Ever Fresh April 13 – May 14, 2016 Tully Arnot (AU) Kristin Cammermeyer (USA) Adham Faramawy (UK) Emily Parsons-Lord (AU) Marilyn Schneider (AU) Kawita Vatanajyankur (THAI) Curated by Josephine Skinner
‘Freshness’ has shifted from an organic state to an abstract, cultural sign. It’s become fluid and slippery: infusing feelings and atmosphere, products, architecture and design.
of digital effects and perfect products is heightened when combined with the fallibility of human flesh, the blemishes of organic produce, the imperfections produced by hand.
Ever Fresh reflects on this global currency of ‘freshness’ through installations, videos, objects and images. It temporarily transforms the gallery into a futuristic, commercial utopia—resembling those that surround us with plastic plants, sparkling surfaces and lively screens.
Making material the powerful, emotional pull that is implicit in the invocation to renew, the artworks in Ever Fresh mirror a reality in which change is the only constant in our personal and social worlds.
Such pop-up promotions, retail spaces and spas, set the scene for a new economy of self- and homeimprovements, renovations and makeovers. They host the illusion of luxury, the allure of innovation and the promise of natural perfection. They promote all-yearround spring-cleaning and the excessive drinking of bottled water.
Fresh Spaces When a space needs freshening-up there’s nothing quite like a new plant or freshly cut flowers to do it. But, when the plant shrivels from thirst and flowers wilt and slowly die, they’re a reminder of inescapable mortality. Being portable and always perky, requiring no love or investment of time, fake plants avoid such unsightly perishability. They brighten up clothing stores and line the sills of mani-pedi salons as ironic signs for natural beauty.
Freshness, in this new sense, defies death and decay. It offers the intensity of nowness and optimism of newness through fresh breath, fresh ideas, fresh faces and fresh air. The artists in Ever Fresh buy into this ideal, presenting us with a reality filtered through alluring colours and reflected in glossy finishes. At the same time, they tease our constant hydrating, detoxing, updating and upgrading. Plants are so alive they vibrate; water hydrates so hard it turns to slime. The endless optimism of freshness is tested, however, where material tensions arise. The artifice
Like these commercial utopias, Ever Fresh is filled with fake greenery thanks to Tully Arnot’s robotic plants and kinetic grasses. Yet, by tapping into the emerging, and apparently non-functional field of plant robotics, he asks us to consider more deeply: “What do plants do?” Scientific studies have similarly been looking to make sense of what we instinctually feel but don’t entirely understand; how nature can “temporarily remove us from stresses of everyday life, and leave us feeling
refreshed and in a better mood”.1 Potted plants might offer a tiny touch of this escapism, an apartment-sized sample of the sublime, but whether artificial versions produce the same emotional benefits continues to be tested. Some studies have found that images of nature are as soothing as living plants and that video aquariums are more relaxing than real ones. Both Arnot and commercial marketers look to capitalize and enhance this emotional relationship we have with synthesized nature, but they do so from opposite sides—Arnot seeks to prise it open while commercial enterprises aim to harvest, hermetically seal it and sell it back to us mass-produced. Perhaps a more truthful echo of the sublime can be found amongst Arnot’s swaying grasses and vibrating plants, as the experience is uplifting but also sad and a little disconcerting. His collection of Grass IRL (2015), for instance, are made from solaractivated fluro-green drinking straws, the kind that will take forever to decompose. This estranged and simplified version of natural reality is inspired by the reductive graphics of meadows in video games. With insufficient light, these grasses stop swaying and return to inanimate plastic, much like a game frozen by a crashing console. Adding to this charming dystopia is a number of fake ferns that have a seemingly cheerful sensibility. Jittering constantly, thanks to microcontrollers, they mimic the way our smartphones rouse happy chemicals with every buzz. Like the plants, we feel more alive when we’re vibrating. Titled Nervous Plant (2015), however, these funny ferns also suggest