un Magazine 4.1 ISSN 1449-6747 (print) ISSN 1449-955X (online) Published by un Projects Inc. un Projects PO Box 1611, Collingwood, VIC 3066 firstname.lastname@example.org www.unmagazine.org
Editor Din Heagney Sub-Editor Helen Hughes
Cover images Front: Ikea Headress, Adam Cruickshank, from Reverse Cargo at Craft Victoria, 22 January – 5 March, 2010. Image courtesy Adam Cruickshank. Back: 50 cc of Paris Air, Marcel Duchamp, glass ampoule (broken and later restored), 1919. Height: 13.3 cm. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950. Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Distribution Download a free PDF from www.unmagazine.org (back issues also available) or pick up a printed copy at one of the following locations:
Designer Brad Haylock (Monash University)
Melbourne Centre for Contemporary Photography / Conical / Gertrude CAS / Hell Gallery / Kings ARI / The Narrows / NGV / Sunshine and Grease / West Space
Magazine Coordinator Kelly Fliedner
Sydney Artspace / FirstDraft / ICAN / MOP Projects
Administrator Melody Ellis
Perth Fremantle Arts Centre / PICA
Printing BPA Print Group
Adelaide Experimental Art Foundation
Paper Cover: Look!; text: Sumo Offset.
Editorial Committee Amelia Douglas, Zara Stanhope, Phip Murray, Angela Brophy, Brad Haylock and Jared Davis.
Brisbane Boxcopy / GOMA / IMA
Mentors Andrew Frost, Amelia Douglas, Justin Clemens, Leigh Rob, Angela Brophy, Phip Murray, Zara Stanhope, Brad Haylock and Din Heagney. Board Zara Stanhope (Chair), Bill Gillies, Jeff Khan, Din Heagney, Phip Murray, Angela Brophy and Brad Haylock. Advisor Lily Hibberd
© Copyright 2010 un Magazine and the writers, artists, photographers, designers and other contributors. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission from the editor and publisher. The opinions and attitudes expressed in un Magazine are those of the contributing authors and not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. un Magazine is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
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Editorial: Redfern to the Bronx by Din Heagney — 9 Articles
No Soul for Sale by Rosemary Forde — 12 An Incomplete Archaeology of Air by Matthew Shannon — 16 Performing the Monument by Biljana Jancic — 20 Pleasure, Street Art & Direct Encounters by Jason Workman — 26 Icing the highway of life by Tai Snaith — 30 Career Change? by Tom Melick & Ivan Ruhle — 34 Fashioning Decay by Rose Vickers — 38 On Camera by Sarinah Masukor — 42 Making Language Stutter by Anusha Kenny — 44 Trash Politics: Notes on Jack Smith & Jeff Keen by Francis Plagne — 48 Meeting with the Monster: Hair, Sex, Shame by Anna Daly — 50 The gallery can be a drag by Eva Birch — 54 Fernando 2.0 by Sumugan Sivanesan — 56 I nterviews
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, Utako Shindo, Bindi Cole & Ash Keating by Din Heagney & Helen Hughes — 60 Katie Holten by Kathleen Madden — 70 Ben Forster by Liang Luscombe — 74 Dirk Yates by David Thomas — 78 Garrett Hoffner by Meredith Turnbull — 81 Eugenio LÓpez Alonso by Kirsty Hulm — 85 Tom Polo by Lisa Lerkenfeldt — 87 reviews
TS2 by Genevieve Osborn — 92 Jenny Holzer by Nicholas Croggon — 96 Omega by Olivia Poloni — 98 Karaoke Theory by Kyle Weise — 103 Canadian Pharmacy by Michael Ascroft — 104 Facts by Patrice Sharkey — 107 1200CC Mary, Reverse Cargo & Year of the Metal Tiger by Anna Sutton — 110 artists’ pages
1:20, Room 1 ( future archeology) by Tanja & ben milbourne — IFC & 1 Something for Nothing (1:1) by Sanné Mestrom — 8 Tilted Earth by Simon Taylor — 116 Sounds in Public Spaces by Lauren Brown — 118 Something for Nothing (1:10googol) by Sanné Mestrom — 120 1:20, Room 2 (seeing the forest for the trees) by Tanja & ben milbourne — 128 & IBC
August 2 - 6 2010
From the 2nd - 6th of August 2010, Monash University Faculty of Art & Design will be opening its doors for its first Art & Design Week. With a range of events and activities on offer, the week is designed to provide a unique opportunity to come and experience the lively, culturally stimulating creative environment on offer at Monash. Across the five days we will be conducting information sessions, workshops, career pathways seminars (featuring panel sessions with some of our renowned Alumni) and other interactive events relative to all the undergraduate and postgraduate programs offered by the faculty. A range of other activities will also be taking place at our Caulfield campus throughout the week including a student market, art & design film festival and final night party. Experience the Monash difference.
Faculty of Art & Design Monash University Caulfield Campus 900 Dandenong Road Caulfield East Victoria Australia 3145 P +61 3 9903 1517 E email@example.com www.artdes.monash.edu.au
ARCHITECTURE FINE ARTS INDUSTRIAL DESIGN INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE MULTIMEDIA AND DIGITAL ARTS THEORY OF ART & DESIGN VISUAL ARTS VISUAL COMMUNICATION
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Melbourne Art Fair 2010 4 – 8 August Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne Australia Want to know where the best galleries go… Melbourne Art Fair 2010. Leading galleries, representing over 900 living artists, exhibiting some 3,000 artworks gather together at the 12th biennial Melbourne Art Fair. Save the date! Alongside over 80 selected gallery exhibitions, the Melbourne Art Fair 2010 program includes: free public fora and Lectures with artists, curators and international guests; Artist Commissions; the Richard Larter Education Space; Collector Programs; free Guided Tours; and Project Rooms, sponsored by Melbourne Art Foundation, exhibiting emerging and independent artists. Melbourne Art Fair 2010 is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation, a not for profit organisation supporting living artists. Melbourne Art Fair 2010 Vernissage Preview party Wednesday 4 August Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne 7 – 10.30pm Tickets AU$175 Bookings essential Tel 61 3 9417 5871 firstname.lastname@example.org Open Daily from 11am 5 – 8 August Adult AU$25 Concession AU$19 Tickets at door Melbourne Art Foundation 2010 Lecture presented by Bill Henson Monday 2 August BMW Edge, Federation Square, 6 - 7.30pm. Free Entry Forum Program An afternoon of informative and lively discussion on contemporary art. Wednesday 4 August from 12.30pm, NGV International. Free entry Bookings essential Tel 61 3 8662 1555 Travel and Accommodation Special accommodation packages through ACCOR hotels. Phone 1300 65 65 65 quote ‘Melbourne Art Fair’ For online bookings visit www.melbourneartfair.com Platinum Travel & Cruise can arrange all your travel requirements. Email: email@example.com Tel 61 3 9835 3003 Fax 61 3 9835 3030 Melbourne Art Foundation Tel 61 3 9416 2050 Fax 61 3 9416 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org www.melbourneartfoundation.com Major Partners
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Editorial: Redfern to the Bronx
Editorial: Redfern to the Bronx Din Heagney
Welcome to the new look un. It’s smaller, fatter and more colourful. While it feels like a journal, it’s still very much a proposalbased, critical arts publication — essentially we dumped the bathwater but kept the baby. un also has a new team, and so we welcome administrator Melody Ellis, sub editor Helen Hughes, and designer Brad Haylock to our extended family. un continues to survive on the hard work of our writers and artists, as well as the generous support of Arts Victoria and the Australia Council. Most of all, we survive because of you, dear reader. I just hope you washed your hands first… To briefly address some recent, and appreciated, criticism of un — yes, there is a certain reliance on philosophy and theoretical criticism in contemporary art. It cannot be denied that most art language is steeped in a kind of intellectual currency created by those who lack the other more fiscal variety. ‘We may not be able to afford to sit at your table but our dinner conversation is better than yours’ is one, rather puerile, way of saying it. Nevertheless, this issue makes an attempt to reduce the level of theoretical reliance, and is editorially expanded to include a new section of more conversational interviews with a mix of Australian and international artists, curators and art-lovers. Having suppressed my desire to turn un into a high gloss hyper-real critique, I succumbed to collective wishes, as we do, and developed something more akin to a social constructivist approach. As a result, this issue appears to be loaded with contemporary historicism. Cycles of change, revolutions if you like, are still bringing various theories and practices from the last
century back to the fore, while the rest of the world salivates over the next upgrade. Like its younger siblings — literature, fashion, photography, film and design — art regularly recycles. Ideas can sometimes take a long time to come to fruition and it’s often better to shove it all in a cerebral compost heap until a fertile period returns. The expansive ideals of the late 1960s and early 1970s have for some time felt idealistic, almost naively optimistic. The promising utopian notions from this era were largely smothered by money-grubbing nihilists who presented the succeeding generation with a rather nasty pie made with fresh cynicism and a celebrity on top. Perhaps if someone had just asked the pessimists to play, we could have avoided a lot of trouble. In hindsight it is easier to see how new technologies and explosive movements like punk and pop blew away the intellectual cobwebs but they also, quite inadvertently, bulldozed many emerging artistic processes that were informed by the critical vigour of the post-world-war era. If anything, these collaborative and humanist forays into conceptualism and philosophical examination have never been abandoned by the visual arts, they’ve just been lying in the background, buried in unread dissertations, boxed up in museum storerooms, argued about by drunken writers, and maintained by a handful of enigmatic artists — all waiting for the cycle to come full circle. And now the wheel of civilisation has turned with a screeching, groaning, rusty crunch. Fortunately, some of the more altruistic ideals from the late 20th century are being dusted off and reviewed, while young practitioners acquaint themselves with their more mature contemporaries who blazed the trails for them. Mentoring is back in vogue as an inexpensive and effective technique for genuine shared learning. The sardonic take of ‘it’s been done before’ is being rethought of not simply as iteration but as the next stage of growth in the continuum of ideas. Young artists are reclaiming many of these ideas, not simply in some facile attempt to chase the po-mo dragon, or to satisfy some kind of fetish for intellectual obscurity, but because the revolutions of these former movements are still turning and have something indispensable to offer us yet. Art is a common denominator. It
— un Magazine 4.1
is usually made to be freely available to anyone who takes the time and, like a chance encounter with a stranger on a street, can be as weird or as meaningless or as rewarding as you choose it to be. un has always had a primary mission to create opportunities for new writers, to explore largely unknown works or, in the case of this particular issue, to go over old ground with fresh eyes. Our cover artwork this issue represents an overall theme of the interconnectivity of ideas through time and space. The tribal fetish headwear by Adam Cruickshank and the gift of French air by Marcel Duchamp are two pieces, made almost a century apart, that inscribe meaning beyond their own physicality, in a way that great art can. They are selected for their aesthetic and their clarity but also because they represent intangibility and critical nostalgia. We start this issue with a look abroad, to the recent X Initiative in New York and the associated festival at the Tate Modern with its broad selection of independent artist run spaces from around the world. The trawling of small art communities by major institutions should be viewed with a critical eye and so here in Melbourne — where we have a vibrant history of artist run activity — we watch the uptake of the ARI by the establishment with cautious enthusiasm. Watching international events from afar has always been our lot, what with being positioned in this far-flung southern corner of the antipodes. Despite the endless flow of cerebral fast food offered online, this distance gives us space for thinking about the past as well as the future. We reflect in this issue on the ways in which Australian artists speak of our own culture to each other and to the rest of the world — from Hobart all the way to Venice — and one of the things we see is the unravelling of our dark colonial past, confronted through the conflagrating present, to an unawakened dream of the future. Many writers in this issue have looked beyond the typical objectified mannerisms of art practice, to the more open and ingenious ways in which art can exist outside itself, unbound by the confines of the gallery or retroactive curatorial context. We examine the invisible and the intangible — artists who create works of inference, intervention and experience, works that are
vitalised and entirely tangible in outcome, yet able to exist unmade even beyond their presentation. We consider artists who look to the very air around us, examining works that engage directly with the unseen, with the ravages of bacteria and natural decay. Unlike those imperceptible organisms, we humans leave mountains of untenable waste — the refuse and dross from our fleeting modernist whims. In the hands of artists, however, these nightmarish and customised dystopias become places of aesthetic transformation, offering us a respite and possible solution by connecting the space of the technologic back to the realm of the biologic. On the flipside, this issue of un looks closely at the work of artists who engage real communities through direct exchange and collaboration. We look at the ways that scientific thinking affects our perceptions of landscape. We consider the ways language can define but also confine us. We examine new forms of public art, including a community art critique by a Chicagobased collective in the contested ground of Redfern. We talk to an Irish artist about community audio works created in trees in the Bronx. We look at the connections between a group of cake-making feminists and a controversial artist who took her practice to the highways thirty years ago. We look at the collaboration between an Australian and a French artist and their creation of a conceptual third artist. We look at a regional community that has suffered from ecological, economic and emotional loss, and some of the ways that artists can reconnect us to own past to help heal our present. Throughout this issue, we start to see a picture emerging. Artists are escaping the restrictions of the traditional sites of art, redeeming the ideological potential, to share truly unique experiences with total strangers — strangers who can sometimes reveal the greatest truths about us.
— un Magazine 4.1
No Soul for Sale
No Soul for Sale Rosemary Forde
As un readers already know, Melbourne has an abundant supply of independent art initiatives. We have an illustrious history of non-profit, alternative spaces and projects, ranging from the slickest white cubes to the most ramshackle pop-up shows in back yards and demolition sites. Over the past three decades, independent initiatives in Melbourne have generated much of the necessary noise and activity that makes an art scene tick. While Melbourne is characterised by a particularly strong set of artist-run initiatives, national and international counterparts push contemporary art in their own communities around the world. Usually small-scale and highly localised, the intangible contribution of independent art initiatives can easily be overlooked or taken for granted — with limited profiles beyond their hometown and little interaction with the commercial art market. In May, as this issue goes to press, London’s Tate Modern aims to address this by shining a light on a selection of more than seventy, international and independent art initiatives in its three-day festival No Soul for Sale. Held in the Tate’s iconic Turbine Hall, the so-called ‘festival of independents’ is designed to celebrate the non-profit organisations, individuals and groups that drive their own micro art communities globally. The project was conceived by artist Maurizio Cattelan and organised for the Tate by Cattelan with New York based curators Cecilia Alemani and Massimiliano Gioni. Of the seventy-plus independents involved, just two Australian initiatives, both based in Melbourne, were selected to participate — Hell Gallery, directed by Jess Johnson and Jordan Marani, and Y3K, initiated by James Deutsher and Christopher LG Hill. Other participants hail primarily, and predictably, from the major recognised art cities of North America and Europe, including nine from New York and eight from London.
No Soul for Sale is part of the Tate Modern’s tenth anniversary celebrations, however it is also the second i ncarnation of the festival, which first took place at New York’s X-Initiative in June 2009. X was a twelve-month program devised by a consortium of art-world heavies spearheaded by the New York gallerist Elizabeth Dee, in one of the world’s most desirable pieces of art real estate — a four-floor exhibition building in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district, previously home to the Dia Art Foundation and, most importantly in the recent economic recession, available gratis for one year. X closed as planned in February 2010, having presented a cycle of major exhibitions with constant public programs, series of lectures, workshops and performances. X-Initiative professed to be ‘a not-forprofit initiative of the global contemporary art community’. In keeping with this rather broad tagline, Director, and No Soul curator, Cecilia Alemani has commented that X did not begin with a stated mission or imperative, rather it was responsive to a set of circumstances and the opportunity to utilise the building — the whole organisation and program was launched with just a month’s notice.1 While X-Initiative spoke of being global and, accordingly, presented a program of international artists, it was plainly conceived for a New York audience. Alemani further explained that X was ‘trying to fill a gap or refresh a model of the kunsthalle that didn’t really exist in New York. Of course there are lots of galleries and institutions, but the in-between sector was badly affected by the financial crisis’.2 Indeed, as one critic put it in the New York Times: ‘at a time when a whole lot of the art world is non-profit, whether it wants to be or not … for organisations dependent on handouts or their own resources, the recession has put the “eek” back into eking out an existence’.3 For the curators, gallerists and artists involved in conceiving X, this increased insecurity for the arts in New York begged for the rejuvenating injection of an ambitious art program focused on a sense of community rather than dollar signs. With a number of commercial gallerists and art collectors on its board, X was regarded in New York as the art world’s response to the recession. The 2009 edition of No Soul was a
Opposite: The Last Slice, K48 Kontinuum, Tate Modern Turbine Hall (digital sketch), 2010. Image courtesy Tate Modern / K48 Kontinuum.
— un Magazine 4.1
flagship event for X-Initiative, epitomising much of the organisation’s apparent aims to bring international projects to New York, to create shared space for hospitality and conviviality in the art community, and to operate without commercial imperatives. The latter two of these motivations are familiar to many independent art initiatives in Melbourne and elsewhere. Since opening in Richmond in February 2008, Hell Gallery have certainly concentrated on creating a social setting for art. As Hell’s co-Director Jess Johnson has explained: ‘we knew the type of environment that we liked to hang out in and it had to involve food, music, film, footy and dancing. All those things you’re not supposed to do in an art gallery. But why not?’ 4 Along with this healthy dose of sociability, Hell was also concerned with creating an alternative economic model for local independent initiatives and, as such, does not charge exhibiting artists rental fees. The non-profit nature of the international art organisations was a pre-requisite to their inclusion in No Soul for Sale. Asked about the curators’ concept of ‘independent’ in this context, Alemani answered: ‘we were not obsessed with defining it. There is lots of range from institutions like White Columns to very young spaces, magazines [and] curatorial offices’.5 The only stipulation that applied was participants ‘have to be not-for-profit — some initiatives involved in 2009 can’t be in 2010 as they have become commercial. Although in reality there is lots of grey, these days there is not always a clear boundary between commercial and non-commercial’.6 This acknowledgement is important at a time when individuals and groups are adapting and redefining the independent art initiative, drawing on both business models and traditional non-profit structures. For Melbourne’s Y3K, which opened in June 2009, there is no hierarchy between its modes of operation, which include retail, publishing and design projects, as well as exhibition space. Y3K is engaged with both ‘independent and represented praxis’.7 Y3K, Hell and a spate of other initiatives active in Melbourne in recent years (such as Utopian Slumps and The Narrows) have presented interesting programs by working somewhere between the art market and the established local concept of the Artist-Run Initiative.
Both X-Initiative and No Soul for Sale can be seen to reflect and address two planes of shifting ground characterising the current moment in contemporary art. With the dual framework of (a) operating outside the market, and (b) seeking to map and foster global communities, these projects resonate with what curator and writer Okwui Enwezor has described as a double trajectory of endings in the wake of the world financial crisis. Enwezor sees the recession’s impact on contemporary art as two-fold: ‘the end of an excessive art market, and the end of tenets of globalisation as a means of understanding the field of contemporary art’.8 Although, as a believer in the potential of a globalised art world, Enwezor is quick to add that he hopes he is wrong on the second point. No Soul for Sale, as a bringing together of international examples of art networks, will seek to prove him wrong, albeit via an inevitably uneven mapping of the globe. With very little curatorial design behind the project, the selection of participants for No Soul at the Tate has been a haphazard process of word-of-mouth and recommendations amongst networks rather than a systematic research or application process. As with the 2009 version at X-Initiative, Alemani and her co-organisers recruited potential participants for 2010’s No Soul by, in her words: ‘starting with New York we would ask a space and ask lots of people, and they would recommend others, and so the process mapped the networks’.9 This works only to the extent that independent art initiatives h appen to interact and connect or promote across geographic borders, even across continents and hemispheres, to generate some tiny ripple of awareness linking eventually to the organisers in New York. Hence similar events held closer to home — such as the Next Wave F estival 2010 project Structural Integrity with its regional focus on the Asia-Pacific, or the 2006 Container Village featuring representatives from Commonwealth countries — will create very different maps of independent art initiatives and their networks. Described as ‘an exercise in coexistence’, the No Soul format can sound shambolic — a non-curated expo of dozens of disparate groups presenting work in any form side by side — allocated space is marked out by tape on the floor, but not
No Soul for Sale
partitioned as in an art fair. However, this open and democratic approach can work very well — Artforum described the 2009 event as ‘an ecstatically rudderless convocation’ and delighted in the ‘absence of an ante, unheard-of in New York’.10 Quite accustomed to working in free form and without much of a financial stake, both Hell and Y3K have planned to represent their programs in ways that reflect their respective priorities and styles, and speak a little of the art communities they are each a part of. For Y3K, a simple and direct presentation of mobile works (a sculpture, a video, a rug, a performance and a publication) will reflect the gallery’s range of interests and ‘trans-global, trans-practice philosophies’.11 Meanwhile, Hell will bring transportable elements that can be used to build an installation on arrival, recreating aspects of their Melbourne courtyard and incorporating drawn portraits of individuals associated with the gallery.12 For both M elbourne initiatives, despite presenting quite dissimilar programs, running an independent art project has had much to do with energising community networks and connections. It is a good moment for the New York art market and institutions like the Tate Modern to look more closely at the small and sometimes far away independent art initiatives to refresh their lust for contemporary art. Maybe this turn of attention is a means of moving closer to the idealised concept of a global contemporary art community.
8/ Okwui Enwezor, ‘A Questionnaire on “The Contemporary”: 32 Responses’, October, no. 130, 2009, p 33.
1/ Cecilia Alemani, in interview with the author, 15 March 2010. 2/ Ibid. 3/ Holland Cotter, ‘Restoring the “eek” to Eking Out a Living’, New York Times, 24 June 2009, accessed online: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/arts/ design/25soul.html?_r=2. 4/ Jess Johnson, in an interview with Melissa Loughnan, ‘Hell and Back’, The Blackmail, April 2010, http://www. theblackmail.com.au/issue/art/hell-andback/ 5/ Cecilia Alemani, in interview with the author, 15 March 2010. 6/ Ibid. 7/ James Deutsher and Christopher L G Hill, Y3K statement, http://y3kgallery. blogspot.com/
9/ Cecilia Alemani, in interview with the author, 15 March 2010. 10/ William Pym, ‘Whatever Works’, Artforum Scene & Herd, 26 June 2009, accessed online: http://www.artforum.com/ diary/id=23170. 11/ Y3K statement, in email correspondence to the author, 10 March 2010. 12/ Hell Gallery statement, in email correspondence to the author, 30 March 2010.
Independent arts organisations in No Soul for Sale: Alternative Space LOOP (Seoul) — Arrow Factory (Beijing) — Arthub Asia (Shanghai/Bangkok/Beijing) — Artis (New York/Tel Aviv) — Artspeak (Vancouver) — Artists Space (New York) — Auto Italia (London) — Ballroom (Marfa) — Black Dogs (Leeds) — Barbur (Jerusalem) — Capacete Entertainment (Rio de Janeiro) — casa tres patios (Medellín) — cneai= (Paris/ Chatou) — Collective Parasol (Kyoto) — Dispatch (New York) — e-flux (Berlin) — 220 jours (Paris) — Embassy (Edinburgh) — Exyzt & Coloco (Paris) — Filipa Oliveira + Miguel Amado (Lisbon) — FLUXspace (Philadelphia) — FormContent (London) — Galerie im Regierungsviertel (Berlin) — Green Papaya Art Projects (Manila) — Hell Gallery (Melbourne) — Hermes und der Pfau (Stuttgart) — i-cabin (London) — Intoart (London) — K48 Kontinuum (New York) — Kling & Bang (Reykjavík) — L’appartement 22 (Rabat) — Latitudes (Barcelona) — Le Commissariat (Paris) — Le Dictateur (Milan) — Light Industry (New York) — Lucie Fontaine (Milan) — lugar a dudas (Cali) — Machine Project (Los Angeles) — Mousse (Milan) — Museum of Everything (London) — Next Visit (Berlin) — New Jerseyy (Basel) — Not An Alternative (New York) — no.w.here (London) — Oregon Painting Society (Portland) — Or Gallery (Vancouver) — P-10/Post Museum (Singapore) — Para/Site Art Space (Hong Kong) — Peep-Hole (Milan) — PiST (Istanbul) — PSL [Project Space Leeds] (Leeds) — Rhizome (New York) — Sala-Manca & Mamuta (Jerusalem) — San Art (Ho Chi Minh City) — Scrawl Collective (London) — Studio 1.1 (London) — Suburban (Chicago) — Swiss Institute (New York) — The Mountain School of Arts (Los Angeles) — The Royal Standard (Liverpool) — Thisisnotashop (Dublin) — Torpedo (Oslo) — Tranzit (Prague) — Viafarini DOCVA (Milan) — Vox Populi (Philadelphia) — Western Bridge (Seattle) — Western Front Society (Vancouver) — White Columns (New York) — Y3K (Melbourne) — 2nd Cannons Publications (Los Angeles) — 98 Weeks (Beirut)
— un Magazine 4.1
An Incomplete Archaeology of Air
An Incomplete Archaeology of Air Matthew Shannon ‘I wouldn’t know how to tell you what I do … I’m a respirateur — a breather’.1 — Marcel Duchamp In 1919, Marcel Duchamp was waiting to board a ship in Le Havre, bound for New York, when he decided to present a work to his affluent New York hosts, the Arensbergs, whom he believed to have everything. Duchamp had a pharmacist seal a 50 cc ampoule containing nothing but air, then presented it to his hosts as Air de Paris. Of course, it didn’t matter that the air was, in fact, from an area that was a number of kilometres north of Paris — the readymade was an act of naming. Yet it is interesting that this work was made in the same year that national sovereignty in France was extended to the air. In many ways, Duchamp mimicked the shift by asserting his own artistic sovereignty over the air. Whether or not the accord on the skies inspired the young Duchamp is unverifiable. What is most important, however, is the simultaneous assertion of property — both political and aesthetic — in relation to air. The history of the domestication of air begins in the early times of the scientific revolution and the modern period. Evangelista Torricelli, the great Italian explorer of the vacuum, invented the mercurial Barometer in 1643, for instance, which allowed us to penetrate the reality of atmospheric pressure. Further clarification of atmospheric pressure was formalised by the eminent all-rounder Blaise Pascal, whose name was given to the measure of pressure (the Pascal — Pa). The first use of domesticated air for transport was by the Montgolfier brothers in 1793 — a gorgeous, blue and gold, hot air balloon called the Aerostat Réveillon, which carried a sheep, a chicken and a duck for eight minutes in a demonstration for Louis
XVI and Marie Antoinette. Interestingly, the balloon was not christened after the Montgolfier brothers, but was instead named after the wallpaper manufacturer Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, without whose innovative fire retardant lightweight taffeta the construction of the balloon would have been rendered impossible. Just over a century later, the Wright brothers harnessed the use and three-axis control of the airfoil wing to glide on pre-existing air currents — leading to the first sustained powered flight in 1903 of the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk. One of the keys to the development of powered flight was the advent of pressurised fuel injection into the combustion engine, allowing for a feasible ratio of engine weight to lift. So began the colonisation of air, as we know it today. The aeroplane did, of course, contribute greatly to the militarisation of the air, where it played its first major role in World War One (1914–1919) alongside the Zeppelin.2 During WWI, the first proposed sovereign claim over the air by a nation state came from Switzerland, which believed its air — as well as its land — should be neutral after continuous violations during the war by both the British and German pilots looking for a back-entrance into each others’ supply lines. In the diplomatic fray that immediately followed the war, the first international accord on the national air law by the state was signed in Paris, 1919. So the notion of ‘air space’ was born — a jurisdiction that extends 100 km above national boundaries Our next challenge is the preservation of air — a challenge of cooperation between nations that has possibly been made harder considering the erroneous idea that a nation is only responsible for its air. Air in Aesthetics There are two general streams in the discussion of aesthetic uses of air. The first is easy to name, but the second is a little harder to pin down. There is also, of course, the huge history of sound and music in relation to air, which will have to remain untouched here. The first relates to the ‘inflatable’, which makes use of the pneumatic pressure of air as a form of architectonic support or caulk. The inflatable represents a solid form based upon a gaseous, flexible and portable
Opposite: 50 cc of Paris Air, Marcel Duchamp, glass ampoule (broken and later restored), 1919. Height: 13.3 cm. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950. Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.
