Above: JAHM Leah & Charles Justin are very welcoming and warmly share their art treasure trove with their visitors.
Charles and Leah Justin have been collecting contemporary art for over 40 years. Today, they live together with their artworks in the Justin Art House Museum (JAHM) with an aspiration to provide a distinctive experience for visitors, that is also intimate and personal. Their fantastic collection has a strong focus on the theme of ‘Space’ – reflecting the architectural background of Charles Justin. Consisting of a diverse spectrum of art practices, the collection has a strong emphasis on digital and video work. Like other house museums, JAHM reflects the persona and direction of the Justins, DIGITAL – The World of Alternate Realities”, explores how our contemporary lives straddle the real, the virtual and unreal.
The creation of a house museum was the confluence of several factors. ” We started visiting smaller private museums and enjoyed the more intimate experience and seeing different art. Charles was retiring from his architectural practice. Our collection had outgrown our home, which was also not suited to our life as we grew older. We visited the Lyon Housemuseum here in Melbourne, which was the tipping point. We then decided to build a customised house museum where we could share our collection and love of art with the public.” – Charles Justin.
Above: JAHM Co-Director, Charles Justin addresses visitors to current exhibition, Digital – The World of Alternative Realities.
According to Professor Tim Flannery, from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Melbourne University, we only need to reflect on the way that the net and social media are influencing our lives to understand how digital technologies are profoundly altering how we relate to each other, and the world. But over coming decades digital technologies will extend their reach into transport (via driverless electric vehicles), medical care (via robotics), our relationship with the natural world (through webcam), and the wellsprings of human creativity, through the creation of digital art.
“Digital art throws up many questions beyond that of where the act of artistic creation lies. Purchase a work of digital art, and you are likely to receive a small box, inside of which nestles a nicely fetishized memory stick containing the blueprint for the work. I imagine that it’s quite a different experience from purchasing a canvas. And while a work on canvas can be stored away and only infrequently viewed, the digital work doesn’t exist until its digital information is manifested by a machine.
The high fidelity of digital art also sets it apart. It is the work of seconds to replicate with high fidelity the blueprint for an artwork stored on a memory stick. So what does it mean to own an ‘original’ work of digital art? Analog art of course faces its own issues in this regard. Photographs of works on canvas abound, but it takes a talented forger to faithfully replicate a painting. In the newly emerging sharing economy, such distinctions may not matter that much. But in the existing world of conventional art, with its emphasis on authenticity, it presents a conundrum.
One indisputable advantage of digital art, however, is its information density and therefore potential for fine granularity. In principal, this allows digital art to mimic nature in the detail it is capable of representing. And in the right hands, such fine granularity has the potential to create aesthetic and compelling works.”
Above: Peter Daverington Spatial Labyrinth, 2010. Image courtesy the artist and ArcOne Gallery.
This digital print of a labyrinthine space with its intersecting planes, frames and stairs presents a disconcerting Escher like quality of space with no beginning and no end. A space is conjured rather similar to that of a renovated warehouse. Is this a commentary on the type of buildings and cities we live in? Evolving his trademark painterly visual codes of landscape, architecture and geometries of space, Daverington continues his exploration into the collapse of traditional western symbols of landscape—informed by the traditions of the Italian Renaissance and German Romanticism. Flights of steps float, translucent in space, while columns and frames hint at structural elements.
Currently his paintings play with ideas of hyper-dimensionality, infinity and landscape by using perspective and architecture as a conceptual trigger to enter the imagined architectonics of the painted surface. The landscape is often referenced as a site for containing the endless conflict of meaning and information within the cultural histories of religion, science and technology. Within this context the landscape is seen not only as a physical subject but a psychological one as well, a multi-layered collage of information which demonstrates the importance on making visible a system rather than simply creating a composition.
Above: Ollie Lucas, Travelling Matter, 2015. Image courtesy the Artist.
These works have been created by the artist digitally and although they have the character of abstract expressionist paintings, they have in fact been created on computer, blurring the boundary between the traditional handmade painting and the machine made artwork. Perth born and Melbourne based digital artist Oliver Lucas focuses on the information age and it’s
impact on large cities. In particular, central urban areas such as Federation Square, Times Square, Moscow’s Red Square and Shibuya. These spaces offer a work place, a festive space, a physical location and a hyperreal site for information-exchange, all at once. Inspiration through colourful advertising and neon cityscapes and has led to a creative take on the industrial function of coloured flags and signals that direct travel of trains, planes and ships, known as semaphores. Lucas harnesses this communicative function to explain new kinds of urban consciousness via constellations of arresting, bright colours and geometric patterns.
Above: Paul Snell, Pulse #201021, 2012. Image courtesy the Artist and Langford 120.
This work is a further exploration of the artists’ practice in which he digitally deconstructs photographs that he has taken, reassembling these digital components to create a new image. The process of transforming something real into something virtual has parallels in many spheres of life, be it entertainment or genetics.