there’s a darker side to an over-stimulated and wired existence. As if suffering from a social media induced social anxiety, each one has a light sensor that shuts them off if someone stands too close. They freeze in the face of IRL interaction. “As we engage more and more with smart technology,” Arnot asks, “will we end up engaging less with other parts of our world or each other?”2 Jittering plants also appear in Kristin Cammermeyer’s stop-motion animation Accumulation on 12th and Marion (2015), which records an evolving, architectural installation made from objects and materials found on location in Seattle. Its title speaks to the stop-motion process of adding elements with each new frame and the accumulation of stuff that fills our lives; the result of expendable incomes and
the urge to reinvent ourselves by updating our spaces. Appearing like a semi-abstract, mirrored image, the animation becomes an increasingly dense and intricate mix of flat vibrating patterns and the depth of architectural space. At once, this references the historical languages and visual illusions found in painting, while the aesthetics of consumption appear with neon-coloured materials and mesmeric motion— but on steroids. It’s hard to turn away. Amplified by the video’s endless loop, the work reflects how quickly merchandise displays are erected then replaced; how consumer goods are desperately desired and then disposed. Moreover, the fast-paced, menacing soundtrack gives rise to a feeling of hysteria, a score for the feverish behaviour spawned by department store sales. Redressing this throwaway attitude, Cammermeyer uses recycling and repurposing as a strategy to minimize her own waste. In the Rorschach image of endless consuming that this produces, the question is thrown back to us: what do we see of ourselves in this frenzied abstraction? In contrast, Marilyn Schneider offers space for respite, having compartmentalized a section of the gallery with the site-specific Support Structure (2016). Inside this unclad, stud structure is a still, somber and sterile environment, enhanced by cool lighting and green chroma-key paint. Where Cammermeyer presents the compulsive process of filling, Schneider’s placeless environment evokes an emptiness that asks to be filled, the sense that desire exists as pure potential. Preempting the consuming act and the inevitable failures and disappointments that follow, Schneider’s unfinished Support Structure (2016), and half-hung sign New World (2013), indefinitely freeze a sense of optimism, recalling architect Rem Koolhaas’s statement: “The unbuilt is the fantasy that underlies everything.”3 Schneider’s encompassing chromakey green walls situate us somewhere between what Koolhaas describes as ‘junkspace’—generic developments like food courts and retail arcades—and the digital space of postproduction. Her architectural use of the colour speaks to a social shift as much as a technological one; in which green screen, having left the film studio, has arrived as the backdrops of our daily lives via reality TV. Infusing our presentday mentalities, lifestyles and bodies, desires and décors, every aspect of life is now the subject of
postproduction in the form of perpetual consumption and reinvention. A blurring of reality and fiction, therefore, underscores much of Schneider’s work, which variously materializes this composite approach to life. The digital image Forever New (2014), for example, draws from a palette of luxury yet generic finishes and stock imagery in which the effect of concrete replaces its material presence like a veneer. So too, just as the display rooms of Ikea could serve as film sets (and have done for Israeli artist Guy Ben-ner), Schneider’s gallery fit-outs and merchandising with art objects turns us into actors, or perhaps reveals that we always were. Schneider exaggerates the way department stores direct our thoughts into neat lines, choreograph our movements through aisles and manipulate our moods with colour. Yet, without their false homeliness, the atmosphere her work creates can feel inhuman, inaccessible and cold. As unfulfilled scenarios, they defer the human ingredient back to us. Against her enhanced sheens and glossy surfaces our frayed edges and messy emotions standout in stark relief. Looking into the polished aluminum of the New World sign, for instance, it’s hard to know which is worse: an all too clear reflection of our failings or a fingerprint-free image of the world without them.