— un Magazine 4.1
reality; it relies heavily on membrane technology and has a wide range of commercial applications. Our second stream relates to the air as atmosphere, haptic experience, and breath — even if it has been captured or exhaled. It’s a little harder to find a word for this. I’ll refer to this as the ‘aeriformic’. There is certainly a noticeable period of art history in which we find more and more artists making use of the aeriformic — not surprisingly, this is around the period of the dematerialisation of the artwork and the development of conceptual art. I propose that, like Torricelli with the vacuum, the Montgolfiers with fireproof taffeta, and the Wright Brothers with fuel injection, it was not until the invention of conceptual art that artists could fully penetrate the reality of atmosphere as a medium in itself.
comfortable and very squeaky Blow Chair by Scolari, De Pas, D’Urbino and Lomazzi, which became an icon of the era. Around the same time, Quasar Khanh released an inflatable lamp as well as a seating range. Khanh even decked-out the interior of his Quasar-Unipower cube car — think of the Farnsworth House on wheels — with inflatable seats. In this way, inflatable design epitomised the commercial side of the 1960s cultural upheavals, in that it bore the spirit of change and technical progression. A big part of this was the affordability of iconography that is the basis of pop culture.
Inflatable Architecture There is a particularly interesting relationship between the political atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, where various architects and designers tried to translate or reify air by making use of contemporary developments in membrane engineering. These ‘breathable’ structures embodied the potential for flexibility in the urban environment to meet with the emerging changes in society. The Utopie Group, for example, were a group of architects and writers — including Jean Baudrillard — whose proposed transportable and inflatable buildings were designed to operate beyond the oppressive property system of capitalism. The group operated between 1967 and 1970, and in March of 1968, mounted an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Much of the group’s work existed in the form of publications and exhibition of proposals. It is poignant to think that the group should cease operations in 1970 — the same year that the Pepsi Pavilion at the World Fair in Osaka gave inflatable architecture its true home, the trade fair. Inflatable Design The Danish architect and industrial designer Verner Panton, with his invention of the pneumatic stool, is surely the father of inflatable design. Panton, however, never marketed much of his inflatable work. Pneumatic furniture was brought to the mass market only later with the not-so-
Inflatable Art Claes Oldenburg’s wry take on pop art gave us the partially inflated inflatable. The flaccid stoop of these sculptures seems to be a comment on the contradictions of the medium — its lighting-fast jump from utopia to mass-consumer product. Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable works, as part of her wider practice of installation, envelop the utopian vision of 1960s in the kind of LSDesign that was common to the period. Kusama’s installations aimed to convert the museum into a wonderland for adults that was furnished with a possibility for alternate world views. The largest inflatable piece of art to date was Paul McCarthy’s 2003 installation Block Head, which was installed on the north face of the Tate Modern, London, alongside Daddies Big Head. Appropriate to McCarthy’s work, these pieces recalled the use of the inflatable in suburban culture — in particular, the inflatable gorillas that found themselves atop the rooves of various car yards in McCarthy’s typically gaudy and abject fashion. Architecture of the Air Marcel Breuer once estimated that ‘in the end, we will all sit on a resilient column of air’.3 As crazy as the teleological impossibility of modernistic reduction might sound now, Breuer isn’t the only person to have given such firmament consideration. Architecture of the Air was the serial collaboration between Yves Klein and the architect Werner Ruhnau from the late1950s until Klein’s untimely death in 1962. This project existed purely in the form of information about a proposition to artificially
An Incomplete Archaeology of Air
acclimatise the world via vast underground air conditioning units. Films showed Klein repelling falling water with air jets to prove the project’s viability. Moreover, the project showed Klein’s intuitive understanding that communication media and information exchange has a climatic quality, that it is a non-linear ecology of exchange, much like topographies of the atmosphere. The project was more in the spirit of an advanced sensibility over technical progress. There is something of the energy of the 1950s in Klein’s work, a seemingly unfettered belief in progress and expansion backed by the infinite energy offered by nuclear power.
by filling half a space with white balloons, has more to do with finding simple solutions to the problem of making art than with breaking-down implicit institutional codes of silence. Both the inflatable and the ‘aeriform’ have specific relations to the ways in which we fabricate and define our habitation. The uses and definitions of air have appeared in aesthetics in conjunction with the wider social, political and technical conditions under which life takes place. By looking at the aesthetic employment of air as a medium, we can view these conditions as an archaeologist examines layers of soil during a dig.
The Aeriformic critiques A number of Robert Barry works from 1969 titled Inert Gas Piece made use of the lessthan-one percent of the atmosphere that is made up of the noble gasses. The works involved releasing stated amounts of certain inert gasses into the air, and presented Barry with the perfect medium to experiment with his interest in imperceptibility and single-direction communication. The inert gasses are labelled ‘inert’ because they are non-reactive. In a sense, you couldn’t even know whether they were even in the atmosphere or not without specific scientific analysis of the air. So, as with other Barry pieces, the receiver would only be able to perceive the work if they possessed the correct conceptual apparatus. This can be seen as a wider metaphor on aesthetic reception and the structured process of receiving art. Art & Language’s 1971 The Air-Conditioning Show at the Visual Arts Gallery in New York is one of the clearest examples of air as institutional critique. Far from the expected reduction in temperature, the work in fact reproduced the median room temperature, hence the atmospheric alteration was imperceptible — like the codifying system of the institution that attempted to remain latent and out of public view. As part of the creative reinterpretation that the 1990s gave the 1960s, Martin Creed’s 1998 Work Number 200, Half the Air in Given Space is a poignant example of a wider trend in minimal and conceptual techniques — once the instruments of institutional critique were reinvented as part of a personal creative inquiry. Creed’s demarcation of half the given air in a space,
1. Calvin Tomkinson, Duchamp: A Biography, Holt Paperbacks, New York, 1996, p 408. 2. The Zeppelin was more advanced technologically than the aeroplane, but ceased operations in the 1930s , except for uses in scientific research. 3. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropious and Ise Gropious (eds.), Bauhaus 1919–1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1938 (reprinted in 1975), p 130.
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Marx and Engels is a Soviet-era statue installed in 1986 on Alexanderplatz, Berlin, between the Television Tower and where the Palast der Republik used to stand. It became a set for a series of photographs I made between 2008 and 2009. The fall of the Berlin Wall had both immediate and long-term consequences. This once-important monument depicting two famous philosophical figures has become nothing more than a backdrop for staged photographs by tourists visiting the city, elucidating the ideological changes that have resulted form the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism. — Warren Niedich
Above: Marx and Engels, Warren Neidich, 2008–2009
Performing the Monument
Performing the Monument Biljana Jancic The monument as a public art form has had a significant impact on art history and the way in which civic space and the geography of cities have been experienced. Yet the monument has a more complicated function than its official status as memorial. Its heroic subject matter and dominant presence in public space allow the monument to assert itself as a symbol of the ever-watchful eye of systems of power. In this sense, we can begin to consider the monument as a manifestation of the panopticon — an unrealised plan for the ideal model of an enlightenment prison designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785, and later developed into the social theory of surveillance by French writer Michel Foucault. Ultimately, however, the perceived inertia of the panopticon as a built structure is inconsequential. This is because the power of the panopticon lies not so much in the constant surveillance it portends, but rather in its pacification of inmates (citizens) by encouraging states of dehumanising paranoia that provoke submission, such as those experienced at Abu Ghraib. The monument does not actively restrict movement but acts instead to instil a permanent sense of the need for decorum in citizens’ minds. In turn, this has the power to alter citizen behaviour by subtly enforcing greater conformity through an appeal to individual civic pride and passive acquiescence. By the twentieth century, the building of monuments had come to be seen as a philosophical farce within modernism’s surge to abandon the past in favour of the future. Nonetheless, during this time the production of monuments was pursued as zealously as ever. It could even be said that the past was fetishised to a degree; a part of what Andreas Huyssen has termed the ‘memory boom’.1 Post-WWII monuments
were produced with an especial awareness that the hope for longevity was simultaneously an acceptance of the transience of history and its mythologies. Today, this uncertainty is frequently built into the very structure of new monuments. For example, Sydney houses a unique monument to ruins and the decay of monumental structures in the work Memory is Creation Without End (2000) by Kimio Tsuchiya. This piece is a public sculpture located on the edge of the Botanic Gardens and is composed of the remnants of demolished colonial buildings. Since the 1960s, public spaces have become increasingly inundated with public sculptures. British writer Judith Collins has observed that sculptures in public spaces have replaced the monument with monumentality — retaining only the scale and prominence of monuments whilst dispensing with their ideological function.2 These sculptures often appear as though they had drunk the growing potion from Alice in Wonderland. While formally considered, these works are mostly insensitive to their surroundings and mute about the contextual politics of their existence in public space; they are examples of what has come to be known as ‘plonk art’. Of course, there are instances of public sculptures that are extremely in tune with their surroundings, such as the iconic and famously removed Tilted Arc (1981) by Richard Serra, but these examples are few and far between. From the early 1990s, new types of public art projects became commonplace, with a focus on community involvement in works that were more deterritorialised and process-based. In the end, both these types of public art — the non-specific monument and its dematerialised cousin — implicitly communicate something of the values held by the various commissioning institutions responsible for their funding. In contrast, public sculpture projects commissioned by corporate companies are usually concerned with the simple decoration and enhancement of a space. In general, such sculptures are commissioned to comply with a capital friendly aestheticisation of public places, their only conceptual premise being a work’s ‘wow’ factor. Curiously, the passivity of these projects is often critiqued through the alternative commissioning of public art interventions by public art institutions. These projects valorise an alternative
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type of monument dedicated to broadly democratic values like communication and non-hierarchical dialogue. A rather direct example of the interaction between the realms of corporate and performative public art was recently invoked in a 2009 project in Sydney’s inner city area of Redfern produced by the US-based art collective Temporary Services, as a part of the There Goes the Neighbourhood exhibition. This exhibition aimed to encourage local discussion about the effects of gentrification on the area. Temporary Services conducted the Public Sculpture Opinion Poll in response to Bower (2007–08), an aggressive-looking sculpture by Susan Milne and Greg Stonehouse. As a part of Temporary Services’ project, a clipboard was placed on a telegraph pole in view of the public sculpture that invited passersby to leave comments about how they felt about its insertion into their neighbourhood space. This served to further bring attention to the myriad socio-political entanglements surrounding the particular placement and context of this public sculpture and the performative response of Temporary Services’ poll. Monumentalising democratic dialogue and access, however, in no sense evidences sinister motivations, unlike those
underlying the many monuments produced during the nineteenth century that eulogised the colonial nation state. Nevertheless, the type of communication on offer with regard to the performative monument is more choreographed. In essence, it allows only for a performance of communication, rather than a dialogue that is natural and open. The work becomes a signifier or a prop for mere processes of interaction and, as a result, a monument to unfulfilled democratic hopes. The need to perform communication clearly signals a desire to feel a sense of connectedness — a feeling that, despite all the technological advancements employed to connect people, seems sadly lacking in the contemporary world. If people actually felt that they were being heard by the state, then there would be no need to produce monuments commemorating and extolling ideas of communication. With these notions in mind, Sydney based artist Astra Howard recently produced a series titled Action Research / Performance Project (2007). Howard produced and performed inside a monolithic, transparent booth where she communicated with members of the public by writing on its walls — allowing viewers to reciprocate her gesture and create dialogues by writing in response on the outside of
Above, and following spread: Public Sculpture Opinion Pole, Temporary Services, Redfern, Sydney, 2009. Images courtesy Temporary Services, Chicago.
Performing the Monument
the structure. Considering the documentation of this work, it seems as though Howard was lending her body to animate an obelisk and, in doing so, humanise the monument. This possibility seeks to equalise the imbalance of power between the monument and the citizen. By shifting the monument’s traditional signification of historical continuity and permanence, to a temporality favouring contemporary ideas around immediacy and ‘presentness’, the artist allowed the inscriptions accrued on her monument to be in a constant state of renewal. This type of monumentalisation of social interventions interferes with the incessant mobility of contemporary life and places a question mark before the habitual stream of everyday consciousness. These interventions provide a moment of rupture in otherwise overly structured, often repressive urban environments. In this way, they could perhaps be better understood using the notion of ‘the accident’ as imagined by the French urban theorist, Paul Virilio. In this way, these performative sculptures are a welcome derailment that can cause conflicting feelings of discomfort because they require a readjustment within an otherwise familiar situation. At the same time though, they also concretise the pleasures of novelty and intrigue. A durational intervention by Welsh artist Phil Babot was performed in this way as part of the Trace Collective project for Artspace, Sydney in 2009. Performing a basic action on an everyday site, the artist brought the repetition of daily existence into question. Babot used sandpaper to scrub away layers of grime on a corner in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. Through his scrubbing action, Babot produced a symbol of a cross that pointed towards his hometown in Wales. In physically undoing historical residue through the process of rubbing away, he produced an anti-monument to the colonial and territorialising presence of the English in both Wales and New South Wales. Many other artists create public interventions that exist as temporal fragments in space. Not necessarily commissioned or even meticulously documented — other than as rumour or ephemera — these actions can be seen as monuments to notions of instability and transience which have become ciphers for our time. One
such work was a description of a 2009 performance by Sydney artist Victoria Lawson titled Momento Mori: Remember that we are all going to die (the artwork makes me immortal / the photograph kills me). This work was enacted in the town of Evora, Portugal, which is UNESCO listed and thus already a monument to itself. In considering the nature of the historic preservation of sites and their role in ‘memory tourism’, the artist inscribed two marble tablets with the inscriptions ‘the artwork makes me immortal’ and ‘the photograph kills me’. These were used to mark two points: the first in the historic centre of the town, and the other outside the city limits a significant distance away. The artist then walked to the point of exhaustion between these two points whilst meditating on texts that were influential in the shaping of this action. The existence of works such as these — while they have the ability to subtly displace daily reality — depends primarily on the production of a proposition or symbolic gesture. They do not always rely on interaction from the audience but they exist as subtle reminders of the transience and unsettled nature of the contemporary condition. The contemporary focus on being present is now at odds with the notions of continuity and stability suggested by the durability, scale and steadfastness of the common monument. Monuments of this sort can no longer be built without considering their incongruity in relation to the speed and plurality of contemporary modes of existence. Indeed both extreme speed and fragmentation preclude the reflection necessary to envisage a convincing shared mythology. Despite this uncertain condition, the urge to monumentalise mythologies and experiences appears to be a vital need in civic experience and thus a necessary function of art in the public arena. In the absence of the stability needed to produce common monuments, the prior social function has been usurped by repeated performances of the very notion of both the monument and of monumentality itself. 1. Andreas Huyssen, ‘Monumental Seduction’, in New German Critique, No. 69, 2006, p 181. 2. Judith Collins, Sculpture Today, London, Phaidon, 2007, p 322.
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Performing the Monument
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Above: Untitled, Jason Workman & Ian Gamble, public intervention, Greensboro, North Carolina, 2009. Image courtesy Meng Hsuan-Wu.
Pleasure, Street Art and Direct Encounters
Pleasure, Street Art and Direct Encounters Jason Workman
Street art constitutes a diverse set of acts, gestures and mark-making insinuated and acted out within the physical space of our daily lives.1 The unsolicited creativity evidenced within the public sphere is a means of expression not only restricted to rebellious spasms, but more expansively to an articulation that seeks the pleasure of taking an idea and making it material in the public domain. It is an opportunity that is seized before the shadow of a new thought passes the mind — a physical act released before circumstance dissolves into a new set of possibilities. Creativity that operates on whim is an act of ‘making something for oneself ’ out of the ‘material’ of the moment — a mark, a statement, a protest, a poetic, out of and on to whatever one finds at hand.2 As a practice, street art adheres to the spirit of experimentation in that there are absolutely no rules apart from the physical laws of nature. It releases one from expectations — including those of your own making, provided you can abandon them — to engage in an activity where ability, justification, explanation and permission are not predetermining factors. In this making without rules, the outcomes are as variable as the forms of practice undertaken. The ‘game’ is enabling a relaxed creativity, one that seeks an enjoyment freed from qualitative judgments, and in turn offers the maker a sense of liberation and play. By abandoning degrees of control, such as self-censorship, and by limiting the instances where others have a direct say in proceedings, we carve out a space for things to run their course as chance procedures, providing the opportunity for tangents, surprise, and unexpected laughter. A creative
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practice that entails adherence to too many preconditions — as stipulations or expectations — can interrupt this process, and introduce recurrent roles into the creative process that are more burdensome than beneficial. These roles include managing, delegating, overseeing and, of course, being managed in return. By contrast, street practitioners need merely ask themselves which aspects of practice give them pleasure and act accordingly. New relationships that afford opportunities also bring new mediating parties. The street artist, who has tasted the pleasures of working unhindered, rejects the most obvious restrictions as compromise. Selfdetermination is integral to street-based practice; there is the awareness that any autonomy, as fleeting a state as it may be, temporarily creates a sense of pure liberty. This moment is not something that can be retained. You only create respite through practice, and therefore, by maintaining a practice that leans heavily toward selfdetermination, you allow for the possible repeatability of these moments. Respite can be created and experienced through silencing the constant clamor of mediation. What of the outward perception and application of street art? It is becoming an almost ubiquitous aesthetic in both the public and private sectors. We now see street art in galleries, retail outlets, blazoned across T-shirts, made into coffee table books and corporate billboards — its seductive and popular aesthetic is used to market a plethora of newly remodeled commodities. We need to remind ourselves that what is lost in the midst of these representations is the social complexity that forms the basis of every public act. If this is forgotten, then the mere trace of the aesthetic of a work can be framed or cropped, and taken as its defining characteristic. It begins to appear, and is treated, as mere ornament — something to catch an eye wearied from other representations. Any work not realised or carried-out in the street cannot be considered ‘street’ art — it is documentation, re-presentation, and resemblance.3 It is an experience without the senses or actual engagement, the moment-to-moment negotiation. What is lost is the enlivening and transformative qualities of actual practice.4 Its reception becomes obscured beneath layers of abstracted meaning and
spectacle. The authenticity of the street is essentially obliterated as it dissolves into commercials and theatre. There is not necessarily any intent to distort, or create a fictionalised account on the part of those presenting out of context, this simply is the outcome of an omission, the omission of the actual moment. The vitality of street art is in its lived moments: the grazed knee, wheat-paste stuck to clothes, the exhilaration of a physical act, of seeing possibilities come to fruition. Public space serves both as inspiration and as support — its walls and bus shelters, its crowds and occasional interested passersby. Street art is a response, an articulation of one’s subjective relation to life — sometimes literal, sometimes obscure, but always as it is experienced in the very spaces where these thoughts are conceived. It is expression made visible within its own context. Artists act publicly, as they desire their experiments to be evidenced, regardless of how subtle their gestures may be. They desire visibility — to provoke, to humor, to bewilder, to be a participant in a diverse culture, which is itself the residue of everyday biological life. Public space is obviously not a ‘free’ space, where anyone can follow any whim without consequence. As a practitioner, you know neither how you will react nor how you will be reacted to in any given moment. You do not know whether you will evade interruption or encounter something more dangerous. The variability and chance occurrences of the urban environment exist for everyone alike: the casual stroller, the person at work, and the artist who is following the semblance of a thought to produce a public work. Public space is heavily mediated and policed yet this very mediation produces cracks, fissures and opportunities amid the pressure of constant behavioral rehabilitation or subjugation through the phenomenon of gentrification. Yet it remains simultaneously a space of play, of possibility, transit and chance, as people continuously collide with each other and with fluctuating circumstance. The creative expression formed and viewed in public space as street art could be considered a gift — it is made without expectation of reciprocity, without financial reward, without a specific person as the recipient, and even without a specific
Pleasure, Street Art and Direct Encounters
intent — how can one know what specific effect will be engendered? In the spirit of gift giving, public art or public gestures are the open source of the physical realm. Cultural expressions circulate without making demands, they circulate freely, never having had rights to relinquish, and they can be engaged with, elaborated, or just as easily ignored. The gift exerts no pressure of exchange or guilt and allows us to determine the route that it will take in our consciousness. However, the gift in one’s mind is potentially an irritation in another’s. We let our gaze brush against the marks of the city as we pass, attentive or distracted, open, biased or indifferent. Regardless of the response there is a generosity inherent in the circulation of expression made public, a collectivity of ideas based on visibility that cannot be silenced even if occasionally the artist falls into the embrace of authority. The anonymity of the street is an invitation, a challenge, a screen and a laboratory for experiments, a place of generosity, cruelty and harsh reality. Society’s grime, its violence, its poetry and its beauty will be caught in the gestures undertaken in these spaces by its users, particularly its youth, as they discover levels of tolerance, intolerance and degrees of volatility.
1/ While ‘public space’ is any space the public can enter without obtaining any special right or permission, there are public spaces that are both more readily accessed and less restricted. Street based practices will naturally gravitate to those places, the alleyway, park, underpass, etc. Spaces that are also public but that are generally governed by one body, such as a public art gallery, are more difficult. They still afford opportunity as spaces for creative play but due to their confined nature they are more readily surveyed, controlled and, due to their existence as a place of specific purpose, offer less diversity and variability. 2/ For a thorough examination of this type of ‘making’ see Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984. 3/ A ‘secondary’ making (of documents, film, books, etc.) which could include utilising representations is obviously both possible and pleasurable. What we are concerned with here however is the temptation to ‘archive’ all activity, to treat all experience as able to be captured, replayed, embellished or exploited at will. 4/ While any ‘effects’ of practice are entirely subjective, finding a means of expression no matter what form it takes is locating a place for oneself: to be, to act, to participate or to refrain from participation.
Above: Everyday Consensus, Patrick Jones, Melbourne, 2006. Image courtesy Patrick Jones.