“As an artist, I am always seeking the point of entry to liminal space, which, for me, is the marker of creative engagement. I start with an idea, I do research and entertain many possibilities, then I withdraw into that “space between” to let everything cook and stew while I seek to become quiet and receptive and balanced. I stand on the threshold, poised but not ready to commit. Stepping through the threshold, moving from possibility to a chosen act or decision, always seems the most difficult part – actually stepping through and being willing to choose “this” but not “that” becomes an act of creative courage. Of course, that is only the first step; it is actually a series of decisions, reflections, and more decisions, an ongoing process of stepping into a threshold, a liminal space, then continuing on through the process, over and over again.
The space between here and there is often a place of confusion, restlessness, doubt; perhaps even fear. We live most of our lives in this place of uncertainty. We know where we have been and where we are now; we do not know where we will be tomorrow or exactly how we are going to get there. There is a tendency in this uncertain place to rush too quickly into whatever is coming next. We want to make decisions, to be proactive; we have been taught to just do something. There is a sense of urgency in everything we do. Liminal places teach us to let go, relax, and be changed.” – Paul Snell
Above: Ilan El has created an illuminated stair over 3 flights comprising ’39 steps’. The 4 colour LED lighting to the steps will be interactively activated by the visitors walking up and down the stairs, making the colour and pattern combinations will be unlimited.
Above: Shannon McGrath, Fraction #3 2014. Image courtesy the Artist.
This is a photograph that has been digitally manipulated. It challenges the role of photography that traditionally captured the real. In this work, photography is used for creating the abstract.
Above: Catherine Nelson, Monet’s Garden, 2010.
Catherine Nelson is an Australian artist, living in Belgium and the Netherlands, who uses digital technology as her paintbrush creating landscape ‘paintings’ and animations. “When I embraced the medium of photography, I felt that taking a picture that represented only what was within the frame of the lens wasn’t expressing my personal and inner experience of the world around me. With the eye and training of a painter and with years of experience in film visual effects behind me, I began to take my photos to another level.” – Catherine Nelson.
Nelson’s Monet’s Garden (2010) is composed from a photograph of the garden which has been stitched together digitally so that the lily-pond at its centre becomes a sphere surrounded by trees and clouds. Is it a commentary on our compulsion to impose the chaos of gardens on nature? Above all it is a beguilingly beautiful work that comes closest to capturing the illusory beauty of traditional landscape painting, albeit with a Hieronymus Bosch-like touch.
Above: Stephen Haley, One Second (plastic bags 31688), 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Mars Gallery.
This is a digital print from a series called ‘One Second’, which explores what gets manufactured in the world each second, in this case plastic bags. Haley has used images purchased on the internet to compose the image. This work presents a beautiful illusion of a sunset created by the environmental destructive manufacture of plastic bags, which is a metaphor for the comfortable world that man has created for himself at the expense of the degradation of our planet.
Haley’s One Second (plastic bags 31688) is a visual representation of the number of plastic bags produced every second, and the sunset-like light and thousands of tiny bags gives the image a murkiness evocative of pollution. I find it intriguing that the density of information of digital image-making used in this distinctive way can produce such opposite effects. But where does the creative spark lie? The blueprint for the elements in the work were created by others. Are they merely the equivalent of the pigment a traditional artist uses? Is Haley’s arrangement of them on the page – as well of course as devising the concept of creating art in this way – where the spark lies?
“We do not believe meeting the artist is critical. Nonetheless, we have met the majority of the artists in our collection, and with many of them, we have had very rewarding discussions about their works and art in general. Our view is that, the way we respond to an artwork is not necessarily connected to the artists’ intent in creating the work. Our attitude does not in any way diminish what the artist thinks or feels; it just allows for a broader, richer and more diverse way of interacting with the art.” – Charles Justin
What is most interesting is the constant overlapping between private and public elements. Although it is a house museum, JAHM has a clear gallery space with some artworks on display spread throughout the house (bedrooms, studio, living room, elevator, toilets) where visitors are encouraged to wander. Leah and Charles offer a curated exhibition twice a year, where not only the artwork in the gallery but some of the artwork in their private spaces will change. Having themes or curated exhibitions is a great idea to have regular visitors, but it is also a clear way to explore contemporary art from different perspectives, which after visiting today I could say it is essential to the message they want to communicate. I absolutely love the fact, the Justins collect emerging Australian talent and are driven by their individual vision and personal sensibilities rather than what may appear fashionably ‘collectible’.
The tour ended in a very homely and much appreciated morning tea of with fresh Verbena-Ginger tea in gold patterned Turkish glass cups and a myriad of delicious European cakes and tasty morsels. It was special to be invited into a home where art is valued and upheld as an experience worth sharing communally. Stay tuned for our next visit to another house-museum born via post World War II immigrants finding their feet in the Melbourne modern art scene.