Fresh Water Water has been flowing through art galleries for years but it feels like there’s been a recent resurgence. Inside LACMA (USA), rain has been parting for visitors walking through Random International’s epic Rain Room (2012-), while Australians were just offered a raincoat in Shaun Gladwell’s The Lacrima Chair (2015) last year. In Ever Fresh, water appears in more humble forms, such as plastic bottles and bubbles, but the artists’ interventions are nevertheless poignant. Looking beyond water’s physical presence they explore its symbolic power and visual currency in a time when elemental freshness is packaged and made purchasable in daily life. Tully Arnot’s Eternal Bubble (2016), for instance, parodies what we find in vending machines and newsagent fridges around the globe; an array of artfully
branded Vitamin Waters, Flavoured Waters and even Sustainable Waters that have enriched the privileged dilemma of “sparkling or still?” Exaggerating this absurdity, Arnot’s bottle of water is mechanised to bubble forever. It’s as if the spring itself has been bottled. Yet, despite it’s obvious silliness, it reminds us that, when water isn’t in abundance as a lifestyle prop, in its truly fresh sense it’s troubling scarce. Less than 1% of the water on earth is fresh, and with mounting demands on shrinking reserves parts of the world are running dry. The shifting significance of water in relation to power and material wealth was highlighted back in 2001, when a US drought led The New York Times to print the front-page headline: “For Texas Now, Water and Not Oil is Liquid Gold.” With increasing exclusivity and limited availability, water’s new status of luxury good means it’s analogous to consumer desire. Liquid luxury exudes from Adham Faramawy’s sexy videos in which watery CGI effects command onscreen presence as much their flesh-baring actors. Evoking the sensuality and indulgence of spas, his protagonists are absorbed in the constant pursuit of refreshment. In Vichy Shower (2014), for instance, a young woman wears a pore-cleansing strip across her forehead with a nonchalance far removed from the reality of blackheads and blemishes. Flirtatiously flicking her hair and sipping at water, she works her best angles repeatedly, while streams of transparent fluid undulate across the screen and condensation mottles the monitor, along with her otherwise spotless complexion. The impossible perfection of Faramawy’s superimposed imagery presents a reality just beyond our reach and speaks to the role of unmet desire in consumer culture. He explains: “I noticed that liquid in advertising is now mostly computer generated, and I realised that the lack that is being constructed is now not necessarily being filled by the product being advertised but rather by this impossible substance which can’t be attained, it can’t be consumed, it can’t be interacted with or touched.”5 The untouchable is no better symbolised than by the bubble, which in the natural world bursts on contact. In Ever Fresh, however, Faramawy’s CGI condensation morphs to music, while Marilyn Schneider’s Bubble
(2015) series appear to have cast them in resin. Schneider’s solidified bubbles parody another luxury good, the art object, by appearing in Minimalist lines and formalising freshness within a frame. With a wry nod to Pop art’s merging of high and low culture, they were actually cast from blocks of Cadbury’s Bubbly chocolate—for some, the ultimate desire. Where the almost visceral lumps of Schneider’s bubbles are devoid of natural delicacy and the dense digital liquid in Faramawy’s SXC N00DZ (2014) near-drowns his model in slime, the artists’ heavyhanded materiality parodies our pawing attempts to close the chasm between reality and desire. Luxury becomes over-indulgence, self-improvement sickly sweet. We’re reminded that consumption quenches our thirst for freshness only fleetingly with the tragicomedic truth that bubbles inevitably burst and life often resembles the dull taste of flat water.