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Icing the Highway of Life Tai Snaith There are some activities in life that have a natural way of bringing people together. Real things: talking, cooking, craft. With each of these communal rituals, the central act of coming together is often more important than the products produced. Long before the concept of community art centres or Stitch ’n’ Bitch cafes,1 women were congregating in huts, kitchens, sewing rooms and lounge rooms. Together they were chopping, stirring, sipping, stitching, painting, plucking, embroidering, enamelling, eating and, of course, talking up a storm, at regular meetings the world over. It is interesting to look back at the sentiments that arose around the 1970s Women’s Art Movement (WAM) meetings and recognise that it was as much formed by a desire to regularly get together, talk and be involved in something at a grass roots level as it was to establish and defend the rights and future of women in the arts in Australia. Political action grew from community gathering. Janine Burke recalls: ‘perhaps the most liberating aspect of the women’s movement in its early years [was] a ready-made, do-it-yourself quality. If you had read the books and had a few sympathetic women friends to discuss them with, you had the women’s movement, right there in your kitchen’.2 It was this time in Australia that women achieved a political and creative synergy which still continues today. One artist to come into view during this period was the radical and prolific V ivienne Binns. After making a vibrant d ebut in 1967 with her psychedelic paintings and pulsating sculptures of ferocious-looking vaginas and yonic visions, she outraged the Sydney art world. According to Merryn Gates: ‘The rigid avant garde in the 1960s couldn’t embrace her style or her subject matter. There was just no critical pigeonhole for abstract work which asserted female sexuality and
addressed repression and censorship’.3 Binns, full of fire, went on to make a lifechanging decision. Unheard of for someone at the beginning of their promising painting career, she decided to take to the open road to work with ‘real people’. Starting with the Artsmobile project in 1972, she drove a converted bus around to regional communities initiating craft, performance and participatory activities. Described as ‘the offspring of a marriage between Fluxus and a local town council bookmobile’4 this work allowed Binns to connect with a reality beyond the restrictions of the art world — a reality that satisfied the basic human need for compassionate retelling of life’s hardships through creative practice. Binns went on to initiate a project called Mother’s memories, other’s memories in 1977 where participants — often wives and mothers — were encouraged to express skills and memories passed down from their mothers, manifesting in pieces such as Scenes from the highway of life, where sentiments from a group of many different individuals both artists and non-artists were hand-made into steel enameled postcards, which were then displayed on the type of rack you might find in a country town souvenir shop. Binns was interested in genuine participation — art for anyone to get involved with. Her work not only focused on the crafts and objects created by ordinary women, but more importantly drew a picture of these women and their lives that were often otherwise invisible. Binns was a trail blazer in making the personal political, recalling: ‘the years of work as an artist in community were always part of my work and not part of “dropping out” as it seemed to some, who were locked in the notion of an artist working in a single medium, a recognisable style and producing a regular stream of objects’.5 In 2010, Melbourne collective the Hotham Street Ladies is not so much following in Binns’ footsteps, but rather travelling that same broad highway, carrying the flag for strong-willed, independent women in a manner that is perhaps more celebratory than revolutionary.6 Growing out of a friendship formed whilst living together in a rambling share house in Hotham Street, Collingwood — hence the name — the ladies began by collating a
Icing the Highway of Life
humble version of a CWA-style (Country Women’s Association) cookbook. They are now onto their second edition, with their combined recipes and content from friends and family including a section written by their mums. Their raffish, craft-centric practice has grown from the books into numerous collaborative projects ranging from guerrilla-style, site-specific icing of giant cock-and-balls onto the roads of Newcastle, to entering an elaborate, half-eaten pizza-in-box cake — complete with grease stains, TV remote control and butt-filled ashtray — in last year’s Art, Craft & Cookery Competition at the Royal Melbourne Show. In comparison, the practice of the HSL is like a cheeky Generation X cousin to that of Binns’ — confident despite its apparent lack of expert craft or cooking know-how, with their determined success relying almost single-handedly on their shared strength and commitment to each other and their idea of community. Their inverted domestic actions of icing graffiti onto the road also challenge the more masculine business of tagging and ‘vandalising’ the public realm with a sugary and ephemeral statement, albeit laced with irony. The following excerpt from their most recent cook-book, HSL — Hotham Street Ladies’ Tastes from a Shared Kitchen, helps to reduce and explain some of their core motivations:
Lyndal really calls herself an ‘artist’ — but to be paid for creative jobs in education and own and run their own creative businesses, such as jewellers, homeware designers, visual merchandisers, landscape architects, which was rare forty years ago. For HSL, it’s very much a case of baking your cake and eating it too — perhaps all they need to do now is form a band, get a bus and take it on the road. 1/ Stitch ’n’ Bitch is a phrase that has been used to refer to social knitting groups since at least World War II. It was officially trademarked by a café in New York in 1998. 2/ Janine Burke, Field of Vision — A decade of change: women’s art in the seventies, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1990, p 2. 3/ Merryn Gates, text from online exhibition catalogue for Vivienne Binns: 21st century paintings, The Cross Art Projects, Sydney, 2004. 4/ Maria Kunda, ‘The Artist, the community, the land’, from the catalogue Vivienne Binns published by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery to accompany the exhibition of the same name, 2006, p 16. 5/ Vivienne Binns, ANCA Artist Profile, http://www.anca.canberra.net.au 6/ Members of The Hotham Street Ladies include: Cassandra Chilton, Molly O’Shaughnessy, Sarah Parkes, Caroline Price and Lyndal Walker. http://hothamstreetladies.blogspot.com
Making Stock This is not so much a recipe as an acclamation. It’s not that I’m any expert at making stock; I’m just an enormous advocate for this highly satisfying activity … So, I do hate throwing out food and I do hate using little salty msg cubes made by a multi-national. I also get terrible guilt when I’m not doing anything. Making stock addresses all these anxieties. — Lyndal Walker All the battles that Viv and her WAM contemporaries fought in the 1970s, and later on the rocky road to establishing community-based art, have helped pave the way for Australian women like the HSL and to open the door for many to come. Although not without potholes, the road is lined and surfaced these days. It’s commonplace for creative women like the HSL to not only make and sell art — although, only Following spread: Arts Mobile, Vivienne Binns, 1972. Image courtesy Vivienne Binns.
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Icing the Highway of Life
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Top: Framed Bicycle Wheel (Clydesdale), Will French, 2010. Image courtesy Will French. Bottom: Type 70, Kenzee Patterson, 2010. Laverty Collection, Sydney. Image courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.
Career Change? Tom Melick & Ivan Ruhle
Surveying the lands of the 21st century, we can’t help but notice a few things. The first observation relates to the revered shaman and charlatan Joseph Beuys, who was overheard making the histrionic claim that ‘everyone is an artist’. Twenty-four years on and it is clear that Beuys’ idea was more an act of imagination than an accurate prognostication. Despite the rise of social media and the newly electrified capacity of individuals to invent and mediate their identities, along with the attempt by artists to instigate new forms of sociability, the actual production of art remains cooped within a defined set of places, practices and players. As the fugitive in the hen house replied, ‘there ain’t nobody here but us chickens’. For the purpose of a useful fiction, we would like to take Beuys’ universal ideal off the shelf, open it up, and treat it to a live test. But what does this test involve? Nothing less than the invention of a world in which everyone really is an artist — producing objects, actions and images, all the while discussing this activity in the tongue of a common language.1 The question that sprouts here is: in this world where art won, what would happen to art itself ? Of course there is no such thing as art itself. After all, art is almost as complicated and diverse as the world that it falls out of. Indeed, it is this relationship that gifts art with the ambidextrous ability to refer both to itself and to everything else. So, to return to the question at hand, we might speculate that the relationship between art and the universe would shift and recede. For if everyone is an artist, and the planet Earth is progressively transformed into an artwork, then there will be no outside to draw from. Two consequences will result: the first is that the debate over the autonomy of art — the attempt by artists to rework and present social and political conflicts — will
Tom Melick & Ivan Ruhle
end. In this bemusing fiction, politicians will debate form and the welfare state will mutate into a semi-plausible exercise in relational aesthetics. The second is that the artist as intrepid disbeliever will disappear, becoming, by default, the ultimate insider. This will raise the question: was there ever an outside to begin with? At this point, art, shorn of its ability to negotiate between itself and the universe, would become a confused and clumsy monolith. Wavering between the total inertia of an art that refers only to art, and the terminal invalidation of an art that has been quietly transformed into all that it refers to, the word ‘art’ disappears from the face of the earth, extinct like the luckless dodo bird. Of these two possibilities, we would like to pursue the latter, except, this time, we will do so tethered to the conditions of contemporary reality, where only a few people take up ‘the role of artist’. So, let’s ask: can an artist truly leave art whilst retaining the inventive and agile mindset that occasionally makes art great? This leads us to a second thought experiment: three artists whose work suggests a kind of migration, while still recognising art as their true home. Do the objects they make give us any answers? In honour of Fūjin, the Japanese god of wind, we will blow through this speculation in point form: 1. Will French, Framed Bicycle Wheel (Clydesdale) — an adroit, ready-for-use ready-made that suggests that the way out of art will never be through ‘anti-art’. 1.1. It is possible to go beyond well defined strategies. French’s astonishing load-bearing bicycle fiddles with the genetics of Duchamp’s founding gesture. The ready-made mutates into a wonderfully awkward, yet enticingly functional, bike. A change has taken place. 1.2. It is possible to reference art while still riding towards fresh vistas. French’s bicycle is clearly an artwork, and presents itself as such. However contained in this gesture is the expression of a nascent potential. We would characterise this as an ingenious relationship with the given world of industrial objects.2
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1.3. The pre-configured can be reconfigured.
2. Kenzee Patterson, Type 70 — a cube forged from spirit-levels that is familiar and then surprising. An inversion of the viewer’s progress through an artwork, which suggests that alternative histories — and consequently, an alternative present — are possible. 2.1. Meaning is historical. The intelligibility of Patterson’s object, like French’s, depends on art history and the signs, symbols and understandings it carries with it — in this case, minimalism. History is vital to making sense. 2.2. The history you know is not the only history out there. Type 70 aids the imagination, bringing to mind a world where industrial designers applied the proportion and harmony of Greek antiquity to the task of modern machinery. 2.3. Art can accommodate new references and new frames of understanding. 3. Kate Mitchell, Small Time Genie — an ornate card that entitles the bearer to three acts of assistance from Mitchell herself. A work that seeks out indeterminacy and strife by moving outside the nurturing ecosystem of the art world. 3.1 What is it for? Small Time Genie provides an answer to this indispensable question. It is for whatever circumstance demands. 3.2 Assistance is always contextual but does not need a given context. Mitchell’s thrice bound promise proves that art simply doesn’t need a gallery. We could just as well imagine these cards, meaning intact, on the back of a cereal box. A piecemeal answer: empirically, it must be possible to find the qualities we’ve tried to track outside of art. Inventive verve and an agile mindset can be found in all areas of human endeavour. In this way the question was perhaps a ruse. After all, these three
works have shown that art has a capacity for renewal. Hasn’t this always been the case? A claim to finish on is that good art is art that exercises this capacity. From here, can we claim that art is available everywhere and to everyone? 1/ Unluckily, while we were preparing a draft for this article, the always timely Boris Groys published The Weak Universalism, where at one point he adopts a very similar, in fact almost identical, premise: a world where Beuys’ maxim has come true and everyone is an artist. Although we felt the point he was drawing was significantly different from ours and thus we could continue with our use of this premise, Groys’ article is worth a look. Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/130 2/ See: Ai Wei Wei and Atelier Van Lieshout.
Tom Melick & Ivan Ruhle
Above:Â Small Time Genie, Kate Mitchell, 2009. Image courtesy Kate Mitchell.
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Above: Tofu Mantra (details), Charwei Tsai, black ink on tofu, dimensions variable, 2009. Images courtesy Charwei Tsai / Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation.
Fashioning Decay Rose Vickers
A small block of tofu makes inroads into an emerging discourse. Operating out of Tokyo since 1899, the Morinaga Company might be said to manufacture a fairly standard block of soya bean curd. The label on their primeselling foodstuff — a firm, long-life block of the stuff — reads: ‘This revolutionary package locks out light, oxygen and microorganisms which lead to early spoilage’. It goes on: ‘Morinaga Tofu always tastes just made — never sour’. It a ppears that the consumer likes things fresh. Charwei Tsai’s recent exhibition at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) in Paddington would horrify Morinaga. In a society obsessed with the sanitary, Tsai’s Water, Earth and Air came complete with a warning sticker boasting unsavoury elements. In Tofu Mantra (2009), the object concerned is Tsai’s canvas; she writes on it along with other materials — mushrooms and leaves, fruit and ice. I’m not sure if Tsai favours using Morinaga tofu, but her canvas certainly appears fresh — at least to begin with, it doesn’t stay Morinaga-standard for long. In the painstaking detail of time-lapse video, Tsai’s perfect block of protein suffers the ravages of time. The words turn yellow, the edges crisp. The centre cannot hold. A fly crawls into the remains just before the structure buckles into nothingness. I worry about the fly — fortunately, it is resurrected upon the play of repeat. With precursors in 1980s AIDS art and 1990s ephemeral art, bacterial art is a relatively recent mode of practice. Though various works make reference to the virus as metaphor — Félix González-Torres’ candy stacks amongst others — the use of live culture remains an unconventional and somewhat subversive mode of practice. The origin of the movement might be traced as far back as the ‘life as art’ genre of the 1930s and Edward Steichen’s photographs
of delphiniums, and through to David Kramer’s bacterial paintings and bio-art of the nineties. Yet the specific field is so narrow that, including Kramer’s painting, bacteria features as a central component in only two major series. The other point of origin is somewhat lesser known, constructed on the borderline of fashion and art by Belgian designer Martin Margiela. He created a series of garments with the intention that they would be exposed to an ongoing process of decay. Working with microbiologists to apply mould, yeast, and other bacterial cultures to cloth, the installation toured Rotterdam, Kyoto, and New York over the course of the three years, from 1997 to 1999. Discourse largely concluded with the incineration of the work — the garments were tossed in a furnace at the request of the atelier — and the use of bacteria in a fashion context has not been repeated. It likewise remains novel in the art world, perhaps because Kramer constitutes such a dominant frame of reference. Ephemeral art is commonly accepted as an anti-commodification gesture, and the rebellious nature of these works may be seen as a precursor to Tsai’s Water, Earth, Air. It is rather a different idea to let a piece of art destroy itself — to self destruct — than to be destroyed. While González-Torres’ candy stacks are eroded with the underlying expectation that they might be replenished, in Margiela’s travelling showcase the decay is built into the work. Juxtaposition of material and effect creates a dual tension between repulsion and attraction, and the physical manifestation of disease and dying is at odds with a prevailing state of beauty. A direct confrontation with waste and loss is made beautiful, not because the materials are beautiful in isolation, but because prima facie the aesthetic is beautiful. As a fashion retrospective spanning the decades, the cultural story that is told is also beautiful. The experience of watching this kind of irrevocable bacterial damage occur is akin to the thrill of a celluloid car crash. The 1980s and 1990s work by GonzálezTorres, Kramer and Margiela share a trait in that they are characterised by the absence of the body of the artist. The groundwork laid in the making of the physical art is invisible, as living culture takes up where the artist’s hand leaves off. The final
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stage of the development of the work happens independently. Beyond the gore, there is a secondary reason why bacterial art is so confronting: there is a loss of control at play. Within this small but defined niche, Tsai’s exhibition at SCAF presents a new approach. It is characterised by a heightened sensitivity to states of change, and this resonates beyond the visceral nature of any one work. The screening of multiple video works on seamless repeat suggests a openness to things falling apart — destruction, on loop, is simply another facet of creation. Within the exhibition as a whole, decay is placed in the context of both growth and continuity. It appears as something more than a meditation on mortality. An example of growth, Tsai’s A dedication to the sixth Dalai Lama (1683–1706) (2009) is comprised of miniature bonsai trees. Some of the leaves are inscribed while others are left blank. It takes a moment to realise that the unmarked ones have grown retrospective to the initial act of writing. Another example reveals a continuity — Earth Mantra records Tsai writing on a mirrored surface in the mountains of Taipei. The subtly shifting rhythms of the natural setting are reflected in the flat plane — little changes beyond words, which pass in the manner of time, recorded and uninterrupted. Perhaps more so than any Buddhist notion of the ephemeral, Tsai’s acceptance
of flux and change is the product of a global citizenship. She explains: I read faster in Chinese, write and speak more easily in English. I live between Paris, Taipei and New York, across three continents. I attend one of the first and most traditional fine art schools of the West, located in France, but I don’t speak French and my work is considered Asian.1 Tsai hints at a fluidity of thinking, which comes from working across both disciplines and continents, and it eschews the myth of the artist-creator in favour of experimentation, process and subjectivity. In the sense of embracing something growing, Tsai is working with a deliberately unpredictable method, consistent with the ephemeral tradition. There is, however, a depth to her inquiry that reaches far beyond the sphere of bacterial art, as a somewhat remote subcategory of ephemera. The notion of ‘working as thinking’ and ‘thinking as working’ comes to mind. Tsai’s tofu might be afflicted by a horde of micro-organisms which lead to early spoilage, but her ideas remain fresh. 1/ Charwei Tsai in conversation with Tony Brown, Beijing/Taipei, 2009.
Above and opposite: La maison Martin Margiela (9/4/1612), Martin Margiela, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1997. Images courtesy Maison Martin Margiela, Paris.
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On Camera Sarinah Masukor
‘Images proliferate. Am I wrong in being reminded of the printing of money in a period of wild inflation? Do we know what we are doing? Are we able to evaluate what we have done?’ 1 — Wright Morris, ‘In Our Image’ In August last year, I made my first ever trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I was there to see Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimus (1950–51), a large and quiet painting that has — through the writings of Thomas Hess, Clement Greenberg and Jean-Paul Lyotard — been idealised into a cathedral. I imagined it swelling out the far wall of a calm white room with its vibrant, shimmering colour. But when I finally reached the famed abstract expressionist rooms, I encountered a clusterfuck of heavily armed tourists shooting away as if they were on the front lines. Pollock: snap! De Kooning: snap! Rothko: snap,
snap, snap! The colours, the space, the energy of pure paint were all erased by the flashbulbs’ glowing afterimage. Back in Melbourne at the Ron Mueck show recently on at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), photography is permitted as long as you don’t use flash. On my first visit to the show, my friend and I were looking at Man in a Boat (2002) when a security guard approached. ‘You didn’t bring a camera today?’ he asked. We hadn’t. ‘You don’t have a phone with a camera? I could take a picture for you.’ He was surprised when we didn’t want to take p hotos because everyone else was. When I was four years old, I was given my first camera. It had no film in it, but that didn’t stop me from spending hours playing at taking pictures. My familiar backyard became a wholly new and exciting place as soon as I peered at it through the tiny rectangular viewfinder. I remember clearly framing a potted plant in different ways, making the bare winter branches stretch horizontally across the frame, then shifting the camera and letting them skew into the corners. Looking around the NGV, I saw people similarly engaged with the works they were photographing. Like my fouryear-old self, it seemed they were seeing in new ways as they looked for things to capture.
Above: Still Life (detail), 2009; and opposite: Wild Man (detail), 2005, Ron Mueck, McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park, Langwarrin. Images courtesy Sarinah Masukor / NGV International.
Mueck enjoys the interactions people have with his works when they photograph them, and so he encourages galleries to allow photography in his shows.2 His art is often playful, and taking photographs is another way of playing. It’s true, some people just hold up their phones and click, but browsing through the shots that have been uploaded to Flickr, it seems people are thinking about the pictures they were making. Many of the images were thoughtful and carefully composed. Some of them commented on the nature of spectatorship by including the audience in them. Some played with scale and oppositions of nudity and dress, showing the giant naked Wild Man (2005) beside a suited security guard. The photos made up a visual diary of the exhibition, recording the passing of days. I decided to have a go at photographing the art myself. At first I felt uncomfortable and exposed holding a camera up to my eye in a gallery, but when I concentrated on looking through the lens, the world of the gallery — the other people, the ambient hum of the building, the spatial relationship between the work and its environs — disappeared and the details came into focus. I fixed on toes, fingers and strands of hair. No longer there just to look, I talked with people about the work and about the photos we were taking — exchanges I rarely have at exhibitions. There was a lack of formality about the exhibition and lightness to the experience that was in keeping with the works themselves. The sensory nature of Mueck’s work
was heightened by the possibility of making something of my own and I felt an enlivening sense of communing. But there’s no escaping the fact that some works need breathing space, and it’s impossible to breathe with a Newman or a Rothko when someone is asking you to step aside so they can take a photo. I know I’m being inconclusive here. I can’t bring you a firm argument for or against the photographing of art in public gallery spaces, but what I can say is that in some exhibitions, like Mueck’s, allowing photography isn’t all that bad. In others — collections of quiet, meditative works — it’s a distraction. Wright Morris was right to ask if we are able to evaluate what we have done. I hope we learn to temper our desire to record our every moment so that we might sometimes have an experience that is moving and ephemeral, and at others, bring out our cameras and play. 1/ Wright Morris, ‘In Our Image’, in Photography in Print: writings from 1816 to the present, Vicki Goldberg (ed.), University of New Mexico Press, 1988, pp 534–545. 2/ Thanks to Erin Reeve at the NGV for speaking to me about Mueck’s thoughts on his work being photographed.
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Above: I’m Fine, Laura Delany, custom printed coffee mugs, 2010. Image courtesy Laura Delany.
Making Language Stutter
Making Language Stutter Anusha Kenny ‘… But these langues that fragmented open up a multitude of lingwix can extend to a liquid form that is ever changing and not with surface, but open, closable, but with effort opennable again. Like with a loop of talking the words can sound like completely different words and once they do you can’t hear the original words until they jump out again and are all you can hear again … only hopefully less locked in the grove than that. Inbetween sounding like two things.’ 1 — Christopher L G Hill, N ever werk all art is problematic Through writing this, I have realised that words don’t come easy. Language, even to someone who likes writing, can seem like a closed, impenetrable system. Writing is like trying to crawl through a net of invisible laser beams without triggering the alarm system, in the attempt to reach the coveted prize: a good sentence. Artists, however, aren’t limited to words. They can opt out of language entirely, and reject its rules and regulations, its way of limiting meaning, and its ability to disempower and control. It is curious then, when artists choose to use text in their work, falling back on the standard mode of communication, and risking the implication that the work can’t speak for itself. A close reading of the writing and text of at least three contemporary artists reveals a different story. Far from obedience to the dominant language, these artists seem to tear at the fabric of language itself, unpicking the seams of grammar and meaning, and creating new pathways from within the dominant language, a process that Gilles Deleuze described as causing language to ‘tremble in all of its limbs’,2 which creates a ‘minor’ 3 language within
the major, dominant one. For Christopher L G Hill, this is achieved through a rejection of grammatical rules and an acute awareness of the graphic qualities of text — exaggerating, teasing, and extending languages to the edge of decipherability. Laura Delaney’s recent installation I’m Fine (2010) took place in a mental health facility, and speaks in the language of institutionalised illness, medication, and side-effects. It is another language, a ‘minor language’ within English, with different rules — some of them absurd and dehumanising — that Delaney reclaims for its subjects and recharges with meaning. A similar act of ‘re-empowerment’ plays out in the text works of Kirsty Hulm. Her practice violates the idea of subject-hood, through muddying her authorial voice with the words of others, or rejecting the symbolic significance of text and naming. I would suggest that these three practices and their very distinct ‘minor’ uses of language, although disparate, have a shared interest in confronting the notion of the fractured contemporary subject. The quote that opens this article, taken from Hill’s self-governed thesis, Never werk all art is problematic,4 s imultaneously describes and illustrates a mode of writing that is ‘liquid’ and unlocked from the metric constraints of grammar. This unfettered writing finds its own rhythms, perhaps bringing the reader closer to the voice of the artist, but also allowing him to frame his broader practice in his own textual structure. Hill’s ‘praxis’5 involves opposition to standard ideas of property ownership, which he challenges in a number of ways — most notably by borrowing from and collaborating with other artists. This opposition extends through his writing to a rejection of a singular, ‘right’ way of spelling or writing. ‘Spelling is a creative expression this is seen in subversion (kvlture jamming) and/or cheesy t-shirts, as well as in punk, hip-hop, black metal and other cultural spaces’,6 he writes. ‘It frees words from literary and concrete meanings. It loosens time and drone of the read word and negates corrective TXT, and spell check two dictatorial factors of our every day life.’7 This reclamation of the control over language is a rejection of an authoritative language that is owned by the dominant culture, and often functions as a tool of exclusion. Hill
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tries to build something more inclusive, shared, and to use his term, ‘liquid’. This free-flowing language and Hill’s interest in a fluid ownership of ideas may be an embrace of what theorist Zygmunt Bauman has described as ‘liquid modernity’,8 which reflects the characteristic instability of all aspects of contemporary life. This sense of precariousness can infect the contemporary individual’s identity, which becomes a ‘fragile identity, an identity which is no longer, as was the case during modernity, the only solid foundation of individual and social life’.9 For Hill, this instability occurs at the level of language itself, as the ‘flux that may exist within any one thing’ stops as soon as a word is used in relation to it, and this imposed ‘stillness … [causes] conflict’.10 It is from this starting point that the contemporary artist must write, and Hill recommends that artists employ a mode of communication that is ‘untraceable and unaccountable’ in order to ‘counteract the problems of walking around covered in layers and frames and things-which-already-determine-ourunderstanding’.11 His text represents an open-armed move towards a more immediate communication with rules that can be edited by all. I have the sense, however, that a prerequisite of embracing this flux is a deep sense of one’s own identity and personhood. An example of this is present in Hill’s practice of ‘fluid’ ownership, which is achieved through gestures of community and inclusion of other artists and friends as influences and collaborators on his work.12 Paradoxically, the proliferation of names in Hill’s work does not counteract his authorship, but reinforces it. Acknowledgment of a network of tangential contributors to an individual’s praxis ultimately does not dilute or challenge the concept of authorial ownership, but really strengthens the idea of the existence of the distinct self as being the site of connection for others — a facilitator, host, or nerve centre in a network of associations. Laura Delaney’s I’m Fine (2010) is an extended response to the question ‘How are you?’ 13 Although this question is used so often with no expectation of receiving an honest response, it is a phrase that can nevertheless trigger great anxiety for many people. Within the mental health system, this question is generally avoided, or at least
asked in a soft tone whilst trying to meet the person’s eyes. For those who speak the language fluently, ‘How are you?’ can elicit a frank discussion about the side effects of psychotropic medications, the comparison of doses, and opinions on their efficacy. To the uninitiated, these conversations could sound too candid for over-coffee chatter, if they make sense at all. That is why many people measure their answers carefully for ‘outsiders’.14 It’s safer just to say that you are fine. It is at this moment of communication breakdown that Delaney intervenes. Providing a series of coffee mugs bearing short phrases such as ‘Impossible to feel happy’, ‘Incomplete movements’ and ‘Suicidal’, Delaney relieves the mug-user of the burden of having to explain. The mugs are for staff and visitors as well, and diffuse the stigma attached to such disclosure. Printing these words on ceramic suddenly makes their clinical, endless repetition in psychiatric treatment seem absurd, almost comical. It is a rejection of being an object of this language, of being labeled by doctors with constellations of words that seem inadequate to describe one’s experience. In this way, I’m Fine (2010) reclaims this sub-language for those in treatment, whilst allowing those outside the system to share it, and perhaps gain a greater understanding of the experience. Delaney’s hope is to ‘draw together’15 the different experiences of those inside and outside of the mental health system ‘so that their relationship could become somewhat synonymous’.16 These interactions — over endless coffees in the smokers’ courtyard, in the centre of the dining room, in front of Delaney’s ‘barricade’ sculpture made of pin-boards and venetian blinds bearing informative pamphlets, treatment suggestions, and floating text phrases from the artist’s diaries — will allow people to collaborate on new ways of negotiating the discussion of mental health. The idea of communication becomes less overwhelming, and the words start to mean what they should, whether you are ‘fine’ or not. While Delaney’s work literally speaks the language of fractured identity, Kirsty Hulm’s recent work, Mark Hearts Keran (2010), involves the artist compromising the sovereignty of her physical being. The work involved Hulm ebay-auctioning the
Making Language Stutter
opportunity to have ‘[your] name tattooed on [her] butt’.17 The highest bidder, ‘Mark’, decided to have his love for ‘Keran’ immortalised on Hulm’s skin. In her blog, Hulm writes that her body ‘now exists in time as a dedication of love between two unknown lovers, like an ancient tree with names deeply carved, at once a universally acknowledged act of love, and simultaneously, a desecration of the pure being of Nature from which love springs’.18 By rejecting her personhood and disconnecting herself from the sentiments tattooed into her skin, Hulm challenges the idea of a ‘self ’ made up of skin, face and, above all, name. ‘This is my body. I am split. I function other than as myself ’,19 she writes, indicating a disobedience to the principle of the sovereign self. The implications of this act are complex — the artist rejects the idea of her sacredness, but is also freed from the burden of named personhood. Being outside the dominant language provides the artist with a unique perspective. It enables them to locate the holes in the language itself, and to create new paths through it, or to unpick its seams. Each of the artists discussed here suggest new languages in the shadow of a dominant, exclusive mode of communication that often seems to hinder interaction more than facilitate it. This had to be done against a background of constant flux, and in a time when most people have an intermittent sense of their own personhood. In the words of Deleuze, the resultant journey is indivisible from that of ‘becoming’, such that these artists can metaphorically ‘write [themselves] into existence’.20
8/ Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Life, Polity, Oxford, Cambridge, 2005, p 3.
