Beale, p4-7. Online Abstract: Insight Radical
I’ve recently been attempting to paint the physical phenomenon that is quantum entanglement. I’m trying to achieve this by showing that marks (particles) produced on a ‘membrane’ surface can be in multi-places at the same time. I’m doing this by first folding or undulating the surface in such a way so that I can apply one action to create many marks at once. When they dry, I’ll be opening the membrane up and stretching it to a frame as part of my study into whether I’ll encounter any technical issues.
My aim is to hint at how the science may be understood. Furthermore, by recreating the mechanics at a macro level, it could help to illustrate how things might become entangled in the quantum mechanical system. Because the results are static and displayed retrospectively, it could help our understanding of the theory, including the EPR paradox.
Exhibition(s) to come in due course.
Note: It’s a condition of all my work that I’m partly or completely unsighted to the events created. So we shouldn’t pass judgement on the merits of these ‘works-in-progress’ until they’ve been cropped and fully stretched — in a restful state for observation.
Barry Schwabsky recently wrote: “Picasso, though he is still the popular byword for ‘famous artist,’ has been sidelined.” http://bit.ly/14G7cY3.
That maybe so but its certainly not the case for my work and Membrane Art. As it is the cubist principal of showing ‘multiple viewpoints’ on the picture plane that underpins Membrane Art. Take a look around this website and you’ll see why and more importantly how I’m trying to extend it. Membrane Art_150617
The title of her exhibition might say ‘Chemical Reactions’ but it is the membrane and how Mariah Robertson manipulates it that creates the basic structure for her work. The chemical reactions are the relative results of events that have occurred on the surface. This illustrates why I believe the ‘absolute’ aesthetic thought, Membrane Art is a legitimate art movement, as it is the thought itself (whether its subconsciously or consciously derived) that prevails under any conditions or circumstances. So, artists like Mariah Robertson are able to use different mediums, techniques and processes to achieve results that hold Membrane Art principals. Watch how she does it. This is a beautiful process of discovery!
Stories Well Told recently interviewed Malcolm about the RiAus exhibition, Under the Surface.
Stories Well Told (SWT)
Malcolm, a finalist in the prestigious Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize for 2014, has always been interested in science and the internal workings of nature.
In Membrane Art his canvas becomes a metaphor, recreating layered, multifaceted organisms.
His artistic process ends with recreating the way human visualise science.
SWT: How do you examine what’s ‘Under the Surface’?
Malcolm: My objective is to investigate nature. To understand surface and space the challenge has always been to imagine the complexities of our world beyond the limits of our visual abilities. So, by questioning the way we observe, it became apparent to me that a fresh approach was needed to the way we paint. In particular, to decipher the physiology of our world in a way that relates to the multi-dimensional aspects of it. There are more dimensions than the ones that we can obviously see like height, width and depth.
SWT: What fresh approach to painting did you come up with for Membrane Art?
Malcolm: One way to achieve this was to paint on an uneven or undulating surface. This canvas provides a re-enactment of nature and its multi-dimensional values. And then, at a later date, the canvas is flattened, becoming two-dimensional. The human experience is demonstrated by compressing the depth, creating a visual metaphor for how we observe.
SWT: So are you comparing complex science to human observation?
Malcolm: I’m not comparing them, I’m acknowledging them as one and the same. What I’d like people to see is that when a scientist theorises that we live in a multi-verse, it’s not because they’re conveniently trying to hide extra dimensions to make their calculations work, it’s usually because they make their observations facilitated by tools. Through these tools they can make more observations, more precisely than those our basic senses are equipped to handle.
SWT: Are you following this same scientific method in making your art?
Malcolm: Actually, in my art I often undulate the surface so tightly together that I can’t see where and how paint might flow or blend together, so I’ll rely on my other senses of feel and experience to calculate desired events. This is the unseen physiology. Then opening the work and making it as flat as possible shows that the events that occurred when it was in an undulating state haven’t disappeared, it’s just changed form on the surface.