Fresh Bodies Perhaps it’s not surprising that in an exhibition exploring untouchable desire the body and touch play an important role. In the main gallery, for instance, a delicate mobile made of Tully Arnot’s dismembered fingers is suspended from the ceiling and cheerfully bobs around. Titled I Want To Touch EVERYTHING (2015), the silicone pink forefingers are moulded from the artist’s hand, but they perform as a generic universal finger: poking fun at the endless clicking and scrolling in our otherwise disembodied online shopping. But, Arnot’s joke shop-style fingers also point to serious implications. The reach of digitisation, they suggest, is so profound that we’re becoming separated from our senses: touch is disjointed. The allure of an increasingly virtual existence might pacify us with convenience, lull us with options and placate us with Paypal, but we’re still only making contact with the same little piece of plastic mouse. While Arnot’s nervous ferns are personified through mechanised movement, with this mobile the slippage between inanimate object and being goes in the opposite direction: human is cast and cut away, flesh is plastic and reproducible. There are echoes of this shift between subject and object in Kawita Vatanajyankur’s video The Scale 2 (2015), in which her entire body is suspended, her whole hands
encased in rubber gloves. Splaying her arms to operate as weighing scales for rice, she transforms herself into a tool for domestic labour, a functioning part of the machine. Unlike Arnot’s work, however, it is Vatanajyankur’s subjectivity rather than her body that is cut away. She disappears herself into stillness, neutral tones and blank expression—a feat considering the pain she must feel. In this sense, Vatanajyankur isn’t exploring our contemporary disconnection from our bodies but instead suggests they are a medium for redressing oppressive cultural norms. Making visible the under-recognised labour of women in the domestic sphere isn’t a new subject for feminist artists, but the way Vatanajyankur mediates her performances through video is significant. The power of performance has often been accorded to the confrontation of the live act: the bodily relation between performer and audience. But as we’ve shifted into an era defined by postproduction and postfeminism, the presence Vatanajyankur commands is one that confronts traditional systems of gendered power through contemporary modes of identification. Testing the limits of her mind, body and spirit while maintaining a ‘happy smile’, the artist’s utter complicity with the task becomes a graceful kind of resistance. It suggests there exists the possibility of empowerment, as much as objectification, in this age of postproduced people. In regard to postproduction, digital theorist and artist Hito Steyerl notes that the ‘post’ doesn’t mean “after” but “re-”: recycle and repeat but also response and renew. She suggests we can paste back into visibility the parts of us that have been cut because they don’t conform: “We can edit them into incoherent, artificial, and alternative political bodies”,- she explains. While Faramawy’s attention-grabbing actors might seem superficial and shallow—the exact opposite of Vatanajyankur’s effacing and humble presence— they also offer a form of this edited incoherence; an embodied politics of postproduced possibilities. Faramawy engages slime as a metaphorical ‘inbetween’ material to destabilise male/female gender norms, while his actors’ endless cleansing becomes a test of endurance rather than act of pleasure. The immediate allure of these artworks is undone overtime as the experience becomes uncomfortably
visceral and claustrophobic. Producing a scenario much like Rem Koolhaas’s description that “Junkspace is like being condemned to a perpetual Jacuzzi with millions of your best friends…”,7 by filling screens and sharing space with these sensual, synthesised bodies, the audience becomes self-conscious of their own physical presence.
Produced for industrial purposes, it is synthesised to be a stable molecule, meaning it will remain in the atmosphere for up to 400 years. While the heavy words participants breathe out are captured by Parsons-Lord in airtight takeaway bags—a potentially romantic, enduring sentiment—she also points out that this is the most potent greenhouse gas that has ever been tested and might not be the best thing to pass on to our next generations.
Fresh Air Emily Parsons-Lord’s pop-up performance One of your 8,935,200 a year (2016) also invites us into a synthesised experience of our senses by altering the nature of the air that we breathe. Fresh air and natural air used to be the same thing; it was what you got by stepping outside and inhaling. Now it’s available in sprays, liquid plug-ins and mini Pine trees that allow us to deodorize the past and exist in an eternally alpine or lavender or spring fresh present. ParsonsLord’s work also teeters on the edge between natural and manufactured airs, but in an extraordinarily different way. She doesn’t mask an unpleasant reality with synthesised air but invites her audience to sample airs from various eras, challenging our very perception of what is ‘natural’.