1/ Christopher L G Hill, Never werk all art is problematic, courtesy the artist, Clouds and The Narrows, 2010, p 13. 2/ Gillles Deleuze, «Bégaya-t-il...», Critique et Clinique, Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris, 1993, p 137, «tremble de tous ses membres.» (Translation by the Author). 3/ Ibid. 4/ Christopher L G Hill, Never werk all art is problematic, courtesy the Artist Clouds and The Narrows, 2010, p 13. 5/ Ibid. 6/ Ibid., p 7. 7/ Ibid.
9/ Michel Maffesoli, Du Nomadisme Livre de Poche, Paris, 1997, p 109. 10/ Christopher L G Hill, Never werk all art is problematic, 2010, p 1. 11/ Op. Cit. 12/ Ibid., p 14. 13/ Laura Delaney, Artist Statement, I’m Fine, 2010, p 1. 14/ Ibid. 15/ Ibid. 16/ Ibid. 17/ Kirsty Hulm, Artist Statement, http://kirstyhulm.wordpress.com/page/2/ accessed April 7, 2010. 18/ Ibid. 19/ Ibid. 20/ Gilles Deleuze, «Bégaya-t-il...», Critique et Clinique, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1993, p 137.
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Trash Politics: Notes on Jack Smith and Jeff Keen Francis Plagne
The cinematic works of the legendary New York filmmaker Jack Smith and the lesser known, but equally important, Brighton based filmmaker Jeff Keen, present us with two highly developed versions of the trash aesthetic. In his oft-cited appreciations of Maria Montez and Josef von Sternberg, Smith rails polemically against the hegemonic naturalism of both Hollywood film and mainstream European ‘art’ cinema. Against the ‘inevitable execution of the conventional pattern of acting’ and the rule of the ‘good story’, Smith posed the ‘visual revelation’ of the ‘neurotic gothic sex-coloured world’ of the B-movies Montez starred in and von Sternberg directed.1 Modern cinema attempts to subjugate the sensual power of the image to the plot and
dialogue, but the image is always in excess and reveals itself to be a ‘visual fantasy world’ — autonomous from its narrative purposes.2 Smith’s own films, including, most famously, Flaming Creatures (1962–3), clearly stem from the same aesthetic program as his critical writings, considered by him as a continuation of the ‘never perfected’ art of the silent film — the rubbish-tip opulence of his set-pieces reaches back to the orientalist Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s to create a nonnarrative cinema of disposable, sensualist kitsch.3 As Branden W. Joseph argues, Jack Smith’s work must be understood in relation to both surrealism’s appropriation of the ‘wish images’ of the immediate past in outmoded commodity and popularcultural objects, as well as the anti-narrative cinema of the ‘optical mind’ as proposed by Stan Brakhage.4 Jeff Keen’s cinematic works are also best understood in the light of this aesthetic constellation. In works such as Cineblatz (1967) and Rayday Film (1968–1976), the viewer is bombarded with lightning fast stop-motion animations of collaged advertising material and tabloid images, burned and disfigured children’s toys, pornography, reframed television screenshots and double-exposed footage of the director, his family and friends costumed as B-movie archetypes in play-acted
Above: Marvo Movie (still), Jeff Keen, Colour, sound, 16mm, 5 minutes, 1967. Image courtesy Jeff Keen / British Film Institute.
Trash Politics: Notes on Jack Smith and Jeff Keen
fragments. Like Jack Smith’s films, Keen’s work is an exploration of the aesthetic and irrational potential of outmoded popular culture such as B-movies and comic books. In a similar fashion to how Smith’s Flaming Creatures moulds Hollywood orientalist motifs into an excessive series of tableaux vivants, orgies and dance scenes free from narrative, Keen’s Breakout (1962) scrambles the standard events of a film noir into a blur of stereotyped figures which, without narrative causality, take on an abstract quality and reveal themselves as no more than a catalogue of gestures shared with the pulp-fiction books and magazines we see in the film’s opening sequence. There is a great deal of truth in Susan Sontag’s characterisation of Smith’s work as ‘strictly a treat for the senses’, and we could argue that Keen’s work also operates in a modality starkly opposed to that of the ‘literary film’.5 However, we only begin to understand Smith’s and Keen’s particular take on the opposition to narrative when we see it as inextricable from a general resistance to normative standards of behaviour. Smith’s writings abound with references to his struggle against what he calls the ‘normals’.6 The abject sexuality of his crossdressing creatures, who tug at one another’s breasts and perpetually flaccid penises, is as clearly directed against normative sexual subjectivity as the hippy-commune utopia of the naked frolicking of Keen’s expanded family and placed in opposition to the stiffupper lip of the British family unit. As Smith realised, to appropriate the lowliest popular culture of the immediate past and celebrate its ‘phoniness’ is to ‘hold a mirror to our own’ phoniness and denaturalise the conventions of contemporary cultural production.7 The hammy joyousness with which the ‘actors’ in both Smith’s and Keen’s films adopt their low-brow personas are one brand of evidence for the creative potential of this critical agenda. On a less immediate level, we can see how the rhythms of Smith’s and Keen’s films also bespeak intense critical engagements with mainstream film and television. In Smith’s work, the tight editing and utilitarian framing of Hollywood is replaced with a deliberately amateurish, shaking hand-held camera and excessively long shots. In the final dance scene of Flaming Creatures, as in the earlier Scotch
Tape (1959–62), the discontinuity of these amateurishly produced visuals, with the recycled Hollywood music that provides their soundtrack, gives the image an uncanny new life that seems to dramatise the autonomy of the image that Smith had argued for in his writings. Keen’s films, on the other hand, push the paratactic logic of television news and advertising to extremes, especially in the Artwar series he began in the 1990s. The frequent inclusion of television news coverage of war alongside destructive stop motion animations and scenes of Keen dressed as a soldier seems to both critique and fetishise the subliminal tactics of television media through hyperbolic redoubling. Smith and Keen both confront contemporary regimes of representation with repressed and outmoded material. In this confrontation, they open up new potentials for these ‘trash’ materials to find an oppositional aesthetic space of pure imagery and ‘visual revelation’. 1/ Jack Smith, ‘The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez’ and ‘Belated Appreciation of V.S.’ in J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool: the Writings of Jack Smith, High Risk Books, New York, 1997, pp 25-37, 41-3. 2/ Ibid., p 43. 3/ Jack Smith, ‘Jack Smith Film Enterprises, Inc.’, in J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool, High Risk Books, New York, 1997, p. 150. 4/ Branden W. Joseph, Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage, Zone Books, New York, 2008, pp 234260. The reading of surrealism proposed by Joseph is, as he acknowledges, derived from the work of Walter Benjamin. The reference to the ‘wish images’ of bourgeois culture occurs in Benjamin’s 1929 essay ‘Surrealism: the Last Snapshot of European Intelligentsia’. I would like to acknowledge my general indebtedness to Joseph’s book for my understanding of Jack Smith’s work. 5/ Susan Sontag, ‘Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures’ in Against Interpretation, Vintage, London, 1966, p 229. 6/ See, for example, the aphorisms in J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool, 1997, pp 151-5. 7/ Smith, ‘Belated Appreciation of V.S.’, in J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (eds.), Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool, 1997, p 33.
— un Magazine 4.1
Meeting with the Monster: Hair, Sex, Shame Anna Daly
Jake Wotherspoon’s Opening Performance (2010) for Re/Gendered at Platform featured a creature, too hairy to be human but not hairy enough to be ape, reclining in a cabinet.1 With a derisive stare articulating the boredom and misery of the caged curiosity, its gaze was directed at the crowd and the cabinet beside it housing two photographic portraits of longhaired, bearded subjects. Given the circumstances, the creature could well have been saying ‘All this fuss over a little hair?’ Had that been its script, the words would have played out well as irony — absent since the opening, all that we had left to remember the sad figure by was a video documenting its debut into civilised society and sparse mounds of shed hair piled up on the cabinet floor. As the embodiment of hair itself, Wotherspoon’s creature played to Judith Butler’s famous account of gender performativity by scrambling a primary gender signifier, thus risking its exclusion from the species ‘human’. Becoming ‘natured’, and thus beyond gender, the haired thing’s situation demonstrated the cultural inscriptions responsible for producing an array of seemingly fixed, biological distinctions.2 As a phenomenon, hair articulates the complicated and sometimes contradictory efforts to draw a line between the natural and artificial. Hair is bodily but it is also dead, making its constant styling and modification easier and less painful than other bodily alterations. This susceptibility to change operates in an inverse proportion to the strong cultural association that fixes hair to biological destiny. This is perhaps unsurprising. Whilst hair places humans in the category ‘mammal’, class-wise we are seen as virtually hairless — one of
our defining characteristics is noticeable through its absence. This fragility of classification extends to the social where sexual identity is manifest in delicate balances between hairiness and hairlessness. An ideal woman, for example, is hairless except for her head where long, luscious locks compensate for the bodily deficiency that could threaten her claim to being a mammal. But hair on a woman’s upper lip, legs, or toes is surplus, leaving her prone to a hirsute masculinity. A man with too little hair similarly runs the risk of being thought effeminate or old. Too much of it, though, reclassifies him as a ‘beast’. As well as marking gender, hair can be used to conceal gender, thereby confusing the structure of viewership that relies on the power of the voyeur. In Drag Acts (2010), Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore and Anastasia Zaravinos draw attention to the connections between gender and sex appeal. Depicting the wilderness of human sexuality that exists at the interstices of urbanity and gender, the video piece features a lone figure dancing provocatively under the harsh lighting of a motel or hotel corridor. With long black hair covering the face, a scarlet knitted top and matching bottoms, black stockinged legs and high-heeled shoes, the figure recalls the aesthetics and the gestures of the strip club or private dancer. While we presume the figure to be female, the suspicion is never confirmed. In this work, hair appears initially as a veil, manipulated to heighten sexual mystery, however, as it becomes obvious that the face of the performer will never be revealed, the hair becomes more like a curtain behind which the performer ultimately hides his or her identity. As well as raising the possibility that the hair conceals monstrosity or deformity, the performer disrupts the association between hair, bodies and sex by calling into question the tightly monitored relationship between sexual appeal and gender. The manipulation of hair is just one of the devices called upon to destabilise the conventionally powerful looking position of the viewer. Without this gender certainty, the viewer cannot claim to ‘possess the object of the gaze’.3 We might think of this as resulting from a deliberate artlessness. It is Freud who, in discussing the relationship of art to truth, observed that art provides us
Meeting with the Monster: Hair, Sex, Shame
with a form of mediation that enables us to enjoy personal daydreams without shame.4 Drag Acts exploits the tension between the carefully constructed artwork and the seemingly shameless excess that articulates, rather than aestheticises, the reality. The dancer’s black hair is too messy, indicating the aggression of the head-banger rather than the light playfulness of the tease. The tight fit and drape of the figure’s torso cladding accentuates its barrel shape and the luscious mounds of flesh comprising it. Rather than deferring to the modesty of the dancer afflicted by bodily ‘imperfections’ — a shyness in itself which reinforces the power of the ability to look — the dancer in Drag Acts proudly declares his/her body an object of self-worship, awkwardly caressing it as a form of offering to anyone who will watch. High-heeled shoes contribute to the unsteadiness of the routine that looks increasingly intoxicated. The performer bends to the floor in an unflattering squat and then worms his/her way back into an upright position. Usually finger-licking and a hint of genital exposure are a cause for titillation, but here these gestures cross the bounds of expected eroticism. Ultimately,
it seems as though this dancer is too drunk to take our gratification into account. Even if not intentional, the piece works as a reference to Beth Ditto of neo-new wave outfit The Gossip. Ditto is known for her overtly sexual performances as much as she is for her voice. As an attractive ‘fat’ woman, Ditto herself challenges stereotypes about what constitutes ‘sexiness’ by creating a stage persona that boasts a genuine sex appeal — one that is noticeably absent from the polite eroticism offered by pop stars. Drag Acts presents us with Ditto’s less appealing twin and, in doing so, subverts Ditto’s own subversion by declaring out loud the voyeur’s shame: without the proscribed modes of eroticism that lean towards the tidy conventions of gendered desirability, desire becomes unknowable, unwatchable. The voyeur loses control and the apparently superficial instances of hair and style are revealed as indispensable to a strictly demarcated system of meaning that defines how sex operationalises desire. It would be remiss of me to put forward a discussion about the relationship between gender and hair without mentioning last September’s Blue Sunshine exhibition at
Above: Drag Acts (still), Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Anastasia Zaravinos, 2010. Image courtesy Anastasia Zaravinos.
— un Magazine 4.1
Above: The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get, Damiano Bertoli, 2005. Image courtesy Damiano Bertoli.
Meeting with the Monster: Hair, Sex, Shame
TCB art inc.5 As both counterpart and counterpoint to Re/Gendered, Blue Sunshine emerged from the observation that the initial participants — Charles O’Loughlin, Jackson Slattery and Matthew Shannon — were all bald men and that they were often confused for one another. Here, the lack of cranial hair suggests an interchangeability that denies the import of other common identifying characteristics like height, face shape or sartorial style. The exhibition was open to any bald artist who wished to make a piece about being bald and included work by Lane Cormick, Warren Taylor, Damiano Bertoli and Daniel Moynihan. Unlike Re/Gendered, these works about baldness and a certain doppelgänger effect — another condition noted by Freud — were premised on baldness as a common, masculine condition that requires some form of recognition. The association between hair and gender is seemingly fixed. But of course, this curatorial condition acts as a perfect counterpart to the propositions at Re/Gendered’s heart. Because hair — or a lack thereof — reinforces the fact that hair matters to the extent that, beyond gender, it has the potential to erase individual identities. The tone of Blue Sunshine’s proposal and press release all suggested that, conceptually, the show was not intended to be humourless. Tongue-in-cheek observations can certainly be made about Damiano Bertoli’s predilection for incorporating smooth, hard, highly polished surfaces into his practice, a tendency exploited to great effect in his work for this show. That did not, however, prevent these works from offering up some interesting questions about the delicate social definitions that hairful- and hairlessness maintain. Why, for example, would we confuse two dissimilar bald men of a certain age when the glabrous are almost as prevalent as the heavily thatched? It is implicit in Blue Sunshine and Re/Gendered that hair provides an aperture through which to witness the politics of sexual identity. Hair’s capacity for manipulation seems to guarantee its status as a rigidly monitored social code that maintains and troubles gender distinctions. With long, curling tresses spilling over his smooth shoulders and accompanied by the trademark ‘Carrie’ necklace, Liam Benson’s ode to Carrie Bradshaw, Thankyou Carrie (2009), works as a perfect summary and
address to these concerns. By not deferring to the tropes of drag, Benson prompts discomfort — we are presented with a man who has adapted Carrie into his shared facial characteristics, acknowledging both simultaneously the machismo in Carrie’s raunch culture and the girly character worship in Liam’s. This is how Thankyou Carrie gives concrete form to a profound social fear — without the seemingly dramatic force required to turn a man into a queen, or the loud humour enabling women to adopt the personae of teenage boys, we are left with a man not needing much at all to achieve a convincing representation of femininity. 1/ Re/Gendered curated by Laura Castagnini for Platform as part of Midsumma in January 2010. 2/ Butler’s post-structuralist account of gender denies an essential difference between men and women by emphasising the performative aspects of gender that reinscribe the ‘natural’ body, the point of essential difference, with the cultural prerogative that occurs from the moment that the child is imagined as either male or female and activated by the speech act ‘boy or girl?’ Butler uses the word performativity rather than performance because performance implies an ability to return to a nonperformative state, a ‘natural’ position that Butler denies. 3/ The ‘gaze’ is that described by Laura Mulvey in Cinema and Spectatorship, Routledge, London, 1993, as a structured position of the gendered object of desire and refers to that which is described by Griselda Pollock in ‘What’s wrong with Images of Women?’ in Looking On, Pandora Press, London, 1987. 4/ Sunnie Kidd, On Poetic Imagination: Sigmund Freud and Martin Heidegger, accessed 25 April 2010, http://www. docstoc.com/docs/20071143/on-poeticimagination-sigmund-freud-and-martinheidegger-sunnie/ 5/ Blue Sunshine, curated by Charles O’Loughlin for TCB art inc. in September 2009.
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The Gallery can be a Drag Eva Birch In Marina Abramović’s recent retrospective, The Artist is Present, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a naked man and woman stood facing each other in a doorway. As patrons were confronted with the challenge to come in close proximity to a naked stranger, they were simultaneously required to decide which anatomy was the least frightening to face. Two thirds of the visitors chose to not walk through at all. This could be seen as analogous to the stale reiteration of heteronormativity in contemporary western culture, yet it also speaks of something closer to the relationship we have with our own bodies. Abramović first performed this work, Imponderabilia, with Frank Uwe Laysiepen, aka Ulay, in 1977. It was after the revolutionary political milestones of the 1960s and before the explosion of queer performance art and theory in the 1980s. Still, the police shut down this work half way through the performance — a defiant and heterosexual stand against the physical display of modern alienation and bodily oppression. In 2010, this work enjoys the retrospective benefits of years of art making that uses the body as canvas, nestled securely in the cultural sanction of MoMA. Nevertheless, why were only one third of visitors willing to approach the performance — more than three decades after its controversial debut? In the institutional setting of a modern art gallery, the display of living human anatomy makes sense. Like a cubist painting or a conceptual sculpture, Abramović’s naked bodies questioned viewer subjectivity via the fractured lenses of time and space, as developed within the genealogy of the human biology and gender. Although we are looking at naked actors in the piece thirty years later, this work is not made to appear ‘sexy’ — yet it alludes to queer readings of sexuality and the body when
the performers switch from female-male performers to male-male or female-female combinations. The introduction of a queer aesthetic — in this instance, through the simple presentation of naked and immobile people in a fixed space — can shatter any gender binary foundations the audience may have. As a comparison, at Llips II: Consumption, a Spill Collective party held at 1000 £ Bend in Melbourne in February 2010, a naked man and woman fell onto the audience while sitting outside their caravan set. This was followed by drag performances, which humorously interrogated different cultural images of man, woman and animal. Inside this ‘art party’, the separation between artwork and audience became blurred — various small stages were immersed within the crowd. The only ‘brave’ act the visitor had to perform was entering the venue but, when inside, different queer bodies of both audience and performers bumped and jostled against each other. In contrast to Abramović’s framing of bodies that one can either choose to contemplate or come into contact with, the queer performances at this event imposed a celebration of expression within the dark haven of a private party atmosphere. To take a line from a Frank O’Hara poem: ‘the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism’.1 The immediacy of another person in this way becomes more important than any conceptual understanding of a naked body. At the end of his poem, O’Hara proclaims that Leonardo, Michelangelo, the Impressionists, Mario Marini were all ‘cheated of some marvellous experience’. He tries to provide a different artistic frame for his bodily experience — what José Esteban Muñoz calls a ‘queer utopian potentiality’ or the imagining of alternative futures’.2 This potentiality navigates around the tired rhetorical residue of 1980s queer theory that explains the way in which artists ‘discharge understandings of gender in a post-identity world’.3 Instead of ‘understandings of gender’, Muñoz reaches for the phenomenological experience of our bodies. This model of theorisation always returns to a unity of being, as the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty says of existence: ‘it cannot be anything — spatial, sexual, temporal — without being so in its entirety’.4
The Gallery can be a Drag
From the interrogation of sexuality, or gender, in queer performance art, we move away from ‘understandings of gender’ to experiences of subjectivity. In this triadic model of existential questioning, however, the sexual has very different political implications to the spatial and temporal. If expressions of gender or ‘sexual existence’ belong at local art parties and drag nights, then when are spatial and temporal existential interrogations given the privileged site of the gallery? Traditionally queer performance has developed underground in alliance with drag culture. Australia’s most famous queer performance artist, Leigh Bowery, was also a club promoter but his broader, institutional, acknowledgment as an important contemporary artist only came posthumously. Some sites are more hospitable to these utopian potentialities. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s decision to publish an excerpt of Commonwealth, the final book of the Empire trilogy, in Artforum last year — because ‘the art community is one context in which this impoverished notion of realism holds less sway’ — indicates the manner in which this potential operates in the dynamic between theory and art practice. The breathing space within the art community is relative to the regulation and manipulation of expression in other spheres. Australia is a ‘drag culture’5 — one that is forever trying to imitate the sophistication of international models of
institutionalisation and organisation for expression — although unfortunately not for subversive effect. This drag culture includes the galleries and publications of the art community, which in their mimetic acts foster defective ‘realities’. These uniform global sites have specific prototypes for sanctioned relationships identifiable through dress codes, gender and behaviour norms — in such ways that queer expressions are often safer left to the subcultural underground. Is it time for queer potentialities to be dragged out of the dark? What does queer performance art look like under the bright lights of the gallery? Probably not very good, because in there, the desexed operatives of time and space march to the echo of the museum, taking us ever further away from our own bodies. 1/ Frank O’Hara, ‘Having a coke with you’, in José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York University Press, New York and London, 2009, p 6. 2/ Ibid., p 9. 3/ Daniel Mudie Cunningham, ‘Queer Today, Gone Tomorrow’, Art & Australia, Vol. 46, No. 4, Winter 2009. p 648. 4/ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la Perception, Gallimard, Paris, 1945, p 469. 5/ Gary Carsley quoted by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, ‘Queer Today, Gone Tomorrow’, Art & Australia, Vol 46, No 4, 2009, p 648.
Above: Llips II: Consumption, Agent Cleave, performance, 2010. Rearview Gallery. Image courtesy Sophie Lavence.
