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COVER: DEREK O’CONNOR Elevator (detail), 2017, oil on book covers, 87cm x 49.5cm



SHOEB AHMAD broken-binary-brown


Convinced that pictures could tell the story of our times, Henry Luce bought Life magazine in 1936 for his company Time Inc. and launched a magazine that would dominate global publishing for sixty-five years. Covering politics, science, environment, technology, and entertainment Life’s humanist values were expressed through iconic photographs that situated photojournalism and portraiture at the forefront of a communications revolution with deep reach into the households of the post World War II burgeoning middle class. Many of the world’s most prominent photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt and W. Eugene Smith built careers capturing the zeitgeist of each decade with enduring indelible images. Almost as ubiquitous as Coca Cola, Life magazine’s branding extended to books produced in collectable series that reflected its concerns and it is the covers of these discarded volumes that Derek O’Connor has reemployed as the canvas for his paintings. Removed from their original function, which is contaminated by propaganda, O’Connor is fascinated by the archival qualities of these melancholy objects that have lost their documentary purpose to verge upon the fictions that inevitably shroud the truths of history. The books therefore are no blank canvas upon which the O’Connor intimates his ideas, rather, they are objects already saturated with cultural significance that reference specific times. I imagine that Time Life had a presence on O’Connor’s book-shelf, framed his world view and through its faded desirability maintains a certain nostalgia. “Hardly read, hardly even touched,”, he says, “these Time Life book-covers are archives of momentous events that with the distance of time, seem like trailers to old movies, fictions both related and unrelated to our lives.” The title of this exhibition is borrowed from At home he’s a tourist (1979) by influential and ‘socially conscious’ punk group Gang of Four. Addressing the idea of armchair tourism the subject “fills his head with culture” and “gives himself an ulcer” without leaving the lounge. Time Life books both reflected and created the culture of the time and provided the masses with a window on a world that they would otherwise not experience. They occupy an era in which many people could only dream of global adventures and lived vicarious existences through the volumes of Time Life and Encyclopaedias. While today, when travel is accessible to greater numbers of people, the Internet continues to provide a vehicle for displaced knowledge and thus it is important to note that O’Connor’s work does not simply allude to a bygone era.

At the time these books were released Abstract Expressionism had begun to take hold in the United States moving the centre of art from Paris to New York. As the proponents of this movement with roots in German expressionism, futurism, the Bauhaus and Cubism saw the canvas as a stage upon which to perform, so O’Connor sees the books. The convergence of O’Connor’s interpretation of personal histories and his practice as an artist become one cohesive entity with the application of paint over the popular photography that contained and communicated an agenda framed by the rise of capitalism. His marks do not cover, conceal or extinguish the past, rather, they situate the artist within the time of the underlying photograph while also providing an abstract commentary on the present. To fully comprehend O’Connor’s work it is necessary to understand the potency of photography and the way its mass proliferation throughout the 20th Century became central to the development of modern culture. Already removed from their historical context as images frozen in time and the means of their communication, Time Life, O’Connor fractures what Roland Barthes referred to as the ca-a-été (“that has been”). While the images themselves might only be understood through their relation to their history, O’Connor’s paintings become specifically autobiographical in that they are ultimately about him and the images that occupied his world. Photography compromises the independence of abstraction from visual reference while painting undermines the ability of a photograph to represent and document events as they happened. It is within the tensions created by these contradictory elements of abstraction and reality that O’Connor produces a series of dramatic ‘images’ reflecting an artist’s experience of the past and its impact on the present. Troops landing, corpses, arrests and jack-boots are neither concealed nor revealed as O’Connor selectively enables certain imagery to emerge from behind his expressive interventions in oil. The audience is left to fill in the gaps and thus he cultivates imaginations with clues to dark stories where without text O’Connor might be painting over a century of imagery that is represented in the knowledge of its books.

Essay by David Broker November 2017

Derek O’Connor is represented by Nancy Sever Gallery, Canberra, and Watters Gallery, Sydney.