SWT: Where is Membrane Art heading in the future?
Malcolm: I’ve created a new work exclusive to this exhibition, titled MA#47. Rather than just using paint, I’ve taken a circular-saw and made 12 individual cuts on the undulating linen. In this instance I used two undulations, so 12 cuts across the canvas have turned into 24 cuts when flattened. This hints at particle physics, where it’s possible to be in multiple locations at the same time. Its only when we observe the cuts on the flat two-dimensional surface do we realise that there’s a relationship between two particular cuts that couldn’t have possibly have occurred unless the surface was in a different state.
The RiAus exhibition ‘Under the Surface’ is on until 26 September 2014.
Dr Leonora Long, a science writer at Neuroscience Research Australia, recently took an interesting look at my Membrane Art:
As part of the 2014 SALA Festival of South Australian Living Artists, the RiAus FutureSpace Gallery is proud to present Under the Surface. Using different artistic forms and media, Malcolm Koch joins Christopher and Therese Williams in an exploration of what lies beneath the surface of the world around us. This exhibition will run from August to September.
The theme of the 2014 RiAus SALA Exhibition is ‘Under the Surface’. This might bring to mind the earth’s surface – perhaps appropriately, given that one of the exhibited artworks will be Christopher Williams’ soundscape, and Therese Williams’ visual interpretation of that soundscape, captured from the surface of salty, acidic, mostly dry Lake Tyrrell. The work of another SALA artist, Malcolm Koch, is reminiscent of biological entities like membranes and folded organs. Strong contrasts are central to Malcolm’s manifesto of Membrane Art: undulation as a representation of the internal workings of nature and, conversely, the flat plane as a medium for human observation. Let’s take Malcolm’s suggestion to ‘open out the membrane’ and look at the secrets beyond one of biology’s most interesting curled and rippled interfaces, the brain.
The human brain consists of around 86 billion nerve cells, or neurons, and about the same number of non-neuronal cells. Its outer layer, the cortex, is folded into sulci (furrows) and gyri (ridges). These cortical undulations allowed a large surface area to develop in the relatively small space inside the skull. Most of the folding of the cortex occurs in the third trimester of gestation and the first two years of postnatal life, peaking at around age 5 or 6. This rapid increase in folding corresponds with the growth and branching of the ends of neurons, increasing the possibilities for new synapses between neurons to be formed.
MA#47, oil on Belgian linen, 2014. On display at RiAus FutureSpace Gallery until 26 September, 2014. Above: 12 individual cuts of a circular-saw on the undulating (folded) surface, have materialised as 24 cuts when opened out. This hints at particle physics, where it’s possible to be in several locations at the same time. Its only when we observe the cuts on the flat 2D surface do we realise that there’s a relationship between two particular opposite cuts that couldn’t have possibly have occurred unless the surface was in a different state. A metaphor for the way we observe.
Given that the synapse is the basic communication unit of the brain, it makes sense that they need to grow a lot in early life. Think about how different from one another are a newborn, a six-month-old baby, and a two-year-old toddler. Smiling, eating, sitting, sleeping, walking and talking all require a lot of growth and development! Not all animals have the same degree of gyrencephaly, or cortical folding. For example, the mouse cortex is quite smooth. While it also has 1000 times fewer neurons than the human, it seems that the total number of neurons is not the key difference between mouse and human cognition. The surface area of the cortex (increased by all that folding) is increasingly seen as central to the increased cognitive ability in humans.
As we zoom in on individual neurons we can see more examples of the importance of folding and membranes. At this level there are many more similarities between animal species than differences. For example, all neurons are surrounded by a membrane, as are the structures inside the neurons. The membrane is made up of molecules called phospholipids, which arrange themselves in a bilayer, and this structure helps to determine the permeability of the membrane, or what molecules can pass in or out of the cell. This permeability changes depending on the electric charge on the membrane surface, or by a change in shape of one of the proteins that stud the membrane like embedded jewels.