— un Magazine 4.1
Fernando 2.0 Sumugan Sivanesan
Lately I’ve been having these visions. Glimpses. An outline, a figure — an icon. A ‘black’ bearded man brandishing a pistol. No ill premonition, rather the assured revelation of Anthony Martin Fernando. There’s not a lot we know about Fernando. He was a sailor, an engineer … a toymaker? He was Aboriginal, and also a lascar.1 I think of him as an early
embodiment of, as well as a prescient icon for, the transcultural task of de–colonizing Australia. In the late 1800s, Fernando witnessed the murder of an Aboriginal man at the hands of European settlers. He was denied the chance to give evidence at their trial, and the killers were let loose. Reasoning that his people would have no rights in their own land, he activated his double identity to embark on a remarkable journey that still resonates with the ongoing quest for indigenous justice. Fernando arrived in Europe between the World Wars. He was arrested and ejected from Mussolini’s Italy for distributing paraphernalia that accused the British government of genocide.2 He emerged in Switzerland, where he published a carefully articulated assertion of Aboriginal
Above: Mad Max / Fernando, Sumugan Sivanesan, 2010. Image courtesy Sumugan Sivanesan.
grievances in the progressive newspaper, Der Bund.3 Eventually arriving in London, he worked various menial jobs, however earned a reputation for his soapbox tirades and a tinderbox temper that saw him twice through the Old Bailey.4 Later in life, having grown a respectfully long beard, he pinned toy skeletons to his thick greatcoat and maintained an infamous vigil in front of Australia House, urging to passersby:
and into the exhibition space to engage and activate the landscape. In undertaking these acts, they negotiate specifically Australian conditions, enlarging and expanding recognisable archetypes of the Australian male. It’s no surprise that Ah Kee’s piece is an assertion of indigenous sovereignty. As the tightly kerned title suggests, there is no room to negotiate his appropriated statement ‘Wegrewhere’. Inserting his ‘Cultural Warriors’ into the metropolitan coast, they perform a pointed, and at times comedic, riposte to the territorial beach culture of ‘white’ settler society in the wake of the Cronulla race riots of 2005. His cousins comically negotiate the Gold Coast boardwalk in garish, branded surfwear. Their ‘colour’ exaggerated by the bold designs on the boards they carry — traditional shield patterns to be used in battle, rendered in the red, yellow and black of the Aboriginal flag. You’d expect military designs to camouflage, but these warriors are here to be seen. A sequence of ‘lynchings’, set in the Queensland hinterland, frames surfboards hanged with barbed wire and then pumped full of buckshot. Unflinching reminders of race hate crimes and colonial massacres … or are they? If you’d already heard the artist quip, ‘like a stingray barb to the heart of white Australia’ your irony indicators would be blinking.8 Finally, the redemptive surf sequence features Dale Richards skillfully gleaning the tube. He both enacts and embodies Aboriginal sovereignty and a spirited, free identity that can’t be bound by any imposed order. The underside of the board features a tight segment from Ah Kee’s portrait of his great grandfather, George Sibley. Cropped to an all–Seeing Eye, it is a silent reminder that here we are always within the gaze of Aboriginal history. For his flagship piece, Gladwell has reworked the figure of Mad Max. His helmeted protagonist, like Fernando, is a culturally loaded yet featureless icon onto whom we might project.9 Into the dramatic desert expanse of the post–apocalyptic/ colonial landscape enters the ‘Road Warrior’ — the last of the V8 Interceptors — a lone moral enforcer. Then, as with Ah Kee, the assumed cultural cues corrupt. Gone are the familiar scenes of
‘Do you see this? Do you see these toy skeletons? This is all Australia has left of my people.’5 Historian Fiona Paisley is piecing together a biography of Fernando from the scant documents of his life, understandably little is known about his time at sea. This gap — this undocumented history — provides a useful space for us to experiment, to fabulate. Here Fernando is a loaded but somewhat featureless figure. We can only imagine the encounters that must have occurred below deck on these colonial vessels and how they sharpened his character. In doing so, might we also project something of our own cultural ambitions? Consider the gap between ‘The Colonial’ and ‘The Contemporary’. How do we account for this discrepancy in Australia 2010 — ‘Post–Apology’ yet still within the span of ‘The Intervention’? These accepted contradictory drives, to de-colonise and recolonise, expose something very real about the pathology of living here. Let’s shift our gaze abroad, across the canals of Venice and to the Olympics of the Artworld. La Biennale di Venezia retains the model of the world fair, geared as a ‘national showcase’ where nation states display their finest cultural achievements. It also has the potential to reveal and articulate national dissonance. Let’s look at two of the most talked about works that represented Australia last year — Shaun Gladwell’s MADDESTMAXIMVS: Planet & Stars Sequence at the Australian Pavilion, and Vernon Ah Kee’s Cant Chant (Wegrewhere) as part of Once Removed curated by Felicity Fenner.7 Both Gladwell and Ah Kee foreground an urban aesthetic and experience. Their works engage the landscape using performance and, curiously, the act of surfing — board and car. They both use the intervention of objects — vessels — in their videos
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bordertown violence and fetishistic neo–primitivism. Instead, Max repeatedly dismounts his bike to tenderly cradle road kill.10 The cool vengeance of the original is replaced with a recurring motif of apology. In the car ‘surf ’ sequence, Max ghost rides the whip with deadpan élan, a metaphorical rebirth that simultaneously recalls the camp buddy antics of ‘da Hoff ’ and KITT.11 Here in (our imaginary) Venice, the centrifugal forces of de-/re-colonisation are on display as the attendant notions of ‘apology’ and ‘assertion’. In this redefined contemporary Australian landscape, the obvious urge is to then move beyond. But how? And where? Suppose we employ another trope used by Gladwell; pataphysics — the science of imaginary solutions. Into this expanded landscape we can now insert another, or several other, cultural trajectories. What force do they exert? I’ve made an ambitious leap through a hazy conceptual horizon, but let’s consider some current trends in thinking:
1/ It is believed Fernando’s father was a South Asian seafarer. A fascinating overview of lascars in Australia is Jumping Ship — Skirting Empire: Indians, Aborigines and Australians across the Indian Ocean by Heather Goodall, Devleena Ghosh & Lindi R. Todd. http://epress. lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/TfC/ article/view/674
(1) In an irreversibly globalised world, it seems to be contemporary is to be cosmopolitan. This transcultural condition suggests that one’s aspirations are far more definitive, and ultimately more contentious, than skin colour, haircut or sexual predilection and, more significantly, ‘set national agendas’ become diffused. (2) The polarizing racial assumptions about ‘black’ and ‘white’ not only divert our attention from the far more interesting complexities of pre– and post–colonial societies, but also perpetuate the ‘divide and conquer’ tactics of the colonising will. With reference to history, the works above and the issues emerging around an encroaching federal election, we might do well to remember that borders — both mental and physical — function as much to keep people in as to keep people out. And what of my recurring hallucinations, where did Fernando go? I haven’t failed to notice another generation of artists now blasting its own way into the transcultural stratosphere. I am dazzled — and I’ll admit, aroused — by their frankness, their fearlessness and their scattershot significations.12 I don’t doubt that Fernando goes there.
2/ At the time, Italy was still an ally of the UK. 3/ Paisley, Fiona. ‘Mock Justice: World Conservation and Australian Aborigines in Interwar Switzerland’ in Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol. 3 No. 1, February 2008. http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/ journals/index.php/TfC/article/view/685 4/ Both times for pulling a loaded revolver in response to racial taunts. 5/ Browning, Daniel. ‘Fernando’s Ghost’ on Hindsight, ABC Radio National 15 July 2007. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/ stories/2007/1969712.htm 6/ Full disclosure: I’ve not been to Venice, in fact, I’ve yet to see the works for real, but you can download all the cues you need to complete this article here: http://www.cacsa.org.au/ publications/index_frames.html 7/ Felicity delivers a very informative talk about her curatorial intentions here: http://online.cofa.unsw.edu. au/cofa-talks-online/cofa-talksonline?view=video&video=63 8/ Vernon Ah Kee speaking at Common Knowledge: Collaboration and collectivity in artistic, curatorial and critical practice. Artspace, Sydney, 23 February 2010. http://www.artspace.org.au/public_ archive/symposium_commonknowledge.php 9/ Such as Ned Kelly. 10/ ‘I know what Beuys like...’ 11/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wn3O17f4tg&feature=related 12/ http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=e_IhrjNiMxQ&feature=related
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Above: EurEco Revolution, Ash Keating, Trades Hall Ballarat, 2009. Image courtesy Bindi Cole.
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, et al.
Din Heagney & Helen Hughes
challenged our preconception of home and our ‘Australianness’.
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, Utako Shindo, Bindi Cole & Ash Keating interview by Din Heagney & Helen Hughes Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, March 2010
Originally, Lyndal Jones’ country house was imported from Europe, more than 150 years ago, and reassembled in the regional Victorian town of Avoca. Jones discovered the property, which had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair, purchased it and then remodelled it into an artist residence and project site called The Avoca Project. We spoke to Lyndal Jones about this ongoing project and her recent work with Jill Orr, including Sustainable Fusion Reactions, a collaborative project with artists Utako Shindo, Bindi Cole and Ash Keating. The resulting exhibition was presented by the University of Ballarat Art Academy last October and again in November at the Colour Factory in Melbourne. Together we spoke about some recent projects in the communities of Avoca and Ballarat, which have embodied a complex engagement with issues of dispossession, colonisation, immigration and revolution.
Din Heagney — So, Lyndal, how did your association with Avoca begin? Lyndal Jones — I didn’t start having an association with Avoca — I started having an association with a house that happened to be in Avoca. In the 1950s it was derelict and when I purchased it a few years ago — because it was the only way to do anything with it — the Howard Government was absolutely still in power, and the anti-immigration sentiment was so strong. The house was a pre-fab from Europe, a first generation immigrant. So, as such, it
DH — It’s a very rich base to have, a site of transposed European immigration. LJ — It offers people really quite a lot. It’s not just a house but a studio with a workshop and a big garden around it. A lot of the outside work has been done with Mel Ogden, a land artist and he has used a lot of local rocks. And Simon Popley who is a climate change activist and a builder. He has been really instrumental in underpinning it. In the house there were quite a lot of other artists as well. Lily Hibberd did a performance. Kim Donaldson did a video. Les Gatsby did a series of prints. I own a series of etchings from Indigenous women of waterholes and they were also shown throughout the house. Brie Trennery had a video. Katarina Frank made some plates that were beautiful. Terri Bird had a piece, Julie Shiels as well. And also, up at the hall, Gayle Maddigan and Megan Evans had a huge piece where they worked with 80 townspeople on a big video installation, as part of a long-term residency at the house. DH — How did your involvement with the Avoca Eco Living Festival start? LJ — I just announced to the town business and tourism committee that we were having one! Then I asked if people wanted to join me. We gradually took on other people, but what was interesting was that people were very reluctant to engage with something so amorphous. It’s a community that has been in some pain, particularly between 2008 and 2009, there were five suicides in one year, and there has been again one recently, but it seems to be that in the town — that is a form of response for personal anguish. It seemed to me that if I’m dealing with issues of climate change, it was necessary to somehow engage the town. It’s all very well to engage people who already knew about it or who were already in agreement. Avoca has a population of about 1,000 people. It’s one of the poorest areas in Victoria. There are quite a lot of older people there. Like a lot of these towns, you know you think it’s reviving, then another shop closes down, and another opens up. It’s kind of a borderline community. Helen Hughes — So it was quite an organic
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process of curating the festival, working together and developing ideas and exhibition plans. Was it instigated in reaction to a perceived lack of interest by other curators in Melbourne looking at issues of sustainability and eco-living? LJ — My concern with the whole house is that the difficulty in Australia for artists wishing to work on any kind of issue pertaining to sustainability is that once you’ve had an exhibition, no one is going to want to have an exhibition in the same way again for several years — that idea has been done. It seemed to me that this issue was bigger than just an idea to be done. That’s the purpose of having an ongoing project, so it means that I can keep on working like that and I can bring in a lot of new people.
DH — And did they come up with their own ideas about the cubbies? JO — Yes, absolutely. They started with drawings, and these drawings became the houses. I had just got this job at the University of Ballarat Arts Academy and then I thought: let’s actually link the University and the Eco-Living Festival. Then I thought about how about we get Utako, Ash and Bindi to respond. Because Ballarat had a quarantined set of funds for artist residencies, wouldn’t it be great to get these guys in to look at different ways of sustainability? I thought that for Bindi it would be related to an Indigenous sense of sustainability. Utako being the globetrotter that she is, how do you maintain that cross-cultural sustainability? And for Ash, it’s a natural thing, working with reclaimed rubbish. So it was that underlying thing of truly hitting a region with sustainability. I’m sure something rich has happened and continues because of these works.
DH — So where did your initial conversations with Jill start? LJ — I phoned Jill because I had a good relationship with people at the primary school. Jill suggested that she do a residency at the primary school towards what I called the Avoca Eco-Living Festival. If you notice, it doesn’t have the word ‘art’ in it anywhere. So every year there will be an Eco-Living Festival that’s both local but also brings people in. There was a whole range of things, but the point is that it is not to be another one-off. The site is a research site for me and other artists who are interested in a sustainable festival. So it was about finding ways, through the means that we had, to deal with issues of global warming and the school was the most open and receptive place to start. Jill Orr — Then I was brought into the picture. What I did with these kids, who were two groups of twenty-five students, with an hour and a half each, was to make sustainable cubby houses. But I can’t really say they were sustainable because they were made from cane and recycled materials, so really they were recycled cubbies. What struck me about these kids was that they’d say: ‘Ah, that isn’t gonna happen’. ‘No it really is’. ‘But we’re not gonna fit in them’. ‘Oh yes we can, we’re gonna fit six kids in it’. So what struck me was this amazing disbelief. In knowing the town’s history, it was most important that these cubbies somehow stuck together, that they did them. They can’t use any power tools. A rickety handsaw was all we had.
DH — I’m interested in why you selected these individual artists. JO — I knew their work very well and they were the obvious choice really, in the sense that I did stick pretty closely to the concept, which of course could be broken open again. I thought each of them had enough flexibility within their practice to really be able to take on an idea, to take on a site and produce something very provocative. HH — So you really spanned the generations with this project by working with primary school children, emerging artists and then more established artists like you and Lyndal? JO — Yes. I think that environmental sustainability is not only an ecological question — it actually hinges within a cultural attitude. So, it is important to work with kids right up through the generations. I guess my own role as a performance artist in the video and photography area, I’m not necessarily so able to translate the science, but I certainly can work with others in waking up an imagination. And I think that’s what happened with these kids. DH — Which goes back to this generational art issue — what you were discussing earlier about a culture in pain. It comes up through the next generation. Are they the sort of ideas that you briefed Bindi, Utako and Ash on?
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, et al.
Din Heagney & Helen Hughes
Above: Sustainable Cubbies, Jill Orr with Avoca Primary School, 2009. Images courtesy Jill Orr / Christina Simons.
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Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, et al.
Din Heagney & Helen Hughes
JO — The brief was very loose — they all come from different points of view, if you can think about how you can work it within the theme of sustainability — I mean, sustainability as a word has 36 different meanings. So I chose them for the show Sustainable Fusion Reactions. Pick something that really fits, but of course we are in Ballarat and Avoca. The idea really is to have one part of your consciousness in the place where it will be shown. That was a unifying thing really.
DH — What was important about the words that you selected? BC — The words that I selected were Wathaurong words and words that were significant to me, such as the words for ‘father’ and ‘daughter’. It’s protocol in the community to discuss your ideas with elders, so I always do that with my dad and with different people in the community. I made the word for ‘father’ and I took his portrait.
DH — Bindi, you collected rubbish from your traditional Indigenous ancestral land. How did you first associate with the land when you started thinking about the project? BC — At the time, I was thinking a lot about language. And I had just come back from the Tiwi Islands where I’d spent a number of weeks. I’d become really aware of the loss of culture, and the biggest loss of culture, for me at least, was language. If you take away a person’s language, you’re completely dispossessing them from their culture and their land. It was on my mind. It distressed me a bit, coming from a place where they were able to speak their language, and knowing that my ancestors were not lost or dead but removed, on purpose too. When I came back and started this residency, I saw that there were strong links between language and sustainability, or culture and sustainability, and how the language had been thrown away like it was rubbish. I thought about how I could revive this language, in a way that is related to sustainability, especially being on my own ancestral land. Driving from Melbourne to Ballarat and seeing all the rubbish thrown from cars on the road — thinking about language and how it is thrown away like rubbish out their car windows — I had this idea to make the language out of this rubbish, and turn something that has been thrown away and deemed valueless into something valuable. What was interesting about building language out of rubbish is that it almost ended up looking like wreaths of flowers and letters that people use in funerals. And I didn’t work towards that — it was just one outcome. It looked like a funeral or memorial, which also sat quite well with Ash’s work.
DH — Is that reflective of the type of collaborative work that you do? It no longer becomes the single artist as author, but something that is owned by many people, a community? BC — Yes. I’ve been talking with another artist who involves her family with every piece of art she makes. It does make it richer, and it makes you closer. They’re both important things for me and my family and my community. Utako Shindo — Those types of storage and dispersion of knowledge are so rich in Aboriginal Indigenous culture and it’s also strong in Asia. Maybe it’s a little bit lost in Western traditions. It has such a rich way to represent the culture. DH — Utako, can you tell us about some of the other work you’ve done in Japan before coming to Australia? US — I describe my work as site-specific installation, because I ask a question of the place, so the site becomes very important. I consider how you engage with the space or the context — it could be architectural or social or conceptual — and how you relate through your artwork and also through your being, as an artist or person, to the place. My practice starts with drawing and sketching the environment, and combining Japanese with English in audio surrounding sounds, into abstract drawing, or eventually using photography or video to create a similar sensuous engagement with the surrounding environment — to create some sort of imagery to stimulate people’s memory of a particular place or feeling. But eventually my idea was to focus on us and nature. Not necessarily spectacular or lurid, but maybe urban — street trees, sun viewed through the window, or light on a basketball court in Carlton Gardens. Eventually I really discovered my almost natural way of engaging with surrounding environments through animistic
Opposite: It drops, it reflects, Utako Shindo, 2009. Image courtesy Bindi Cole.
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or Shinto way — that’s very much a Japanese traditional way of seeing the spirit in nature or in life. Life is not individually separated but interconnected across different materials and substances. I don’t know why, but I thought it fitted with the ideas of cross-cultural sustainability. And also Avoca and Avoca House relate to migration and actual living. And that was also a really good way for me to reflect my eight years of being in Australia, and also a great opportunity to engage with really exciting local artists — Ash and Bindi — who genuinely care about the culture and landscape.
intersections with commercial and industrial waste, and actions and projects around materials like that. That’s something that started heavily two and a half to three years ago, leading into 2020, with a couple of waste-audit projects. It was site-specific, and that is also where there is a connection between Utako’s and my practice. It has been important to me to make works that are site-specific, and relational to audiences who are going to see my works. In that regard, I had done what I needed to be doing — which was intersections between commercial wastes. There was a simple parallel that those pieces of timber were once trees. And so there was an idea that I might use those and invert them vertically, as opposed to horizontally, very early on. Ballarat is such an interesting city visually, with its flagpoles. I instantly thought about the more historical aspects of the area and saw that there were some interesting parallels between a need for an uprising against authority — be it community-based, more than anarchic in the future, but to create a freedom for the environment — a simple parallel of Eureka. So that was the initial concept that I started running past Jill and, as we started getting going on the idea, the opportunity came up to speak to one of the three descendants of the original Eureka flag makers. JO — At the installation we were looking at the thirty railway sleepers, piled up in a flat rectangular shape, and then the flag was to be laid ceremoniously across the top, then there were videos of all the different sites around Ballarat with the flags flying that were part of the installation, and then another video of the flag at Avoca House. And Ash said: ‘the death of the industrial revolution, awakening of the green revolution’. AK — The railway sleepers were a plinth for the flag, but also a coffin for the flag to lie on. The stacks represented the history of the area, whereas the flag was newly made and didn’t have that history. The change of the colour represented a new take, if anything, an opportunity for a new history to write itself. The Eureco flag for me, first and foremost, was a personal tribute to my mother Pam Keating, who tragically died in a car accident at the start of 2009. Changing the Eureka flag’s colour to green, was part of my healing process and a way to show respect to mum regarding some
DH — Did you find that your perspective changed coming from an urban environment to a remote one like Avoca? US — I felt so alien there. And really got to understand how dry Victoria is. It is actually so different from the wet, humid, rich rain environment I know in Japan. But this time, when I was there, it wasn’t too bad — we had a bit of rain. But still there were restrictions with the use of water in Lyndal’s house. I learned how to live with minimum water. So, I knew that Australia is dry and I knew there is a rich I ndigenous culture, but being in Melbourne I didn’t really get to experience that. So being in Avoca, it didn’t change my perspective but gave me a really good experience. I started being really attracted to puddles and dams and reflections of the sky, and what the sky looks like, how much it stands out if there’s water because it’s so dry. That’s how I started to relate to issues of drought in the community, and also in sustainability in environment of climate change. I made an installation piece which intended to indicate the idea of actual water and climate change by using acrylic mirror and that reflective quality of putting it on the ground. So I was trying to talk about water, trying to mimic the reflection of the puddle, but photograph the sky of Avoca and print on clear film, which I could put on glass. So you’re in the indoor environment, but you’re actually seeing outside. DH — Ash, can you tell us more about the flag work you made for the exhibition and how you first approached it? Ash Keating — Jill invited me knowing part of my practice that involved large
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, et al.
Din Heagney & Helen Hughes
Above: Goorr / Flower, Bindi Cole, c-type photograph, 2009. Image courtesy Bindi Cole.
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Above: Lakorra / Sky, Bindi Cole, c-type photograph, 2009. Image courtesy Bindi Cole.
Lyndal Jones, Jill Orr, et al.
Din Heagney & Helen Hughes
of our last conversations we had together regarding the world’s environmental crisis and her passion and commitment she gave to the cause.
being appropriated, inverted and corrupted. Did you think about that in your appropriation of the Eureka Stockade flag? AK — Yes, but I don’t think that the Eureka Flag necessarily crosses over so much as does the Southern Cross or the Australian flag. I think it’s quite specific and loaded with a lot of personal strength and history.
DH — It has a connection with the funereal and memorial qualities of Bindi’s work — associations of death and renewal. After these experiences and these works, are there things that any of you took out of it that you would incorporate into your practice? BC — For me, it was my first attempt at a large-scale installation. I’d done photo graphy and a video piece, but I’d never really attempted installation before. It was something I’d wanted to do, and that I will continue to do. I’m studying at Ballarat Uni too, and I was studying drawing and digital. I switched afterwards to media to accommodate this shift in my practice and also in language. There’s a really selfish part to wanting to explore language. There’s a righteous part of wanting to revive it, but also a selfish part in wanting to learn it. So it served two purposes for me — wanting to learn the language through the revival and its practical impact on my work, for years to come I’m sure. But it was the very first time that I explored it. AK — From my perspective, before we knew where anyone was working, I asked if Lyndal would fly my flag out the front of her house. So I went out there and Lyndal had her Sunday best on and was running around like crazy, getting her house ready for the festival. She helped me and we put it up. It was great for it to work in concept and in my mind. There were three medium sizes — one in the Art Gallery of Ballarat window, one under the flag on Trades Hall. So I found all these areas of possibility and narrowed it down. Part of my project was just trying to connect and get people interested on board. People from Trades Hall were very responsive, whereas others weren’t. Not necessarily because they had a stance on the issue, but more so because they were afraid other people would. JO — There are also the associations between the Eureka flag and current trends in using the flag to represent neo-nationalism in Australia. And that’s a corruption of sorts. AK — More so the Southern Cross. DH — Yes. But it could be considered a corruption — the use of symbols has a tradition of
DH — I see some sort of cultural symbolic connection between neo-nationalism, the White Australia Policy, the dominance of European culture and the attempted genocide of Indigenous culture. AK — There’s no doubt about that. I’ve never worked with historical symbols such as a flag. I try to work with different materials and mediums, site-specifically to bring new questions out. So if it raises questions about that, then good. DH — Would you say it’s the recycling of a symbol, in the same way that you recycle and intervene with other waste? AK — I would say it’s more about connecting with something that people are both proud of, but also holding onto. I’m not necessarily talking about the Eureka Stockade, but the difficulties we face in terms of dealing with the environmental crisis. It’s more about showing respect to history, but repositioning it and creating a new path and awareness of the history. LJ — It’s interesting though, because there is a difference between making a statement and a proposition. And I think that the whole issue of flags in Australia at the moment is becoming quite weird. So I like the idea of the danger. If it were simply a safe transition from blue to green, it may also link to the fascistic element of the green movement. DH — Yes, this has certainly been raised. AK — It’s something I became more aware of leading into it. The redesign, albeit in a limited context, it’s still in the public domain. There wasn’t any outrage here or in Ballarat or online via the blog. So it’s out there, if anyone wanted to stir it up, I thought it would have already happened. Previous to going to Ballarat, I did a project in Penrith, New South Wales. I was swamped everyday with utes and houses — I’ve never seen the Australian flag used so intensely. It’s what I knew of from
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a distance. That’s really intense out there. So I was quite aware of the symbol in that regard. JO — I do think that symbols always have their underbellies that pop up through the seams. So, in the end, it’s this massive dialogue between pure racism, which is the underbelly of this country in a way. AK — If you position my work in terms of that, it connects with both Bindi and Utako’s heritage and the way in which they were making art in that area.
Australian?’ We still haven’t really dealt with that, like we haven’t dealt with Indigenous culture and immigration. BC — It’s got all those connotations about dispossessing Aboriginal people. JO — But I think that’s part of the interesting sweep across each of the projects. It’s as if everyone’s historic inheritance has been put on the table in some form or another. It is part of the dialogue.
DH — As kids, it felt like the Eureka Stockade was the first uprising against authority — besides the battles that Indigenous cultures waged against colonial order, which have been written out of the history books — it was a real changing moment in the character of Australian culture. AK — To put it into context, like now, the changing of the colour is just a catalyst for the same change — a change of mindset about the urban sprawl, as opposed to a much needed community focus on density and a new way of living and operating. US — The Avoca Project and also Sustainable Fusion Reactions both happened in an area and community where people are living, not because they’re art lovers — we are making an event with art as part of its means. The event was not for art, but rather for producing an opportunity for dialogue and discussion. For each of the individual artists to explore bigger communities and discussion, on different levels, so Ash’s work ties in very well to some attitudes. From my point of view, that ties really well in relation to the direction we’re heading towards. It’s like a logo, not just some symbol — I think sometimes people can be too sensitive about using some sort of symbol in artwork. It stops artwork and art events from appealing to other potential audiences. It’s not about being controversial — it’s about trying to be more accessible and attractive. DH — The danger of symbolism, which is happening now with the Southern Cross symbol — tattooed on bodies, as bumper stickers on cars — people wear that because they see it as a correlation between something that is distinctly theirs, not European, only Australian. Then that begets the question: ‘what is
Katie Holten interview by Kathleen Madden New York City, April 2010
Katie Holten is an Irish artist who often works with the environment to produce art. In late 2007, she was selected for a major commission to celebrate the 2009 centennial of the Grand Concourse, the primary artery of the Bronx, New York. She created Tree Museum and transformed the Grand Concourse into an open-air museum. One hundred trees were selected to tell the story of the street through the voices of residents and others via telephone recordings. The project was organised by The Bronx Museum of the Arts and Wave Hill with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, cooperation from the NYC Department of Transportation and support from The Greenwall Foundation’s Oscar M Ruebhausen Commission. It was on the Grand Concourse from 21 June 2009 to 28 February 2010. Podcasts are available at http://www.treemuseum.org.
Kathleen Madden — Can you explain how you approached the Bronx project? Katie Holten — I immediately told the curator that I didn’t know anything about the Bronx — I’d only been there once for a Yankees game. She said that was no problem — it was specifically a public project looking at the ecosystem of a place and they were interested in my work and curious to see how I would respond. I started at zero, I knew nothing. The borough was abstract
for me, more an idea of a place than a place. I thought it was really far away, way up north. Actually, it’s only 15 minutes by subway from my apartment in Union Square. Everyone told me it was really violent, but it turned out that they hadn’t been there either. I went on a site visit in October 2007. The other two shortlisted artists knew the neighbourhood really well, having lived there and, in one case, having grown up there. And they were both native Spanish speakers and the community is largely Puerto Rican and Dominican. I can’t speak Spanish. But I got hooked — I fell for the Grand Concourse and started going there to walk. I had one month to make a proposal — one month to wrap my head around it — how to create a public artwork related to the ecosystem of the Grand Concourse, a 100 year old boulevard that stretches 4.5 miles through the South Bronx? I wanted to work with the whole street and not just place something in a park — which was suggested. I’m not interested in that kind of public art and, in the context of this project and site, it wouldn’t make any sense. I wasn’t just thinking about the specific place, but about public art in general. I live in Union Square, we have a lot of public art plopped around in the neighbourhood. Manhattan’s a crazy city, but the Bronx is different. Regular people go about daily life, unused to seeing public art, whatever that is. Things happen slower in the Bronx, I enjoyed going there.