What is magical in these encounters is how art, science and interaction converge around a substance that appears as nothing. Touch and materiality aren’t replaced by cold, conceptual enquiry, but rather, air is engaged as a dynamic, physical material. By breathing in, ideas become inextricable from our senses. In this refreshing, unique way, form and weight are given to the abstraction of climate change fears, while Parsons-Lord speaks to climate science without leaving the familiar feeling of doom and gloom. Her tragi-humour reveals our human obscurity in relation to the Earth’s vast history and the vast scale of human folly as we fuel another great extinction.
This work exists as performance, audience experience and minimalist installation. Bags of air hang in a row next to canisters and stainless steel straws looking slightly sci-fi and sinister in their sterility; this is the aftermath of the artist’s performance. Like commercial promotions that allow people to taste-test products, Parsons-Lord had invited people to try airs relating to key moments in the Earth’s past and now also to its speculative future.
Throughout Ever Fresh, an emotional and philosophical depth is belied by the works’ entertaining nature and seductive pull. Like our obsession with the surface appearance of freshness, the works at least initially seem to exist in the shallows along with the commercial aesthetic they borrow.
Stories of giant insects, dinosaurs and the last great extinction, which Parsons-Lord’s masterfully retells, are infused in the airs’ chemical compositions. As you inhale, these stories become bodily experience— the air tastes and feels distinctly different to the one we’re used to breathing. This is especially apparent with Future Air, which the artist describes as dense and sensual. Being eight times heavier than our everyday air, she explains, after breathing it in, the words you speak “dribble down your chin, soak through your clothes, and seep into the cracks in the floor.”
Appealing to that same part of us that responds to ad campaigns and technological innovations is a strategy to make us simultaneously aware of it, but it isn’t entirely ironic. In many ways the artists embrace consumer culture, for instance, Cammermeyer did a site-specific installation in the windows of department store giant Bergdorf Goodman in 2014, while last year Faramawy developed a perfume called Hyperreal Flower Blossom with Fiorucci Art Trust and Scent London, which was released through Studio Leigh, and Tully Arnot set up an online store selling mass-produced versions of his Lonely Sculpture (2014) after news that images of this silicone finger, programmed to swipe right on Tinder, had began trending on the Internet.
Offering participants the opportunity to breathe Future Air, however, presents an immediate quandary.
Ever Fresh reflects on the complex relationship we all have with consumer culture in the digital era. Unlike
the “top-down flow” of Broadcast-era media power that rained choices down on consumers, now new digital technologies allow us to be co-producers and creatives equipped with networks to feedback and modes of customisation. In this postproduced reality, liquidity is no longer constrained by the gravitational logics of the physical world: the fluidity of digitisation flows in all directions, albeit virtually, just as we see within Faramawy’s screens. Rather than offering a utopian perspective on the emancipating promise of digital technologies, however, the artists together present our daily co-option of its consumer values as confused and turning back on itself. Consumption and connectivity are readily available and inescapable, desirable and threatening, much like the gem-like droplets that spread inside Faramawy’s screens, tweaking the familiar anxiety of a water-damaged phone. So too, all the artists reveal in different ways how increasing consumer power frees us to make more of our own choices but also more of our own mistakes. As we re-edit our own life stories against ever shifting green-screened backdrops, there is both the optimistic promise of new-and-improved versions and the potential to lose ourselves in the process of perpetual change.
This pop-up commercial utopia, in its own small way, mirrors Koolhaas’s approach to architecture. Wired magazine describes that, for the esteemed architect, “an elaboration of worst-case scenarios is a way of warding off doom”, and as Koolhaas himself explains, “If we can capture what the situation is in terms of a model, then perhaps we can help reorient it”.8 Taking the cultural compulsion for freshness to absurd limits—whether they’re starkly sterile, sleazy, playful or physically painful—is a shared strategy for the artists. Rather than suggesting there might be an alternative to the logics of accelerated Capitalism, their amplification of the gap it creates—between our realities and our desires—is perhaps the most effective way of making space for critical reflection today.