Some proteins act like channels and extend all the way through the membrane, and in response to an outside stimulus, these channels open up and allow a stream of charged particles to pour into the cell. This flow can dramatically change what happens in the cell. It might be the signal for the cell to release a neurotransmitter, or it might switch on a gene that regulates neuron growth.
What might at first glance seem like a static barrier between a cell and its environment is, in reality, constantly moving like long grass in a breeze, with molecules passing through it as part of the cell’s functions. It is the individual nature of the genes, proteins and other molecules in a neuron that give rise to the structural and functional differences between species.
As we zoom in even further we can reveal a world of folded proteins and molecules that conceal even more secrets that determine the way cells function, independently and collaboratively. We will continue to find folds within folds that all play a part in the eventual activity of our brains.
We can’t always see what is happening beneath the surface in real time with our unaided eyes, and so as far as neuroscience is concerned, we may not be able to wrap our brains around the ‘absolute idea’ spoken of by Malcolm Koch, but at least we have built these increasingly objective measurement tools to be our surrogate observers.
By building scientific observations into new knowledge, new hypotheses can be made and tested and results can be interpreted to derive new meanings. In this process, the truth itself doesn’t change. Its nature just becomes clearer to the observer. Perhaps the idea of compressing the depth of an undulated surface into a flat plane is symbolic of science’s aim to grapple with the complexities of the world: not to simplify them, but to aid their experience from many subjective viewpoints.
By Leonora Long (@leonoralong)
Article courtesy of Royal Institution of Australia: RiAus – Australia’s Science Channel
‘In art and science we are now in a delta, at the end of the long flow of progress. In a delta there is no clear direction but there may be many choices. The best we can do is to enjoy the choices that we have and to be genuinely and creatively eclectic’. Robert Bateman. MA#41, Finalist and Highly Commended, Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize 2014. South Australian Museum
I’ve been selected as a finalist in the prestigious Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize for 2014 (Category A – Paintings).
This highly competitive event is one of Australia’s most prestigious art competitions. With a total prize pool over $100,000, makes it one of the richest arts’ prize in Australia, attracting many national and international entries.
The competition invites artists to investigate the world around them and present their own perspective on natural science. Since, my work (Membrane Art) has its basis in ‘science’, as you can imagine, I’m just thrilled to be recognised.
Prize winners will be announced at a media call at the South Australian Museum at 10:30am on Thursday 24 July 2014.
By understanding that a surface interconnects and defines space, provides the means to create a vocabulary that can be found in our physical world. This vocabulary may repeat itself but its in the way that you perceive it and how you go about putting it together that provides endless differences.
The Hughes Gallery is displaying one of my pieces. I haven’t seen this work for six months and looking at it again on display I still believe its one of my finest. The Hughes Gallery: Fullarton Park Centre, 411 Fullarton Road. 20 March – 17 April 2014. Mon-Fri.
5 of my large oil paintings have made their way to Veda – Art & Interiors: This is the collaboration between Tony Bond (AP Bond Art Gallery), Paul Swain, Paul Gerard, Zoe Elvish and Jacqui Hooper. Its a great idea – check it out at 140 Barton Terrace West, North Adelaide 11 – 4pm most days.
I’ve been asked to do a one hour talk about my work. I’ll most likely talk for 10–15 minutes and then follow up with a short presentation. I’m hoping that there will be a lot of questions to fill up the rest of the time. If not, I’ll read some selected essay’s from Art Critics’ collected over many years to the present day that I believe validate my thinking. The artist talk is at Pepper Street Arts Centre on 1 February 2014, Saturday 3pm – 4pm.
Exhibition now showing at Barossa Living Gallery (28 Murray Street, Tanunda) extended to March 2013.
Barossa Living Magazine_article_Malcolm-Koch
Barossa Living Magazine, Spring 2012, Free Run Press, p72-73, p84-85.