KM — How did you reconcile producing public art in a place where it isn’t prevalent? KH — As the commission was specifically to celebrate the ecosystem of the street, I felt that inherently it’s really a positive project — something that everyone could embrace, as everyone is part of the ecosystem. I didn’t want to impose something on the locals that wouldn’t have any connection with their daily life, so I wanted to work with what was already there. I realised that the street trees are like ready-made markers that stretch the entire length of the Concourse — almost every block has street trees — I could use them to tell the story of the street, block by block. Physically the Grand Concourse is like a wobbly line running north/south with a lot of smaller streets/veins running off it. I was seeing
the place as a living system. The trees became ready-made marks, or dots, along that wobbly line. I was literally seeing the street through the trees. I selected 100 trees to celebrate the Concourse’s centennial. I was starting to see it like a drawing that had to be filled in — join the dots. I had to mark and connect the trees with the stories. Leaving the rest up to the viewer, the ‘visitor’ to the Tree Museum.
KM — Do you initiate a project with collaboration as a goal? Would you say collaboration is a byproduct of your work? KH — Collaboration is never a goal. It’s a tool. My projects are problems I have to solve. To understand and solve the problem I have lots of questions: What is a tree museum? What could it be? What objects should it contain? What form should it take? How could museum objects survive outside on the streets of the Bronx? Wait a minute — what is a museum? What could a museum be? I was excited about the possibilities of the commission and the opportunity to question public art, museum display, art and ecology — all issues that have recurred in my work. Regarding collaboration, I reach out to experts and people who might have answers. For example, the Tree Museum solved the problem of looking at and celebrating the ecosystem of the Grand Concourse, but I needed to speak with experts to understand that ecosystem, people like Damian Griffin at Bronx River Alliance, Majora Carter at Sustainable South Bronx, and Joyce Hogi, a long-time resident and community gardener. I met with Jessica Arcate, the director of the native tree forest at the New York Botanical Gardens, and we discussed labelling, how do you label a tree? How do you present information to the general public outside, under a tree? KM — Were there other ways you tied the project into the fabric of the local community? KH — I was meeting so many local people and hearing their stories about the street. I had to find a way to let others hear these stories. That’s how the audio guide came about. I wanted the trees to literally tell the stories — you dial the tree’s number and hear a story that’s somehow connected to that tree, that building, that block, through the voice of a local who lives in
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that building, or an arborist who knows about that tree, or a school kid who walks past that tree every day, or a scientist who uses ‘fake’ trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, etc. I also visited the archives of the Bronx Historical society. Seeing photos of the area over 100 years ago, when construction of the Concourse first started, gave me goose bumps because it looked like where I grew up in Ireland: farmland with fields, trees and stones.
branches reaching up, the sky, the clouds, the rain soaking into the dirt inside the tree pit, seeping down, and later coming out of their taps, then swooshing down the drain pipes into the river and all over again…
KM — There surely are major differences? KH — Yes, of course. Most of what can be seen on, or around, the Grand Concourse today is man made — there is nothing ‘natural’ — even the parks are constructed. I grew up in rural Ireland, but that’s also a man made place. KM — Do these differences relate to Robert Smithson juxtaposing the realities of New Jersey non-sites with what he understood as the systems through which nature functions? KH — Smithson’s non-sites involve taking actual stuff from a site and re-presenting it in a gallery. The Tree Museum is completely self-contained outside on the street. But I did see it as a conceptual project, like an invisible line drawing, there would be very little to actually see as I was just using small markers and signs — most of the project is virtual. But it took on a life of its own — people on the street, seemed genuinely excited. The Tree Museum triggered pride about the place, their home. The streets of a city are inherently a public space. In the Bronx, a lot of people don’t have air conditioning. When it gets really hot, people move outside under the street trees. In the morning they’d set up chairs, stereos, speakers, icecoolers, barbecues, babies — and sit there all day. When I’d talk with people sitting under the trees in the shade they’d tell me the Concourse used to be pretty back in the day when there were trees. I’d point at the tree above and they’d chuckle. I discovered there’s a real disconnect — people see the trees and don’t see them. They’re part of the street furniture: a lamppost, a parking meter, a tree, a trashcan, a bus stop, a fire hydrant, a fence, a tree. I see things as part of an inter-connected system. The people on the Concourse weren’t seeing what I was seeing. They didn’t see the earth under the concrete, the tree roots reaching down, the
KM — Do you know the Blaschka flower specimens at the Museum of Natural History in the Botanical Galleries at Harvard University? They are often used to assess museum practice, specifically, divisions between inside and outside, use-value and nature morte, or between departments, nature museum or art museum. These divisions seem woefully lame in the face of projects like yours, did you struggle to overcome and dissolve such classifications? KH — I came across the Blaschka flower specimens a few years ago. It would have been 2002, in preparation for a solo show at Temple Bar Gallery. Vaari Claffey — then curator at the TBG — gave me a present of Cabinet magazine’s ‘horticulture’ issue. I did spend time researching museum display and as I was developing an outdoor, public project it was also vital that I find out as much as possible about museum outreach and education programmes. So, yes, rethinking objects like the Blaschka flowers was important. I read everything I could find on museum display and of course I visited a lot of museums and the New York Botanical Garden. KM — There is the famous instance of Andre Malraux’s ‘museum without walls’, but there are also other attempts to subvert the confines of the gallery space, would you say you were trying to be provocative? KH — Yes! Essentially, I was turning the street into a museum-without-walls. Everything on, or around, the Concourse was part of the tree museum — as if a giant, invisible bubble was hanging over it. The street trees could function as the markers, the wall labels providing the relevant information. No need for me to add any objects. When you’re in a regular museum you read the wall text and/or listen to the audio guide in order to make sense of what it is you’re looking at. In this case, the trees were going to function as the markers. The Bronx Museum was excited to see what could happen. They have problems trying to get locals to go inside the museum doors. By taking the museum outside to the street, what could h appen?
Opposite: Tree Museum, Katie Holten, The Bronx, NY, 2009. Image courtesy Katie Holten.
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relation to transgenic manipulation and the ethical limits of the use of such technology.
Ben Forster interview by Liang Luscombe
Ben Forster’s practice traces the limits of logic. He uses computers as the basis of his representation of systems of logic and rationality. Yet it is this rationality that Forster employs in his work to highlight the inconsistencies of this system. The young Canberra-based artist has taught a computer how to draw and has programmed receipt dispensers to discuss Marx. His practice, through using computer technologies, attempts to draw out these dialogues. In April this year Forster began his residency at SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia in Perth. This research centre, one of the only in the world, is an artistic laboratory dedicated to engagement with the living sciences. ‘Bio art’ uses biotechnologies such as genetic engineering, tissue culture and cloning to produce work. First established in 2000, SymbioticA has seen a number of Australian and international artists undertake a residency — most notably, ORLAN and Critical Art Ensemble. Bio art currently has an awkward relationship to Australian contemporary art. So specialised are the procedures required to produce the work that much of bio art’s dialogue exists within Perth and the well-equipped SymbioticA laboratory. Furthermore, artists are required to navigate fraught ethical territory, given the high risk attached to the materials and procedures peculiar to bio art. Critics have voiced their concern over the funding of bio art exhibitions in the US by biotech firms with a commercial interest in the promotion and normalisation of the technologies of bio art, however, valuable discussion has occurred due to the confronting nature of bio art. The most publicly debated bio artwork is Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny (2000), in which, through transgenic manipulations, Kac bred a rabbit that had fluorescent fur and thus glowed green. This work did undoubtedly create intense dialogue globally in
Liang Luscombe — Can you draw out the commonalities between your previous work with computers and the work you are planning to do while on your SymbioticA residency? Ben Forster — The common element of my drawing machine work and my receipt printers in conversation work is the reduction of something that is quite complex to a logical system, then seeing the inadequacies of that logic. In taking this scientific rationalist view and trying to examine what these things are through this lens, we see that you just can’t do it! LL — The way your experiments often fail in their rational logic is important to your work… BF — Incredibly important because it just doesn’t capture the infinite detail of the world, it shows that our logic is ill equipped to deal with the world. I’m going to research extensions of drawing made possible by the emerging technologies of bio art, by biological drawing I mean the act of drawing with biological material. LL — Could you talk about those plans a bit more specifically? BF — Basically, I will use parts of living tissue from different things and cultivate them together so they grow into images. I then can film that process of growing and becoming and disappearing. I also want to biopsy myself, take core samples of my flesh from different parts of my body, grow it, cultivate it and put it on paper. I am stretching myself into the multiple — it is ‘I’ as a commodity that can be spread. LL — Obviously there are ethical considerations surrounding this process. BF — Every artist that undertakes a residency with SymbioticA has to get ethics approval before they can do anything. So you have to write a proposal in ethicists’ terms, not in artists’ terms. Supposedly, it is really useful for artists to unpick their ideas in a different language. It is a completely different angle from which to view your practice, as something that could be dangerous, and then trying to rationalise it in that way instead of in terms of meaning. LL — There are potential dangers using
Above: Drawing Machine (Output = Plotter), Benjamin Forster, 2008–2010. Image courtesy Benjamin Forster / Eva Fernandez.
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Above: Discourse, Benjamin Forster, 2010. Image courtesy Benjamin Forster / TJ Philipson.
biotechnology, you must feel uncomfortable with that… BF — Absolutely. Disgust and fear are a base emotional response — that biotechnology is a part of our world that we shouldn’t get into. It is almost touching sacred ground.
LL — And yet you do not feel a responsibility to stop? BF — Yes, I do. But I also think that if you leave it to the scientists it is outside the public’s control. So as an artist I still feel we have a responsibility to question what is going on in those domains. By working with biotech and learning about it, it gives a voice to challenge these issues. At the moment we are just having a base physical response that this is bad but we don’t really know what ‘this’ is. LL — Do you think is it possible to create work that discusses a range of issues beyond the limits of biotechnology? BF — Yes, I want to use tissue culturing to explore ideas about drawing. Can a drawing be living? It is obvious that a drawing can exist on living strata, for example tattooing, scarring, etc. We start to think about marks as static things when ultimately marks are fluid. Exploring drawing with biotechnology enables you to really push that point of drawing as this fluid exercise that can live and change. By using a living medium, it is no longer a passive thing that we can manipulate, it manipulates back. LL — While artists using biotech may want to draw out those ethical dilemmas, do you think there is a danger of presenting the scientist as wonder maker just by the fantastical nature of the work and process? BF — Yes, there is that tension. With biotech, it begins to conceal so much that you can’t see the processes behind it. LL — And that kind of awe can be dangerous, for example Eduardo Kac’s fluoro rabbit work. While cautionary, that piece can be seen as a dramatic innovation. BF — I see that fluoro work as challenging that, saying: ‘why the fuck are we doing this?’ LL — Because the idea of a fluoro bunny is so ridiculous. BF — And because it is pushing on nature and living things that it should be hitting
alarm bells for everyone, ‘whoa, holy fuck what is this?’ This artist is exploiting the technology that scientists are developing — there is this moral crux there.
LL — I guess this is what I’m struggling with, is there a responsibility not to create a sense of amazement? Maybe with that work, it is that shock of what is possible without any kind of restraint. Would you ever consider bio art as legitimising the activities of biotech companies? BF — From my experience, which is really limited at this point, bio art is about entering into a dialogue with ethics. Basically — is biotech right? This seems to be the fundamental question raised by artists, for example Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr developed a project, D isembodied Cuisine (2003), in which they took a biopsy of an animal that continued to live then, using tissue engineering, grew a semi-living ‘steak’ in the laboratory that they then ate. That to me is the strongest example of bio art not legitimising but undermining biotechnology. But yes, if the work doesn’t quite hit the mark then there is a real danger of glorification. LL — And SimbioticA is the only lab in Australia that artists have access to. Entering a laboratory for the first time, the biotech process could be hyper-interesting to the artist but from the viewer’s perspective the work could be really banal. BF — All bio art is performance in the sense that it is living and it changes and it is moving, but it is stale in the sense that it is only residue that people see. The audience is not in the laboratory and they are not seeing it actually happening. I think that this is a major tension for artists using it: trying to get this performative aspect, that is held in a laboratory and that is sanitised, into the public eye, somehow capturing that and pushing it out there, is the challenge.
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Dirk Yates interview by David M. Thomas Office of Australia 23 January – 20 February, 2010 Box Copy, Brisbane Joseph Breikers of Boxcopy is also present
David M. Thomas — How do you see a strategy such as institutional critique functioning within a space like Box Copy? Dirk Yates — For me the initial impetus for providing a critique about this small institution was to look at the latent conditions of the gallery space and how these inform engagements with the exhibition. DMT — Do you know what this room was initially used for? DY — I think it used to be a paint warehouse but then, because it’s obviously been renovated a few times, it was an office space similar to the architect’s office next door. So you get traces of previous occupation from the architraves, the picture rails, the polished timber floor and the glass doors. When I first entered the space during a previous exhibition, I noticed these resonances of its previous use. All the walls had been painted white to turn it into a gallery. Then there was also the awkward positioning of the gallery sitter. DMT — Where would the sitter normally be? DY — In the exhibition space, over in the corner, behind a narrow white desk. DMT — So they are actually in the exhibition? DY — Yes, but almost apologetically. There was a sense that their presence was not to interfere with your engagement with the exhibition. DMT — In a way the sitter is pretending to be outside of the exhibition space whilst sitting inside it. Why can’t the attendant sit outside the space in the corridor? Joseph Breikers — It would be an issue
of getting in the way of the other tenants in the building. DY — So rather than treat this as a regrettable problem, I sought to look for opportunities that might contribute to how potential visitors engage with art in this context. Having the gallery sitter prominently in the exhibition space automatically sets up the potential for a discussion. There is a three-way scenario that is established between the visitor, the artwork and the gallery attendant. Rather than having a visitor come to look at the work and then leave — perhaps to talk about it elsewhere — the exhibition plays-up the scenario of having a dialogue with a gallery attendant in the context of the work.
DMT — Do formal concerns move you towards more political concerns? DY — Definitely. I think that it can resonate with other ways of thinking about space in relation to politics, like the landscape of a city or the spatial qualities that inform a discernable social group. DMT — Joseph, have you had exhibitions here that have dealt with the space in a similarly geo-political way? JB — No, this has been the first exhibition that has looked more at the politics, or personal politics of viewing art. I think the other previous exhibitions have responded to the space but in a more site-specific way. DMT — Dirk, why did you then un-make the exhibition space? It’s quite an aggressive action on the white cube. You’ve turned it into a space for political engagements. DY — Part of the action is looking at what was latent and what was here before the room was painted white. Another part is suggesting that maybe the existing condition wasn’t so problematic, or that it would have sufficed: that, in fact, painting the room white is symptomatic of or perpetuates other strategies for colonising space. DMT — My initial interpretation was that you have overt political approaches to problems of nationalism in the two dimensional works on the walls. These do not seem so latent, they’re quite in your face. There is a tension between the concern you have on a political level — which is quite overt — and the formal installation practice, which is quite subtle.
David M. Thomas
Above, top and bottom: Office of Australia, Dirk Yates, Box Copy, Brisbane, 2010. Images courtesy Dirk Yates / Brock Yates / Carl Warner.
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DY — One way of seeing this space is via the formality of being an office of business. I have tried to ‘undo’ the gallery so that it is not a philosophically separate space to the hallway outside, or the street, or where you live. I have tried to make it similar to other spaces as well as declaring its presence or context in Australia. It is an attempt to set up a landscape against which you see yourself — one that isn’t isolated or autonomous. The political provocations that are on the wall are intended to be things that also have currency in other places, other than where we are. So when, say, Joe’s working on his laptop, maybe writing an email to a friend or writing an essay, these statements about what it is to be Australian, or what it is to not be able to get married if you’re gay or lesbian, inform simultaneous situations that are other than looking at art.
other people may read their actions within — such a context. I try to be subtle, to always allow things to happen.
DMT — If you have not seen this space in its other life as a white-cube, it may be a very confusing situation. Are you attempting to confuse the visitor? DY — The colourful walls and the way I have tried to make a social place in front of the work can seem minimal and confuse people as to where the work is. Part of the exhibition is trying to make the work ordinary, rather than being out of out of the ordinary. This is one way to suggest that the work could happen anywhere, it doesn’t have to happen in gallery. It could be in your lounge room or in an accountant’s office down the road. The paintings are a backdrop to the conversations. The work is the actual provocation of discussions that will take place — but even if there isn’t, even if the dialogue’s not about the work, it’s a reminder that these concerns are present. DMT — Maybe the work is the conversation that we’re having right now, as well as all the conversations that have occurred during this exhibition? DY — That is the intention. I think of the work as an agent. DMT — How do you digest the theatrics of installation practice in your work? DY — I guess that this kind of strategy is the antithesis of Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood. I try to develop a situation in which the visitor reads themselves against — as well as considering how
DMT — But the reality is that nothing usually happens, so if nothing happens, does it mean it is a very realistic work? DY — I think that the exhibition has an agency that allows it to function beyond its literal use. It is indicative of other situations outside of the exhibition in which similar dialogues can take place. That’s the way I think about art and particularly painting as being in contexts other than exhibitions. The intention is that it provokes or shadows a discussion, reminds you of an event that changes your next sentence, without necessarily being directly about the painting or whatever’s on the wall. DMT — You’re doing more than reconfiguring or redirecting the space, you’re also manipulating the people, the circumstance within the space. Do you see yourself doing it more overtly in future work? DY — Yes, I did a previous installation where there was a set of mirrors on one wall and then, on the opposing wall, was the Australian flag. When you were between the two walls, you were caught in the middle of the work — you couldn’t help but see yourself against the backdrop of the flag. I think that was one way to imply your participation in a scene that you’re not necessarily agreeing to be part of. When you think of the Australian flag as an emblem that attempts to represent a group of people who, it is implied, are accepting of it, I think it begins to say something about responsibility and participation. You can either be passive to its functioning — as if it doesn’t affect your experience — or you can work through this construct that obviously has some agency. So I think that’s the path that I am pursuing: the idea of implying participation, falling into something or finding yourself within a scene that you weren’t necessarily consciously partaking in. JB — In my experience I find that it’s difficult to encourage the audience to participate in the work of art in a more passive way or less passive way. So you’ve got two choices where you have to be relatively explicit almost to the point of having instructions, or setting up a kind of
trap — if you like. I really like that, the very sly ways of going about it. Then people are put on their back foot in that engagement with the work, which I think may be more beneficial than being able to prepare while being instructed.
concept not usually covered in their individual practices. Regularly using Skype and email, they continue their dialogue by sending source material, images and text back and forth. Whether exploring the geographic formation of islands, or Deleuzian desert island theory, these themes are combined with a research archive of human interventions into the landscape. The exhibition rationales for both Gold Rush and After the Gold Rush came about at the same time and this is reflected through the continuation of themes and ideas from project to project. A small balsa wood structure — comprising scaffolding around a gold nugget — was displayed in a vitrine in La Rochelle. This piece became the prototype for the large-scale, crystalline sculpture in After the Gold Rush. Gold leaf, projections and built components are elements included in both projects, but the exhibitions were also created through the filter and history of each exhibition space. Espace Art Contemporain is a baroque bishop’s residence, retaining original interior decorative motifs, while Conical is a converted corner terrace in Fitzroy with exposed rafters, original fireplace and its own long history of facilitating artists and site-responsive practice. What also links these projects is Garrett Hoffner’s use of imagery unearthed through their research — abandoned mining structures, walkways, entrances and scaffolding normally unseen or built underground. The large photographic canvas in After the Gold Rush depicts a mirrored stairway leading into a cave, clearly showing the structure itself and the architectural i ntervention into the mountainside. Garrett Hoffner view these sites as points of penetration into the landscape — unnatural punctuations of surface and space that focus the landscape for a particular purpose while deleting all others. The photograph also represents a psychological landscape — like a Rorschach inkblot test — faces, skulls and creatures are made visible in shadowy abstraction. Another part of Garrett Hoffner’s research into landscape and language includes compiled lists of words spelt identically in French and English that carry the same meaning in both languages. From this list, the artists created a text-based neon work for each exhibition. In La Rochelle they used the word ‘horizon’ and in
Garrett Hoffner interview by Meredith Turnbull In 2006, French artist Marie-Jeanne Hoffner undertook a residency at Monash University and it was during this period that she and Melbourne-based artist Stephen Garrett discovered an affinity in their approaches to making art. In the same year, Garrett in fact built part of Hoffner’s work for her exhibition Heimlich — What Belongs To The House at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in St Kilda. In turn, Garrett then re-used the material from this structure to create his piece Blueprint (1:1) for the exhibition Interior Design curated by Hoffner for the Alliance Française in Melbourne. As a result of this cyclic dialogue, a formal collaborative partnership emerged between the two artists. Operating under the deliberately ambiguous pseudonym Garrett Hoffner, they created a ‘third artist’ and a hybrid territory in which to make art. Their first project Gold Rush was created for Espace Art Contemporain in La Rochelle, France, in June 2009. It was followed in the same year by After the Gold Rush in October for Conical in Melbourne and presented as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Visual Art Program. As individual practitioners, Garrett and Hoffner make sculptural site-responsive artworks, often involving conceptual and material investigations into architecture. Garrett focuses on interiors in architecture and the body in space, while Hoffner explores the folds, surface and skin of architecture. Based respectively in Melbourne and Paris, their partnership is directly affected by geographic distance and cultural shift. As such, the artists made a conscious decision to mediate these differences through the exploration of landscape — a
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Above: Woodpile, Garrett Hoffner, 2009. Image courtesy Garrett Hoffner.
Melbourne the word ‘desert’. The texts were constructed in wire first then stretched out between them, unmaking each as a word or a sign for something. Both a gesture and a spectre, these abstract linear pieces became the base forms for the light works. There is something poignant in the idea of the artists standing at either end of this unwound word, communicating through the wire like an abstract, string-telephone experiment, or holding a horizon between them. It is also representative of their broader approach to practice, generating and unfolding content with the intention of creating something new — a shared language and way of working. In the following series of questions they reflect on their recent collaborative history, the concepts and ideas they have explored, and their experience of making artwork together.
appear to be informed by conflict or disagreement. If this is the case, what allows for this affinity and as artists what is it that draws you together? SG — There is the right combination of affiliation and resistance between us. We have a mutual approach to how we individually work and use that to create this other persona for ourselves. That way we’re not just dealing with each other, but we are actually dealing with this ‘third person’ — the process has a distancing effect, allowing a more cohesive and collaborative process to evolve. We are both intrigued by the manner in which this is evolving — as its own practice — that perhaps Garrett Hoffner is real and we are just the managers. MJH — Friendship, many correspondences in our way of thinking and relying on the space and the body in space. There is a good energy between us — there are barely any tensions and we put all our ideas together, come back and forth to them, one idea leading to another. The sense of space or maybe the relationship one has to the place is quite central in both our practices, as is the question about the nature of things and a curiosity. Actually, we are both Geminis, so that makes Garrett Hoffner a pretty complex character.
Meredith Turnbull — You have described Garrett Hoffner as the development of a new, single entity through which to make artworks. What does this entity enable you to do that wouldn’t otherwise be possible as individual artists? Stephen Garrett — The work that comes out of the collaborative process predominately emerges out of dialogue and negotiation around the central idea. We try hard to make sure that the space is separate from what we, as individual artists, would want to create. The process requires a lot in order to allow a loss of individual contour and for the emergence of a singular entity to arrive. We collaborate by trying to dissolve the barrier or distance between us as individual artists. Marie-Jeanne Hoffner — I have been trying for a while to create collaborative projects, and it’s always been hard to structure. With Stephen, it’s a different proposal, because we are trying to put aside the self. It’s difficult, especially because we cannot spend enough time together. This is a very interesting process for us. We both enjoy freeing ourselves in this project. It allows us to look at ourselves from a distance and to create forms that might not have come out otherwise. It’s also a playful working process. And we keep on exchanging back and forth — that makes it extremely exhilarating, exciting and rich. MT — Your collaborative practice doesn’t
MT — What are the challenges of being based in France and Australia respectively and facing physical and cultural disconnection from your subject and collaborator? In situ, your work demonstrates a thoughtful precision in dealing with these issues but, in the process of creating the work, how do you avoid superficial or clichéd observations of each other’s culture and their histories within the landscape? SG — I’m not sure we do avoid the clichéd viewpoint at all times, sometimes we play into those themes as an easy way into various subject matter. These are often distilled and reshaped to move them away from mere sophistry. The distance is a large issue for us in creating consistency but also the immediacy of working with someone all the time and developing ideas that way. It’s a lot more challenging through email and Skype! MJH — It’s more like a channeled idea, the landscape contains us, we can’t contain it — we barely touch it. I feel fascinated by Australian history and territory. We are attracted to similar things, so that we can create works in situ as well as works about
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Top: Gold Rush Horizon; and bottom: Gold Rush Mine, Garrett Hoffner, 2009. Images courtesy Garrett Hoffner.
Eugenio López Alonso
a wider concept — reading images and processing forms together.
state of pre-colonisation in a way — where and when Australia wasn’t Australia … as it is now the sense of linkage to the place is a primal feeling — we are happy to question these themes as a way to question construction and deconstruction, within our practice as well as within a territory.