RIGHT: DEREK O’CONNOR Elevator, 2017, oil on book covers, 87cm x 49.5cm

DEREK O’CONNOR Discharge, 2017, oil on book covers, 116cm x 148cm

DEREK O’CONNOR Hundstage: Double Yellow, 2016, oil on book cover, 29cm x 49.5cm, framed (private collection)

DEREK O’CONNOR Paris ‘68, 2017, oil on book covers, 87cm x 99cm

LEFT: DEREK O’CONNOR Surrogate Father, 2017, oil on book cover, 29cm x 23cm, framed RIGHT: DEREK O’CONNOR Mamma-San, ain’t no Coca Cola here, 2017, oil on book cover, 29cm x 23cm, framed

DEREK O’CONNOR Hundstage: 29, 2016, oil on book cover, 29cm x 49.5cm, framed

DEREK O’CONNOR Diminishing Returns, 2017, oil on book cover, 29cm x 49.5cm, framed

DEREK O’CONNOR The Artist’s Monograph, 2015, oil on book cover, 29cm x 49.5cm, framed


Since her last exhibition at Canberra Contemporary Art Space 2009 a ☆ C Odyssey the work of Dionisia Salas has undergone significant changes. The ferocious angst and aggression that defined her highly charged abstract paintings eight years ago has faded. At the time Salas occupied a turbulent universe where the ‘big bang’, the explosive birth of space itself, represented a world in turmoil where time was contracted, even non-existent. Heavy areas of dark paint over fluorescent colour captured a cosmos of dark matters and black holes seeming to defy gravity in their will to escape from the custody of canvases. As the stars find their place in unformed space a certain calm has descended over her practice and Domino Gold reflects a decade of incremental change. If abstraction is an evocation of feeling, where colour and form act to present ideas beyond recognisable imagery our engagement relies upon the contemplation of fresh gesture that emanates from years of experimentation and growth. Salas’ new works might be seen as an exploration of the beauty that is so often missing from contemporary art, however, one thing remains constant, the passion and intensity with which she treats her content. Domino Gold is produced using a special printmaking technique called Chine-collé. Translated from French this is the printmaker’s collage, meaning glued or pasted, and enables the artist to print on delicate papers such as Japanese Kozo possessing a transparency that allows the underlying colours to emerge and merge with form and line. Although there are many methods of Chine-collé, with this process paper of a different colour or texture is adhered to a heavier support. Importantly the formal elements of abstraction are not glued as in traditional collage but seamlessly bonded, sometimes giving the impression of being embossed. Another advantage of this process it that it allows the artist to use colour behind the image that differs from the colour of the backing sheet. Colour remains is paramount in Salas’ work as she draws upon historical movements such as Cubism, Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism to produce blocks of chiaroscuro - vibrant light and dark, creating the illusion that each part of the work floats with the frame and over the paper base. From the weight her paintings carried, the strength of this new work is its lightness of being.

The title Domino Gold references a type of wallpaper that ornaments the homes of the ‘rich and famous’. Noted for its exclusive prints with illustrious metallic surfaces using gold leaf and flamboyant floral designs, ironically in this instance, the wallpaper is not adhered to the wall but rather hung in strips as one would mount a tapestry. ‘High camp’ wallpapers such as these, play a significant role in the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. Furniture, wall coverings, hair styles, clothing and artworks are not simply the mise-en-scene for a host of bizarre and neurotic people including drag queens, junkies and paedophile priests, but characters in their own right. Almodóvar’s attention to idiosyncratic character and period detail, particularly the 1970s, made an indelible impression on Salas whose heritage is Chilean and Spanish. Spectacular wallpapers star in cinematic masterpieces such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), All about my Mother (1999) and Julieta (2016) - Salas cites these as an inspiration for the patterns on her prints. Just as style is the substance of Almodóvar’s films, so it is with Domino Gold, a series that like the vivid movies renders the colours of the outside world to be somewhat dull.