Josephine Skinner ... Green psychologist Charles Lewis quoted in the study: Chloe Hamman & Dr Linda Jones. ‘The effect on mood of a living work environment’, <http://www.worldhealthdesign.com/the-effect-on-mood-of-a-living-work-environment.aspx> 2 Tully Arnot quoted in: Joel Mu. ‘Tully Arnot & Microcontrollers Filled with Human Air’, Art Collector, February 18, 2016 3 Rem Koolhaas quoted in: ‘Exploring the Unmaterial World’, Wired Magazine, June 1, 2000, <http://www.wired. com/2000/06/koolhaas-2/> 4 Jim Yardley. “For Texas Now, Water and Not Oil Is Liquid Gold,” The New York Times, April 16, 2001 5 Adham Faramawy quoted from an interview produced by Artychoke TV: ‘Adham Faramawy – Hydra’, April 17, 2014, <https://vimeo.com/92225441> 6 Hito Steyerl. The Wretched of the Screen (Sternberg Press, 2009), pp. 183 & 187 7 Rem Koolhaas. ‘Junkspace’, 2001, <http://www.cavvia.net/junkspace/> 8 Rem Koolhaas quoted in: ‘Exploring the Unmaterial World’, Wired Magazine, June 1, 2000, <http://www.wired. com/2000/06/koolhaas-2/> 1
ADHAM FARAMAWY Neverwet (Dreama), 2013 video - 9 minutes 31 seconds edition of 5 + 2AP POA
ADHAM FARAMAWY SXC N00DZ, 2014 video - 6 minutes 30 seconds edition of 5 + 2AP POA
ADHAM FARAMAWY Vichy Shower, 2014 video - 9 minutes 48 seconds edition of 5 + 2AP POA
MARILYN SCHNEIDER Bubbles, 2015 (grey, white, blue) framed cast resin 71 x 51 x 3cm unique $2200 (each)
MARILYN SCHNEIDER Support Structure, 2016 site specific installation: primed pine, screws, chroma key green paint 1033 x 294 x 4.2cm POA
MARILYN SCHNEIDER New World, 2013 polished stainless steel 270 x 17cm unique $2200
MARILYN SCHNEIDER Forever New, 2014 digitally printed polymeric vinyl with gloss lamination, PVC display board 60 x 60cm unique $550
TULLY ARNOT Nervous Plant, 2014-15 (various) artificial plant, servo motor, microcontroller (arduino nano), light sensor, electronics edition 4 + 1AP $880 (starting price) Grass IRL, 2015 (various) modified rotating solar display stands, drinking straws $110 (starting price)
TULLY ARNOT I Want To Touch EVERYTHING, 2015 pigmented cast silicone, coat-hanger, glue, string edition 4 + 1AP $990
TULLY ARNOT Eternal Bubble, 2016 air pump, aerated concrete, plastic bottle, glue, water. edition 4 + 1AP $990
KAWITA VATANAJYANKUR The Scale 2, 2015 single channel HD video - 2 minutes 12 seconds edition of 3 + 1AP $1100 (starting price)
EMILY PARSONS-LORD One of your 8,935,200 a year, 2016 performance / installation plastic, chain, cork, glass stopcocks, stainless steel straws, and compressed gases recreating air from different eras in Earthâ€™s history
KRISTIN CAMMERMEYER Accumulation at 12th & Marion, 2015 stop-motion video - 11:03 minutes, continuous loop sound design by Michael Dillon, 2015 edition of 5 + 2AP $1100 USD (starting price)
Prices are in AUD unless otherwise stated, include GST and are subject to change
... Front and Back Covers: ADHAM FARAMAWY. Neverwet (Dreama), 2013, video still [detail] Documentation: Silversalt Photography Special thanks to: Catherine Benz, Delmar Gallery, NSW; Jenn Blake and Megan Monte, Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW
online exhibition catalogue