MT — The exploration of language is a central concern within your collaborative practice and is often the conceptual starting point for an artwork. How then does the use of language, in particular its translation between cultures, inform your work? SG — We became really interested in the discrepancy within the translation. We started looking for words that were the same in English and French. Curiously, all of these words were related to the landscape as well. Playing with those, breaking down the semiology, that’s where the neon works came from — forming these words that were the same in both languages and then literally pulling them, stretching them apart between us, allowing them to form the visual equivalent of their semiotic structure. MJH — Being at the centre of who we are and how we communicate, our tendency to work around language became essential and almost like a private joke. We decided to find similar words. It could lead to an erasure of frontiers in some way, but it doesn’t. At least it’s being poetic in both languages … hopefully. MT — Human intervention into the landscape and the geological formation of islands are both concepts that have been variously explored within your work. In the context of cross-cultural collaboration, what is revealed or concealed through the exploration of these concepts? SG — These ideas represent both ends of the spectrum. One end is the cyclical development of an island, which is born through geological transition, at the other end is the same idea of development and transition but through inorganic means. The ability to create architectural structures deeply embedded in the landscape — the traditional mine with its wooden beams cutting deeply into the surface of the earth, holding everything back in order to tunnel deeper — has the internal logic of a land mass breaking away from the main land or volcanic eruption forming in the ocean. There is the idea of a pre-colonised landscape and the colonised or human intervention within that space. MJH — I suppose it’s about finding a common ground between us. It would be a
Eugenio López Alonso interview by Kirsty Hulm The following is a recent interview with Eugenio López Alonso, the Mexican art patron responsible for facilitating La Colección Jumex, the singular largest art collection in Latin America, funded solely on the profits of the Jumex Group, one of the biggest juice producers in the world. Credited with single handedly pushing contemporary Mexican art and artists into the contemporary Western art market due to his commitment to philanthropy, Alonso has created opportunities for young artists to develop their practice through the implementation of funds, awards for art study in the US, underwriting Latin focused museum programs and providing financial assistance in setting up artist run initiatives in Mexico City. It felt pertinent to examine Alonso’s model of artistic support as young Australian artists continue to struggle not only for funding but against a pervasive desire to shun big business as self serving. Alonso’s model shows hope for a future where artists and big business can foster a symbiotic relationship of earned cultural business capital and better structured funding opportunities for artists.
Kirsty Hulm — Where did your interest in the promotion of contemporary Mexican artists begin? Eugenio López Alonso — I believe that creators, regardless of their place of origin or of their nationality are one of the main driving forces of growth, development and transformation in a country’s cultural
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sphere. If we analyze this in the visual arts sector, we can see there are many things that have not been done that it would be desirable to have done, for example: channel important resources to generate and bring exhibitions, develop research, produce artistic projects that showcase creators not only for Mexico but also outside of the country for the benefit of their careers.
phenomenon and in programs of social benefit.
KH — I have read in articles that your father was not keen on the idea of collecting when you first came to him with the idea, but he has since embraced it — what were his initial concerns and why did he come around? ELA — I think that in the beginning, his reticence was due not to the nature of the project but to the true realisation of it. In the beginning there was no way of knowing if all the work that was needed to make this work was going to be done. Fortunately, over time, he could see that this project became a reality, that behind my proposal there is a real commitment for this to continue growing. KH — Why did you make the decision to align the collection with the Jumex brand name, thus giving it a corporate identity, rather than have the collection recognised as private? ELA — I think that it is a fair recognition of the origins of La Colección. Without Grupo Jumex, this collection simply would not exist, neither would the Fundación, through which bursaries for artists and projects are granted, apart from other programs that have social and educational benefits. KH — Corporate art intervention is an increasingly popular way to boost a businesses socio-ethical profile — to what extent do you believe companies have some obligation to take over private patronage by injecting profit back into the public sector? ELA — I think that greater efforts could be made to incentivise this practice. For example, there could be an increase in the deductible base for businesses that support cultural and educational development in the country. There are countries in Europe where tax support for patronage has helped to develop much more awareness in businesses and genuine interest in the cultural phenomenon among the population. Tax incentives might be a successful way to make people take an interest in the cultural
KH — What social responsibilities do you think the collector holds? And since the collection is a part of the Jumex Corporation, what corporate social responsibilities have influenced your decision making? ELA — I think the responsibilities of collectors depend on each one personally — there are those who decide to keep their collections for their private enjoyment and those who decide to share them. I think both options are valid. In my case, I definitely consider supporting young artists and cultural projects to be of vital importance. Speaking of the collection and the institution around it, I feel that we reflect the ideas of Grupo Jumex by looking for the individual’s well-being and collective development in the artistic, cultural, academic and educational spheres. KH — How do you as an individual define the boundaries between your private profits and your benefit for the public good? ELA — La Colección is not a financial investment for me, it is a cultural investment. I have never sold a piece and I do not think I will do it in the near future since all of them have been carefully selected. I think it transcends money. I enjoy these pieces and I think those who visit the exhibitions also have the opportunity of knowing more about contemporary creation, or if they receive our support they can continue with their preparation as artists or curators or complete an artistic process. Not to mention the educational benefit that is generated around each exhibition, both on our space and off it. KH — The magnitude of corporate collecting has brought about massive changes in the kind of artworks being collected worldwide, and the way in which works function in a business context has become an important consideration for young artists — what is your view on this new focus, for both artists and companies? ELA — I think that the recent instability and changes in the economy have had an important influence on the art market. However this has motivated galleries and fairs to think much more about who they are betting on, and I would like to think that this will increase the quality of the works
exhibited. I think now collectors and businesses are thinking more about the works they add to their collections.
have from Grupo Jumex is essential to the sustainability of the institution. Consequently, we are making changes to have a better administration of our resources but our work has not stopped and will not stop in any area at the Fundación.
KH — You fund many programs to benefit young artists. What was it that you saw lacking in opportunities for these artists which made you decide to take on the role of philanthropist? ELA — In Mexico there are different institutions that offer financial support and bursaries to upcoming artists, however I do not think they are enough. It is very important for curators to renew and strengthen their vision so that they can criticise and keenly reflect upon the artistic scene in our country, and upon what is happening in other places and other cultures. Evidently, if artists have more opportunities it is all for the better. KH — Where do you see the future of artistic/ cultural production heading, and what role do you think collections and exhibitions will continue to play? ELA — Exhibitions are definitely the most common showcase for artistic creations and collections are keeping many of these pieces in motion. Through my work, I have tried to open up the panorama for other production alternatives, where the artistic models behave in a different way from what we have in our country. KH — You are opening a new gallery in Polanco in 2011. How will this be different or similar to the current La Colección Jumex Gallery, and what fuelled the decision for a new space? ELA — Opening a new space in the city does not mean that La Colección will disappear from Ecatepec. On the contrary, it will be an opportunity to attend to more people, to consider projects that perhaps need another type of space. It is an expansion of La Colección to meet the needs and demands of our cultural agency and the changes we have planned. KH — How do you see your role as a philanthropist being shaped by the future? What influence does the economy or trends have on your involvement? ELA — Although it would be impossible to deny that the economy plays a crucial role in the managing an institution and a collection, fortunately the support we
KH — How do you decide whose work to add to your collection — are you fuelled by passion or business, or both? ELA — First, it depends on my taste and my ideas, but always trying to maintain the same line and focus. Another important criterion is the impact that linguistic and conceptual strategies have on current artistic discourses. Finally, I rely on a group of professionals who advise and recommend certain pieces and artists. KH — You are involved in such a huge variety of undertakings in the art community — do you see a time coming where you will want to lessen your involvement? ELA — On the contrary, I believe that all the steps we have taken as an institution have the firm intention of reaching more and more people and of supporting contemporary art in my country. I believe that over time certain adjustments will be needed in the institution so that, without diminishing its work, it can work in a more efficient manner. If on the way there are projects that are left aside, hopefully it will be because we have found better ways of working.
Tom Polo interview by Lisa Lerkenfeldt ‘If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?’ — Buckminster Fuller Sydney painter Tom Polo is an advocate of eavesdropping on public transport and at exhibition openings. His ear is a funnel to an internal resource centre of social discourse. Pooling these stimuli
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with the naive aesthetics of homemade signs — which he takes great pleasure in reading and laughing at — Polo hones his practice and thematic intention. By dealing in self-portraiture and common feelings and experiences with primary materials, his work dissects the corrosive anxiety we humans have around ‘winning and losing’ in society. As an ironic counterpoint to the success-obsessed art world, Polo has been known to waste time, rig arts prizes (The 2009 B.E.S.T. Contemporary Art Prize for Painting, MOP Projects 2009), grant himself fictional trophies and certificates (No Identifiable Culture, Campbelltown Arts Centre 2009) and exhibit (One Liners [or Suggestions for Conversations in Social Situations], Firstdraft 2009) and re-exhibit work shamelessly (Why do we do the things we do, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art 2009). The significance of Polo’s work lies in its heartening immediacy, his fearlessness in experimenting with the role of artist and ‘learning’ winning and losing publicly — for which he is valiant. When observing Polo’s contemporaries like Jake Walker, Jon Campbell and David Shrigley, who are also painters combining text with a playfully ironic point of view, a shared consciousness rings true. A constant focus and ongoing project of Polo’s, Continuous One-Liners, explores a congress of mixed feelings via mixed media. As previously exhibited at a variety of spaces, and as currently hung on his studio wall, each work is adroitly installed and positioned to enlist an elastic response from the viewer. As well as this, the titling and often text-based nature of the paintings ensures they are dialogic. The following interview is an extension of this thought. A collection of Polo’s artwork titles is paired with Polo’s comments from a separate discussion. It’s a humble assertion that through his process and his work, he is constantly in conversation and competition with himself.
exhibition of finalists works at the end with an announcement and awarding of the big prize. One exception, as stated in the entry form, was that the only eligible entrants were artists born on the 1st February, 1985 and named as ‘Tommaso Polo’ on their birth certificates. My rationale behind this part of the project was that sometimes in order to be successful, or rather, be considered successful, people go to extreme lengths to exclude every other contender. It is also a little bit of a healthy ‘stick it to the man’ on behalf of artists to art prizes and institutions. They dictate who the ‘the winner’ is, which can equate to who is important and what is of value. There is often a push and pull effect with prizes that determine which artists are eligible to be compared to — who is in whose league.
Sore winner, 2009 The 2009 B.E.S.T. (Because Everybody Still Tries) Contemporary Art Prize For Painting (MOP Projects 2009) was a project that I had been thinking about since the end of 2007. The art prize ran like the many art prizes that exist — with entry forms, press releases, advertisements and, of course, an
I’m rubbish, 2009 Because competition in art and sport is so big in Australia, there’s always that thing of the gold medal, the first place, and there’s an opposite end to that. So it’s almost like by looking at both the winners and the losers, but focussing on failure, you’re giving light to the loss. I like that idea because we all fail sometimes and it’s nice to highlight that. Was it Samuel Beckett who said: ‘Fail better’? You are excellent, 2009 I had a project called Winners or G rinners (Gallery 9, 2007) where I had anonymous looking portraits hung in the gallery space, and next to each one I used found trophies sourced from op shops. I re-labelled all the trophies with my own name on it — so it could have been a trophy from 1976 when I wasn’t even born, but it said ‘Women’s Ballet Champ, Tom Polo, 1976’. There’s this continuing fake desire to be greedy to win. I wanna swap CVs with Shaun, 2009 One of the ones (One-Liners) people bring up sometimes is I wanna swap CVs with Shaun, which refers to Shaun Gladwell, a very well known, successful contemporary visual artist in Australia. Overhearing that turned into a note that went onto my wall, and into a work, which got giggles and some people said: ‘I wonder if he’s seen this work?’ It’s this travelling of an initial idea, which begins as a note, a note that’d sit in a journal and then become a painting
and then sit around my studio and I’d realised they had this element of people in themselves. They could have been people standing at an exhibition saying these things. That’s why I feel it’s portraiture. And there’s a mix of intimacy and things everyone says. More Better, 2009 I need to take a deep breath before I say this, but I was in an under 10s square dancing champion. This idea of success came early … apparently I do-si-doed quite well. Artistic Integrity, 2009 What I’ve realised is that if you look at the paintings, they are text focussed, but they also have a painting background. So I’m always obviously looking at colours, discordant colours and maybe things that clash. I’m still thinking like a painter but I think I’m bringing a performative or conceptual element into it as well. There’s immediacy in there, but quite an intentional immediacy. Thinking about the actual text that will go onto the piece might take days or weeks, but the act of making the painting might take minutes. Jon, 2009 I didn’t see that show (Jon Campbell, Folk Songs, Uplands 2010). I saw it online. I would have liked to have seen it. I’ve seen a lot of Jon’s work here in Sydney at Darren
Knight. I respect Jon a lot as a painter and the one time I met him we had a really nice discussion just briefly at the MCA. We worked out that the show I’d had at PICA with these one-liners was very similar to a shot he has in his studio from the nineties, so there’s this really strange connection. He’s an artist I respect a lot because of the immediacy of some of them and the way he takes these handmade signs and brings them into the gallery context, which I think is important for the idea of the everyday. Good Job, 2009 Some of my favourite things are some of the really crappy signs you see people make out the front of their houses. They’re really badly made signs, often with spelling mistakes, and what makes them so funny is the irony that these signs and advertisements are supposed to be enticement and these things are so bad, but so good. No idea, 2009 I was riding the bus home recently and the guy in front of me had a large tattoo across his shoulder blades that read ‘Such AS Life’. I still wonder if he realises he’s wearing a permanent mistake? Big head, 2009 I hung every single certificate or ribbon or anything I got as a child, in this massive installation, so you walked in and it looked
Above: More Better and Jon, Tom Polo, 2009. Images courtesy Tom Polo / Garry Trinh.
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like it was raining awards (Gallery 9, 2007). I wanted the viewer to walk in and realise that this thing happens from an early age. It’s quite funny reading some of the awards. They were for a pen licence or a well tucked in shirt, and I’m not gloating but I probably had hundreds of these little coloured cardboard certificates. When do we receive awards for wearing a good shirt in adulthood?
Young people today, 2009 If I’m not wasting time I’m probably feeling guilty about wasting time. But honestly I’ve learned that sitting and looking really is very important. Even now, as we’re sitting and talking, I’m looking at that painting in the background thinking about the possibilities of things. That unconscious learning that we do through seeing: that’s probably what I’m doing when I’m not wasting time. Or painting.
New idea, 2009 Sometimes I even secretly think to myself if it goes bad, I’ll just pretend it was supposed to fail. That’s a concept in itself I think. I haven’t really kept a lot secret. I’ve been working my process quite publicly and that’s how I work out what is good and bad. Things don’t just have to happen in the studio behind closed doors where people can’t always see it. The future, 2009 I was often titling the works with these texts that I thought were really vital for the work and then I realised the titles were actually critical enough to withstand the concept I was trying to get through. The text has always been there in my work through either titles or little side notes that I’d have when painting, but then I realised they’re just as important. So for the future, I’m wanting to have these painterly works, but I think they can work alongside the text works. Above: Good Job and self portrait as a ball rolling down a hill, Tom Polo, 2009. Images courtesy Tom Polo / Garry Trinh.
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Above: TS2 (detail), Slow Art Collective, 2009. Image courtesy Ash Keating.
TS2 Genevieve Osborn TS2 Slow Art Collective Incinerator Arts Complex, Moonee Ponds 5–13 September 2009
Focusing on issues of sustainability, the Slow Art Collective presented itself as a group of canny gleaners at its inaugural exhibition, TS2 (Transfer Station 2). Utilising in-kind sponsorship, the collective networked extensively with a number of recycling services to bring over 15 tonnes of ‘e-waste’ to the Moonee Valley Transfer Station for use in an installation at the adjacent Incinerator Arts Complex. The resulting artwork formed an elaborate futurescape made from a vast array of electronic detritus, which was combined with a cyclic soundtrack to suggest a living, pulsing ecosystem. Founded in 2008 by Tony Adams, Chaco Kato, Ash Keating and Dylan Martorell, the Slow Art Collective is clearly a project driven by utopian concerns. At TS2, the process of sourcing found materials for an installation that would ‘go back to zero’ at the end of its lifespan, spoke strongly of the artists’ wish to minimise the material impact of their practice. Sprouting green shoots of plant growth in amongst its plastic excess, the laboriously sculpted garden of blinking computer parts optimistically suggested that such a cyclic return may indeed also be possible at an extraartistic level. Intending to create work that exists outside the usual temporal, economic and material constraints of the art market, it is the collective’s aim to disseminate its practice via a process of slow circulation that may, in turn, effect a number of new connections and relationships in the broader social sphere. Having extended an invitation to the local community to contribute their own disused electronic materials to the installation, the Slow Art Collective also encouraged their audience to observe the gradual construction of TS2
over a period of several weeks. The installation was overtly defined as a durational experience — rather than a finished artwork — to create a further avant-garde entanglement of art and life. By creating an intervention that might slow the pace of material and artistic consumption — and cause the viewer to reflect upon issues of sustainability — the installation extended beyond a mere reiteration of the self-contained microtopia that is the hallmark of relational aesthetics. TS2 instead adopted an affective stance reminiscent of 1970s community initiatives such as the neighbourhood learning exchange. Importantly, this mode of exchange was extended to include a blog that recorded each generative stage of the installation, while a number of small events aimed at further initiating a sphere of open-ended engagement between artwork and audience — such as the composting workshops run by Chaco Kato. The conceptual impact of the TS2’s utopian drive was broadened by the manner in which the heaving pile of disused electronic materials intimated the rapid rate at which late capitalist society accumulates waste, leaving a trail of obsolescent devices in its wake. Here, the Fullerian theory of ephemeralisation — with its emphasis on the role that technology might play in creating dematerialised frameworks for an ever-improved standard of living — was contradicted by the sheer physical weight of the installation, and the obvious reliance of its components on finite recourses. Following this line of thought, it is important to question the Slow Art Collective’s ability to enact a true return to ‘zero’ — especially when we consider the damage done to the landscapes from which these materials actually originate in the context of a global electronics industry. Similarly, it is also important to acknowledge the vast amount of e-waste that is shipped to developing countries — subverting the possibility for contemporary communities to engage in localised, sustainable circuits of waste management. Ultimately though, the manner in which TS2 raised such questions indicated an effective visual representation of the current global debates on sustainable material consumption.
Overleaf: TS2 (panorama), Slow Art Collective, Incinerator Arts Complex, Moonee Ponds, 2009. Image courtesy Chaco Kato.
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Top: Redaction Paintings, Jenny Holzer, 2006, and bottom: For ACCA, Jenny Holzer. 2010. Images courtesy ACCA.
Jenny Holzer Nicholas Croggon Jenny Holzer ACCA, Melbourne 17 December 2009 – 28 February 2010
The question of how art can respond to the politics of war hangs like a guilty cross about the neck of contemporary art. With an eye to the — often art-fuelled — activism of the Vietnam war era, there is a growing sense that today’s wars are marked by a failure of protest, a failure felt perhaps most keenly by the worldwide multitude that marched on 26 February 2003 in opposition to a war that began in Iraq only a few days later. This question of art’s role in the politics of war was raised in a recent exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, by the work of the contemporary US artist, Jenny Holzer. Featuring two of Holzer’s more important recent works — a selection from the artist’s 2006 series Redaction Paintings, and a specially created interior light projection — the show revealed an engagement with the politics of war that was at once powerful and complex, but ultimately flawed. The first work in the exhibition was the interior light projection, For ACCA (2009). In this work, with the aid of an industrial-sized projector, the words of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska were scrolled across the floor, walls and ceiling of the darkened gallery. Viewers could hover in the doorway of the gallery or watch from beanbags, which had been fabricated from a heat-sensitive material that created darkened stains where it contacted the warm bodies of its occupants. For ACCA is the most recent in a series of projections that Holzer has installed in places all across the world, from the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin, to waves and mountains in Rio de Janeiro. In these previous iterations, the projections have succeeded by spectacularly intertwining word and place, drawing out and questioning the political and historical resonances of the sites in which they are shown. The ACCA work, however, was
empty of such resonances, and the blank walls of the contemporary art kunsthalle remained just that: blank. This is not to say that the ACCA site is without history — it is, like the rest of Melbourne, a colonised space — but Holzer’s work failed to engage with that history. More fundamentally, however, For ACCA did not work logistically. The projection felt crowded and awkward. The words contracted and expanded frustratingly across the walls and ceiling, making Szymborska’s beautiful poems all but illegible, while the beanbags appeared like kitsch lounge room accessories. The Redaction Paintings, in contrast to the obscurity of the projection, were startling in their clarity. The twelve works — selected from a series of 32 works — comprised large under-painted canvasses, onto which Holzer had screenprinted documents obtained from the US government under Freedom of Information laws. The documents revealed disturbing details concerning the treatment of prisoners by US troops in Iraq. There was a ‘wish list’ of ‘alternative interrogation techniques’ — the discomfort of ‘close quarter confinement’, explained one document, induces compliance and cooperation — and a series of statements by Iraqi prisoners revealing their abuse by coalition forces. The works were as much about revealment as about concealment. Most of the documents used in the show had been heavily redacted by government officials to conceal the personal details of the Iraqi prisoners and coalition soldiers they concerned. On canvas, these redactions amount to almost abstract brushstrokes, dramatising the sinister intent that belies the cold objectivity of the documents. This ambivalence towards Iraqi bodies as both means to an end, and as subjects of a targeted elimination, was also played out through the layers of the canvasses themselves, between the mass-produced repetition of the screen-prints and the expressive colour-fields of the underpainting. In this sense, the works tied off an art-historical arc that included the tough politics of 1970s feminism, the languagebased conceptualism of Barbara Kruger and finally the glib factory-line death of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. These were indeed intense and complex works. Yet, for all this, these works felt flat
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and lifeless. Why is this? In her previous works — such as her famous Truisms (1977–79) — Holzer used words to highlight the ambiguity of language and ideology, a technique which empowered viewers to question the authority of these forces to shape and frame their lives. The directness of the Redaction Paintings, however, allows no such empowerment. In the documents Holzer reproduces, the lives and bodies of Iraqi prisoners are framed by the bureaucracy of war as expendable, without value. While Holzer’s canvases dramatise and critique this framing, they cannot, in the end, escape it, and this is their failing. As the theorist Judith Butler has so eloquently articulated, before we can begin to grieve the lives of those destroyed or tortured by war, we must first conceive of those lives through a frame that gives them value, that renders them ‘grievable’.1 It is not a matter of counting the dead, but of counting the worth of the lives that have been lost. We cannot truly cry out at the injustice perpetrated against the lives framed in Holzer’s R edaction Paintings, because they are not lives in the truest sense. The Redaction Paintings fail to properly grieve lives lost and tortured because, in Szymborska’s words, ‘they forget what’s here isn’t life’.2 Holzer’s failure on this point inhabited the entire show. In light of the lifeless bodies that inhabited the Redaction Paintings, the impracticalities of the projection work also took on a sinister hue — the obscurity of the poems became the obscurity of denial and redaction and the kitsch beanbags became bodybags. In turn, the light projection undermined the complexity of the Redaction Paintings, encouraging us to view the large canvases’ critique of bodily violence as yet another spectacle. Shown together, these two very different works drew out the worst in each other. Seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, and four years after the revelation of torture by US troops in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, an end of sorts now seems imminent — Australian troops returned home in July 2009 and, as part of Barak Obama’s ‘responsible withdrawal’ plan, US troops are due to reduce by half in August this year, with a full withdrawal scheduled for December 2011. At its best, contemporary art might help us to envisage how this withdrawal could really be ‘responsible’. It
might help us to frame the lives of those affected by the US presence in Iraq as inherently valuable, and thus ‘grievable’, i.e., in terms other than those of the soon-todepart bureaucracy of war. The works by Holzer shown at ACCA failed to achieve this, not only on logistical grounds — the crowded and illegible projection — but also on symbolic and political grounds. The Redaction Paintings undoubtedly offered a complex and powerful indictment of war and its atrocities, but the lifelessness of these works signalled that indictment is no longer enough. 1/ Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?, Verso, London, 2009. 2/ Wislawa Szymborska, ‘The Joy of Writing’, in Poems New and Collected, Harcourt, Florida, 2000, translated by S. Barańczak & C. Cavanagh, pp 67–68.
Omega Olivia Poloni Omega Alain Declerc, (France), Tony Garifalakis (Australia), Joaquin Segura (Mexico), Jeanne Susplugas (France) and Ewoud Van Rijn (Netherlands) — Curated by Tony Garifalakis — VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne 26 March – 24 April 2010
Curated by Melbourne based neo-gothic artist Tony Garafalakis, this powerful group exhibition included five artists from France, The Netherlands, Mexico and Australia — all of whom explore the symbolism of power and authority in global contemporary culture. Although the artists’ homes range across continents, their sentiments and message are universal and deal with the current global issues of terrorism, power, paranoia, governmental conspiracy theories and the idea of apocalypse. Garifalakis comments that Ewoud van Rijn’s drawing Only Chaos is Real sets the nihilistic tone for the exhibition.1 Inscribed in monochromatic, tempestuous and illustrative waves is the text ‘Only Chaos is Real’,
Above:Â Only Chaos is Real, Ewoud van Rijn, 2006. Image courtesy Ewoud van Rijn.
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Above: B52, Alain Declercq, 2003. Image courtesy Alain Declercq / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris / Kay Abude.
Top: Untitled (white dove), Joaquin Segura, 2008. Image courtesy Joaquin Segura / Yautepec, Mexico City / Arena Mexico Arte Contemporaneo, Guadalajara / Kay Abude. Bottom: Jane Fonda, Tony Garifalakis, 2009. Image courtesy Uplands Gallery / Thorsten Richter.