Essay by David Broker November 2017

RIGHT: DIONISIA SALAS Mister Baby, 2017, woodblock and screen-print chine-collé on marbled paper, 95cm x 60cm, framed

DIONISIA SALAS un aῆo de amor, 2017, woodblock chine-collé on marbled paper, 76cm x 56cm, framed

DIONISIA SALAS Queenie, 2017, woodblock chine-collĂŠ on marbled paper, 76cm x 56cm, framed

SHOEB AHMAD broken-binary-brown

Minimal art is often the tip of an iceberg. Extraneous concepts, forms illusionistic devices and materials are reduced to reveal the artist’s intention in concentrated form. Inspired by (among other works) Mark Rothko’s colour washes, Shoeb Ahmad’s broken-binary-brown is presented in rectangles of colour that float within the frames of two flat screen television monitors. As one walks into the darkened gallery they appear as a strip of light on the floor where on closer inspection one encounters changing shades of brown and grey. As is the case with Rothko’s washes there is intensity evident in the work that suggests the presence of something far greater than blocks of digital colour might immediately convey. Through subtle shifts of colour within the screens the audience is given the key to a trance-like state of meditation that tells a complex story of layered identities. Each form is created from a history of photographs of Ahmad taken by Anna Mayberry. Images removed from their original documentary function, were enlarged, abstracted and pixelated to produce blocks of colour that represent a life in transition. Essentially a self-portrait without obvious detail Ahmad addresses a complex existential metamorphosis of changing genders. While the details are obscured by this work, reduced to a subtle play of colour and form, they reference a complicated pattern of “otherness”; being Muslim, from Bangladesh, a father of two children and transgender. Ahmad’s approach, however, is not to focus on the individual or the personal but rather to produce a piece that reveals something more universal. Everyone, she says, is an identity of many shades, that when the camera zooms in deconstructing the idea of personality and culture, humanity becomes as one, regardless of how the individual presents. In other words, we are all in a transitory state from birth to death. As an artist, curator and musician, sound has always played a seminal and equal role in Ahmad’s work. An evocative soundtrack that explicates and reflects an emotional journey in sound accompanies the visual elements of broken-binary-brown. As one’s lifetime is often outlined by the musical tastes that mirror certain times and events she draws upon an eclectic line up including Bjork, Gavin Bryars, the Romanian folk dances of Bela Bartok and TEXT, a diversionary project that followed the break up of post-hardcore band Refused. Aiming to capture a ragged and volatile emotional quality Ahmad articulates a life in sound that while in this instance, is distinctive and idiosyncratic, also acknowledges how the music of our lives influences and shape views of the world.

STELARC Propel (performance still), 2015, HD video with stereo sound, 2’00’’ duration

The hero image for broken-binary-brown is mysterious. For those people that have known Ahmad over a period of time it is indicative of change but the transformation is far from sudden and perhaps not momentous. We see her on a desolate track apparently running into an Australian landscape consisting of the flora that struggle for survival. She may also be running away from some unseen force that is beyond her control. In an installation that explores themes of gender identity with considerable subtlety Ahmad’s intention is to challenge the preconceptions placed upon her by a society with little understanding of the ways an individual that does fit can find a comfortable space. There is no direction in which one can run, no path to follow, and thus she generates an environment in which her audience is able to feel included in and not threatened by the multifaceted elemental journey of her experience. broken-binary-brown is in the artist’s words, “ … an electro-acoustic sound world - part minimalist wonderland, part chamber opera - and abstracted imagery to take us through darkness, insecurity, light and hope to reveal the inner being of a person in gender flux, both uneasy within, and at peace with themselves.”

Essay by David Broker November 2017

PREVIOUS PAGE: SHOEB AHMAD broken-binary-brown, 2017, dual HD video with stereo sound, 60’00 duration s.i.a. - Voices, Guitars, Organ, Melodica Rhys Butler - Saxophones Hannah De Feyter - Violin Evan Dorrian - Cymbals Tom Fell - Saxophones Kellie Lloyd - Electric Guitars Ben Marston - Trumpets Composed, collaged and processed by Shoeb Ahmad with improvisations from Rhys Butler, Tom Fell and Kelly Lloyd HD video created from original photography by Anna Mayberry



SHOEB AHMAD broken-binary-brown