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suggesting that the harmony of nature cannot be disassociated with the chaotic, and that contemporary culture is bursting and bubbling with entropy. It is unclear whether the erupting waves are spewing up the text or engulfing it, but either way the message is clear — where there is life, there is order and disorder alike. Disorder and anarchy can likewise be seen in Alain Declercq’s simple image of a man aiming a handgun at a B52, bringing forth the omnipresent fear of terrorism in times of expanding globalisation. In terms of setting a tone for the exhibition, this work was pivotal. The image, which was made just after the September 11 attacks in the US, is based on Chris Burden’s 1973 work 747 in which Burden fired a handgun at a 747 aeroplane. Considering the date of its production, this contemporary rendition makes an explicit comment on the political climate of our times, with fear and threat of terrorism constantly hanging over our heads. Declercq’s video Mike follows on in the same thread, featuring what seems to be a secret agent investigating terrorist groups leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Declercq’s work clearly states that paranoia, fear and terrorism penetrate contemporary civilian existence. Jeanne Susplugas’ colourful drawings question Western medical practices and medicinal reliefs, commenting on social paranoia, vulnerability and fear. These issues are exemplified in the drawing Bracelet, depicting a foot secured in a ball and chain, that is hung in the middle of a medley of pill jars titled Containers (Bret Easton Ellis), which are all labelled with different disorders or illnesses — muscular dystrophy, leukaemia — and a naively positive, quasi self-help advertisement in concertina format 10 Second Health-Tips. Susplugas’ drawings that comment on hypochondriasis and mysophobia, overtly deal with the constant fear of chemical warfare and pandemic viruses in today’s bio-political climate. The drawings are aesthetically akin to the glossy, over medicated lifestyle that they are promoting. With his own works, Garifalakis furthers this investigation into societal paranoia and how far this can be contorted into conspiracy theories. He hangs two fabric vests, one in leather and one in denim, both encrusted with patches on the
subject of the New World Order conspiracy theory. This conspiracy theory refers to the emergence of a one world, secretive, elite and evil government. The artist comments on a particular slice of the theory: ‘that the UN is a front for the NWO and that when the time comes they will deploy their blue beret troops to crush all resistance … the vests therefore are what I imagine these shock troops to be wearing’.2 This aggressive insurgence is further realised in Jane Fonda, twelve large brass bullets standing in a row with ‘NO PAIN NO GAIN’ engraved into their shells — perhaps the blue berets’ artillery. Garifalakis’ work, always fantastically uncomfortable, brings into the mix an alternate light to this bizarre reality we all live in. Joaquin Segura’s life-size sculptural installation of a white dove frozen in midflight surmised the exhibition’s message with lyrical but obvious simplicity. As the viewer approached the symbol of peace, it became clear that a metal object is hanging from its beak. Below the bird suspended in mid-air, starkly lit and positioned on the ground, was a grenade. In a split second, it became abundantly clear that the metal in the bird’s beak was the pin from the bomb — two explicit and powerful signifiers of opposing sides summing up the sentiments of the exhibition smoothly. Omega is an exhibition that successfully explores the dark side of political, corporate and social power structures. It brings together artists from diverse parts of the world that are concerned with the paralleled and ever-present issues of fear, paranoia and, ultimately, the end. It is dark but poignant, because these are issues that affect every one of us. Just as Jim Butcher’s main character Harry Dresden says in the science fiction novel Storm Front, ‘Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face’.3 1/ Email correspondence between the artist and writer, 6 April 2010. 2/ Ibid. 3/ Jim Butcher, Storm Front, Roc Publishers, New York, 2000.
Karaoke Theory Kyle Weise Karaoke Theory Andy Thomson Light Projects 12–31 October 2009
Visually sparse, Andy Thompson’s Karaoke Theory saw the gallery at Light Projects almost empty. The sound of a woman singing, however, filled the gallery — her voice emanating from two small speakers on the gallery floor. The lyrics were passages from the writing of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, complete with bibliographic reference to his seminal Phenomenology of Perception. This gesture, in remarkable shorthand, captures one of the central tensions of phenomenology: the space between thought and sense, between cogito and flesh. This is the tension that guides us through Karaoke Theory. With the windows blackened, Karaoke Theory could not be consumed by the distracted gaze of the passerby. Instead
we were invited to enter the space, which remained light-filled via the open door. The dominant visual object in the gallery was a compact data-projector placed on a large centrally positioned plinth, visible before the projected image and forcing the viewer to move further into the space. Total visual absorption in the projected image was clearly not the goal here. The projection did not transport us to another place, but instead led us through the gallery. The projected image depicted a desk fan in motion, its blades turning rapidly. Facing each other, the projector and the image of the desk fan had a cautious equivalence. The faint whir of the projector’s cooling fan provided another slightly off-kilter, though this time aural, signifier of the fan. The physical presence of the dataprojector, emphasised by its placement, is not incidental to the broader concerns here. Standing directly in front of the image of the fan, a slight breeze could be felt escaping through small holes cut into the wall onto which the image was projected. The wall, constructed for the exhibition, presumably concealed a physical fan, possibly even the same fan from the image, and similarly turned towards the viewer, circulating air. Something curious
Above: Karaoke Theory, Andy Thompson, 2009. Image courtesy Andy Thompson / Light Projects / Clare Rae.
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happened when we felt this breeze: because of the placement of the projected image and its source, the viewer could not feel the air blowing through the holes in the wall without casting a shadow and blocking the image of the fan. Initially, this seemed unremarkable. Often when the data projector is used in contemporary art, a part of the experience of the work is the inevitable ‘dance’ around the gallery in the attempt to find a viewing position without casting a shadow. Yet lingering in the space, and letting the elements play off each other, this physical arrangement came to seem not incidental, but instead a central outcome of the work — crucial to its concerns. Through this structure of interaction, the body is forced into the vision. Through their shadow, the viewer becomes acutely aware of their presence in the gallery. Instead of attempting to subtract the body of the spectator from the space, Karaoke Theory emphasises this. Vision has a particular place in the constitution of phenomenology. Throughout the history of philosophy, it is the eye, more than any other sense, which has been seen to have an affinity with thought. The metaphorical analytic vision and the physical ocular phenomenon of vision, are entangled beyond resolution. Karaoke Theory resists the disembodying impulses of vision via both the physical position of the data projector and the concealed fan. Touch and sight are not reconciled here; it is not possible to experience the touch of the fan and keep it in full sight. Yet neither are these senses easily separable in the viewer’s experience of the fan. The tension is not resolved, just as phenomenology has never settled the relation of thought and sense. As concluded by Stephen Palmer in his eloquent and thoughtful catalogue essay, Karaoke Theory is a proposal of a set of relations, not a solution. Resolutely, though, Karaoke Theory does inscribe the space of the projected image in the gallery as a space of the body. A round table discussion published in October identified the ‘virtual’ and the ‘phenomenological’ as opposing tendencies in the use of the projected image in contemporary art. Considered dominant, the virtual is centered on pictorialism and invites the viewer to embrace the virtual elsewhere of the image, while the phenomenological emphasises architectural space
and the materiality of the image.1 Karaoke Theory clearly positions itself in the latter camp, and Light Projects has become a fascinating space in this regard, with their exhibitions often offering an active engagement with the peculiarities of the space.2 The phenomenological approach to the projected image has become particularly embroiled in the almost fetishistic use of 8mm and 16mm formats in contemporary art, with their large and noisy physical presence, and visible materiality in the degradation of the film stock. However, the digital image has its own object status within the gallery, and Karaoke Theory offers a memorable and engaging consideration of this. 1/ Malcolm Turvey, Hal Foster, Chrissie Iles, George Baker, Matthew Buckingham, Anthony McCall, ‘Round Table: The Projected Image in Contemporary Art’, in October, Vol. 104, 2003, pp 71–96. 2/ Exhibitions by Brad Haylock, Thea Rechner and Devon Atkin at Light Projects have been exemplary in this regard. Curated by Tamsin Green and Leslie Eastman, the gallery displays a continuity amongst exhibitions that is rarer in Melbourne’s committee-maintained artist-run spaces.
Canadian Pharmacy Michael Ascroft Canadian Pharmacy Dan Arps, Hugo Atkins, Stuart Bailey, Mike Brown & Jan Lucas, Stephen Bush, Danielle Freakley, Greatest Hits, Ian Haig, Andy Holden, The Kingpins, Sarah Larnach, Jan Lucas, Rob McLeish, Elizabeth Newman, Alexander Ouchtomsky, Sean Peoples, Gareth Sansom, Gabrielle de Vietri and Alex Vivian. — Neon Parc, Melbourne 3–27 February 2010
Canadian Pharmacy is the name of a world famous spam brand, originating in Russia, which sells fake prescription drugs to online buyers. It is an ironic starting point for an exhibition that inverts the logic of spamming — instead of one product (impotency medication) marketed to the greatest number, here there are many
Top: ‘Bob’ the Ball, Sean Peoples, 2010. Image courtesy Sean Peoples and Neon Parc. Bottom: Canadian Pharmacy (installation view), 2010. Image courtesy Neon Parc.
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unique images and objects, and one small gallery in which to see it all. Sarah Larnach’s two watercolour paintings are of a teenage metal fan, pouting in black jeans and a Megadeth t-shirt. Like an analogue of faith, the work wills you to will yourself to suspend the habit of reflection that drives the old game of truth and appearance, or at least it shifts key from knowledge and criticism to attachments and emotions. It seems, or feels like, what this and other works in the exhibition have in common is a play of stylised, non-tragic affects — the creation of a sense of that proxy state of shared intimacy that you’d expect from listening to music, rather than looking at art. Sin Average, Lust Average, Desire Average and Envy Average, Gabrielle de Vietri’s delicately painted pairs of tights, similarly do what Larnach’s watercolours do — they become minimal signs for longing, half-hidden in everyday imagery. The ancient plasticine computers in Stephen Bush’s bright pop paintings, with colour sample names such as Davey Grey, like the murky, psychedelic collagedrawings by Gareth Sansom — made up of muddy abstract and figurative blots of paint and pencil, with a pasted-on impotency medication packaging — are less subtle and moody. Along with Mike Brown and Jan Lucas’ tiny embroidery pieces depicting spacey patterns and little, computer gamelike figures, and Ian Haig’s nerdy sex toy vacuum cleaners, these works stage a clash of content in loud and comic, but mostly familiar ways. The homely psychedelia of Brown and Lucas’ work aside, the overall tone of the exhibition is wry. This is echoed, albeit with more layer and detail, and with different emphasis, in The Kingpins’ video Polyphonic Ring Cycle. Dressed up in Elvis suits with a life-sized third leg attached to the crotch, drawn-on moustaches and giant, felt Pharaoh hats, the video shows the four artists enacting a very basic ancient Egyptian-themed electric boogie dance routine. Set to a medley of rap ringtones, the work can be read like a junk mail catalogue of macho images from high and low culture. Somewhere in between these two types of work are Sean Peoples’ sculpture ‘Bob’ the Ball, a scrappy, multi-coloured polka-dot ball, and Danielle Freakley’s Perfection, which is made up of the profile
of a man, resembling Jesus, depicted like a king on a pizza-sized plaster coin, and a questionnaire of the attributes that make up your ideal match. Peoples’ ball is such a silly, unassuming object — with an ever-soslight abject undertone — that it perfectly symbolises the unchecked freedom of art making. Freakley’s Perfection, though similarly scrappy, is totally indifferent to this sense of happy autonomy, but only because its meaning is so introverted. The list of attributes in the questionnaire — ‘taste in music’, ‘taste in film’, ‘hobbies’, ‘insanity levels’ — continues for several pages in a font that, in mock-horror style, looks as if it was typed out on a real type-writer. One already filled-in copy that is presented on the wall uses a series of abbreviations to compile a personality from the traits of romantic interests ‘rom’, ex-partners ‘ex’ and celebrities ‘cel’, with a number value next to each, turning it into a pseudo-psychological profile. On the coin-portrait, blue, purple and orange-brown paint splatters badly mimic the look of a rusted antique, while the eyes of the face are closed like a funereal memento. Radicalising the forms of ironic contrast and affective self-regard of the other works in the exhibition, this piece then pushes them into strange, sovereign territory. The exhibition as a whole is arranged like a busy Salon des Refusés. This means that the work is short of space in the gallery, while the all-over look gives the impression of market excitement about the latest pieces by a set of outsider figures. But regardless, this aesthetic of hype still relies on the resourceful presentation of a broad range of work from several generations of artists. With its own sense of history and understanding of contemporary practice, Canadian Pharmacy is also, in part, a quasi-survey exhibition — which is why Ashley Crawford’s accompanying text is a genuinely reflective counterpoint. It is a short, personal confession of unwittingly deleting the only email ever sent by William S. Burroughs. The story sets the simple, disastrous click in amongst the set of circumstances that surround it; and the message is — regrets aside — that it was just another moment in time.
Charlie Sofo is a collector. This was made patently clear in Facts, an exhibition in which Sofo carefully accumulated, categorised and displayed items and mementos that constitute the by-products of everyday urban life. From scraps of paper and discarded rubber bands to private phone numbers and flickering fluorescent lights, Sofo’s stockpiled ephemera provided a snapshot of the objects and events that infiltrate his daily existence. The exhibition presented a sprawling and idiosyncratic anthology, compiled through an obsessive artistic practice. Sofo is not alone in this condition — the archival impulse is a prevalent one within contemporary art. Finding precedent in works as diverse as Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules — storage boxes brimming with a bewildering quantity of material that passed through Warhol’s hands — and the Bechers’ sedate, but formulaic photographs of industrial, post-war Germany, this trend is unified by a fascination with found materials, elevating the status of the personal archive to art object. Recent local exhibitions New World Records (Sutton Gallery, which Sofo also appeared in) and Lost & Found: An Archaeology of the Present (2008 TarraWarra Biennial), have surveyed this desire to record and map; a desire which provides a means to document — even historicise — the present. When viewed in the context of a time characterised by rapid change, the popularity of the archive in contemporary art becomes understandable. As Charlotte Day, curator of Lost & Found, explains, ‘art can create a pause in the current of contemporary life, offering a shift of perspective that simulates a retrospective view on the present’.1 In this way, collecting becomes a
coping mechanism against the exaggerated excesses of today; it is an act full of reflective possibilities. Sofo’s collections are rich, evocative accumulations that speak of the artist’s life. For example, One Full Course of Antibiotics (2009) charts the mundane, methodical experience of taking prescribed medication. Residual packaging is shaped into miniscule foil orbs, representing each individual dose. These reanimated remains are balanced atop a handcrafted wooden structure, which is, in design, similar to an unfinished house frame, suggesting that the work is still in the process of completion. Sofo appears to be retroactively attempting to fix the pharmaceutical waste against a perishing time — capturing what he can of what is left behind. As immediate, intimate traces of Sofo’s life, One Full Course of Antibiotics not only evokes the still-life tradition, but also constructs an abstracted — yet enduring — self-portrait. The interplay between individuals and objects is central to Facts. While the archive is often asserted as an objective index of the thing it represents, Sofo’s collections focus on the relationships they forge outside themselves. It is important that the materials have been found, and also where they’ve been found. In an act that recalls Michel de Certeau’s theory on spatial practices within the constructed order, Sofo seeks out signs of activity in public spaces — physical evidence of individuals activating and negotiating their urban environs.2 In the case of Bookmarks (2009) this search ends inside the pages of library books. Amassing forgotten makeshift bookmarks, Sofo draws out the interconnectedness between himself and the borrowers before him. That the bookmarks have been preserved beneath the surface of a chrome tabletop is similarly relevant since tables are sites where people come together and things are shared. Moreover, through this rescue, Sofo bypasses processes of consumption and exchange. He attains an almost direct interaction with previous owners and is able to create a sense of shared experience or collective spirit. As the last exhibition to appear at Utopian Slumps before its departure from Collingwood, Facts acted as a fitting send-off for a space that placed emphasis on contemporary craft aesthetic. Sofo takes
Facts Patrice Sharkey Facts Charlie Sofo Utopian Slumps, Melbourne 5–19 December 2009
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Above: More Balls (found paper fragments), Charlie Sofo, 2009. Image courtesy Darren Knight Gallery / Louis Porter.
Above: Rubber Rack, Charlie Sofo, 2009. Image courtesy Darren Knight Gallery / Louis Porter.
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great care in the way he displays his found materials, handcrafting models to hold these collections. In Rubber Rack (2009) a collection of overstretched rubber bands found on footpaths are hung as decorations from a model tree. Such attention to presentation honors cast-aside materials, creating a space for them to be contemplated and revalued. Indeed, what is most enjoyable about Facts is the surprising — and beautiful — aesthetic reinventions Sofo bestows upon banal, discarded objects. Sofo’s emphatic focus on items that now lack utility begs the question: Why should we be interested in such useless objects? But maybe it’s the very ubiquity of these inconsequential items that makes this presentation fascinating. As Trish Roan notes in the exhibition catalogue, ‘We exist amongst an abundance of objects that are so ubiquitous that they become almost invisible, so excessive that they’ve become meaningless, most of the time’.3 Sofo has spent a lot of time looking at things that could amount to nothing and collecting them into something. And this is crucial: without keeping or somehow recording material, we allow it to disintegrate and eventually disappear. Through his aesthetic re-inventions, Sofo manages to ‘give life’ to even the most underwhelming of objects. Ultimately one idea persists: no matter what the scale or alterations, archives are fundamental. Not necessarily for what they are, but for what they can tell us about ourselves and the world around us. 1/ Charlotte Day, ‘Lost & Found: An Archaeology of the Present’, in Charlotte Day (ed.), Lost & Found: An Archaeology of the Present, TarraWarra Museum of Art Ltd., Healesville, 2008, p 51. 2/ Michel de Certeau, ‘Walking in the City’, in The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, California, 1984, pp 91-110. 3/ Trish Roan, Facts (exh. cat.), Utopian Slumps, 5–10 December 2009.
1200cc Mary, Reverse Cargo & Year of the Metal Tiger Anna Sutton 1200CC Mary Tricky Walsh, Mish Meijers & Alicia King CAST Gallery, Hobart 17 October – 8 November 2009 — Reverse Cargo Adam Cruickshank Craft Victoria, Melbourne 22 January – 5 March 2010 — Year of the Metal Tiger Dan Bell (in De Tetris Totems, Lisa Radford & Kati Rule) Sutton Gallery Project Space, Melbourne 4–27 March 2010
Three recent exhibitions each draw on traditional practices and ritual as a way of mediating contemporary culture and a way of looking to the future. Recent work by The Holy Trinity, Adam Cruickshank and Dan Bell reveal our arbitrary methods of assigning value and finding meaning in everyday life. Objects of daily consumerism have been reconfigured using cultural representations of deification and fetishisation through sympathetic magic. The Holy Trinity are the fictional alter egos of Tasmanian artists Alicia King, Tricky Walsh, and Mish Meijers, who recently collaborated to create 1200cc Mary at CAST gallery in Hobart. This experiential installation incorporated psychedelic manifestations of adolescent escapism from popular culture and social constructs, questioning in the process ‘the sanctity of native faith’.1 On the opening night we were greeted at ‘the beginning of a new universe’ where we were offered body-part confectionary from holy fonts made from tattooed latex. On the floor lay taxidermied cat-heads, embodying a primitive futurism, while
1200cc Mary, Reverse Cargo & Year of the Metal Tiger
Above, top and bottom: 1200cc Mary (installation views), Holy Trinity, 2009. Images courtesy Holy Trinity / Kevin Leong.
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Above: Ikea Headdress, Adam Cruickshank, 2010. Image courtesy Adam Cruickshank.
1200cc Mary, Reverse Cargo & Year of the Metal Tiger
above us floated intergalactic clouds and a ‘satellite’ for communication between deities. Above our heads sprawled a 15-metre handmade rainbow — what Alicia King described as a superhighway of transmissions. Everything played a symbolic role in the installation, which was then activated within the performance. A life-sized Virgin Mary made from blue marshmallow awaited our ritual worship in the grotto, where she floated — surrounded by the disarming presence of plaster machine guns and painted skulls. In the flickering candlelight of a clubhouse we could while away the time with a copy of Girls with Guns and a video of Jesus undressing. Just like old times. Such video projections signifying the Christian deities served to make their presence permanent in the space, perhaps in reference to the eternal flame of Catholic sanctuaries. Above a sewer-like drain, a video projected The Holy Trinity conducting rituals on BMX bikes amidst smoke bombs in the woods and sand dunes at the back of Seven Mile Beach in Hobart. On the opening night the three artists performed as embodied deities. Think God as ‘recoding the universe with bent Star Wars-esque glamour’,2 Jesus as a sexless form of sacrificial flesh, and The Holy Spirit as a penetrating female spirit — part viral worm, part tempting serpent — all tearing about on BMX bikes as they communicate over their cat-head voice modulators. The blue marshmallow Mary was then burned in an elaborate procession involving cat monks, replica guns and blowtorches, before being offered to audience members to eat. The Holy Trinity views this transformation as allowing the viewers to form a deeper connection to the universe by ingesting part of the sacrificial virgin/ mother figure within their own flesh and blood. ‘Deities offered sermons, which are published in the exhibition catalogue, as a propaganda tool used to spread the word of The Holy Trinity into the masses. It is a visual philosophy that communicates on an intuitive and symbolic level that allows access to the pre-language part of the psyche.’ 3 King sees this modern form of totemism in Western culture not in consumerist so much as in technological terms — here we can see concepts of sympathetic magic in operation. King says of the
work: ‘Mostly, we have displaced this natural world fetish into an awe of technological instruments. We sit before them like oracles awaiting illumination. They connect us to other believers and inside the network we construct communities of like-minds.’4 In his recent Melbourne exhibition, Reverse Cargo at Craft Victoria, Adam Cruickshank combined the absolute interconnectedness of traditional Papua New Guinean forms with disparate objects sourced from our modern consumerist society — Ikea pencils, measuring tapes, disc drives and plastic key tags. In Ikea Headdress, Cruickshank used the underlying structure of a bicycle helmet to create a ceremonial headdress fashioned from thousands of pencils, emblematic of what he refers to as instant gratification and waste. This form of ‘reverse cargo’ draws on an aspect of sympathetic magic that James Frazer described in the Golden Bough as ‘contagious magic’ — whereby associated ideas have their basis in ‘a material medium … (that) is assumed to unite distant objects and to convey impression from one to another’.5 Reverse Cargo does not adopt the laws themselves, but reminds us of the inherent relationship between artistic, industrial and technological progress. In another work, Cable Roots, Cruickshank had hand-woven power cords to create aesthetically beautiful and unexpected sculptures. The juxtaposition here is weaving with electricity — the former being fundamental to the way of life for people of the South Pacific region while electricity is a symbolic of our Westernised survival mechanism. The theme is central in this exhibition and the techniques employed are, as Cruickshank acknowledges, relatively fast compared to those used by traditional craftspeople who have refined their skills over centuries. The appropriation of traditional craft further emphasised the ramifications of living in our culture where everything is carried out using a form of unenlightened shorthand. While totems were traditionally natural, living things, Cruickshank views the desire and fetishisation of products as a kind of modern totem. Reverse Cargo’s totemisation of everyday objects draws our attention to the psychological distance between our daily accumulations of consumerist material. The fetishisation of objects and
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technology has its own religious reference in Cruickshank’s work, in the sense that there is a leap of faith involved in desiring what is unobtainable economically or otherwise. As Cruickshank comments: ‘We’re led to believe that anything is possible and there is an aspect of millenarianism in our culture’s depiction of fame and wealth and power, however dubious. People will always look for new ways to ritualise and defy. It’s in our nature’.6 Dan Bell’s recent work, Year of the Metal Tiger, was presented at Sutton Gallery Project Space as part of Kati Rule and Lisa Radford’s De Tetris Totems exhibition. Bell used the transient forms of jewellery and used objects to create a constellation of lucky charms that were defined by virtue of their origin in relation to a specific situation. The charms belong to a decentralised and interconnected network that contains what Bell sees as an inbuilt obsolescence — the same construction philosophy applied to contemporary consumerist objects. The charm works also share elements of sympathetic magic, such as deific symbolism, correspondence and transference. Before each individual piece is given to a new owner, the work is imbued with the maker’s sweat — a personalised transference takes place between the creator and the wearer. Bell considers this process of atomising the work as the way in which people will be able to relate most closely. Flotsam and jetsam is another idea Dan is drawn to — given that ‘one is the accidental wreckage and the other is intentionally disposed of ’.7 By virtue of their close proximity to the body, these objects are ascribed a new form of value — ‘Placing something that may have little supposed value close to the body, and as an item of transient fetishism, creates a situation of suspended worth’.8 Bell’s network of charms also possesses numerological significance, a kind of ‘false cosmology, or arbitrary constellation’.9 The geometrically arranged chains are suspended from 23 hooks, a number of apparent significance — 23 was the artist’s age at the time of making the work in his studio at 23 Kerr St, while the exhibition took place at 230 Young St. The project also took place in the Chinese Year of the Metal Tiger (also his birth sign), and incidentally comprises 52 pieces to mark the weeks of the year.
This astrological and numerological pattern encourages us to consider the ways we may interpret meaning using alternative belief systems. Yet the contradictions of worth and worthlessness manifest themselves in Bell’s intricately handmade objects using a variety of ready-made objects that seem to have undergone a sort of alchemy. In all three of these exhibitions, the new becomes the ancient and an expansion of reality occurs. Their symbolic meaning takes the conceptual challenge posed by the familiar to a heightened visceral realm. The viewer who enters these works through their inherent crafted humour will be rewarded with a sense that opposing belief systems have collided to create new forms of futuristic primitivism. 1/ Interview with Alicia King, April 2010. 2/ Ibid. 3/ Ibid. 4/ Ibid. 5/ J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Wordsworth Editions, London, 1993, p 38. 6/ Interview with Adam Cruickshank, April 2010. 7/ Interview with Dan Bell, April 2010. 8/ Ibid. 9/ Ibid.
1200cc Mary, Reverse Cargo & Year of the Metal Tiger
Above: Year of the Metal Tiger (detail), Dan Bell, 2010. Image courtesy Anna Sutton / Dan Bell.
PEDESTRIAN SOUND DICKER DACKER CLICKER CLACKER THE SOUND OF PEOPLE ASKING QUESTIONS 9:45 CHIME TRAM BELLS PEOPLE ARE WATCHING, MAYBE I SHOULD JUST DANCE THERE’S A CAR BEHIND YOU THE HOMELESS GUY HAS EARPHONES BIRDS TWEETING IN THE TREES TRAMS HIT OVER THE CROSS ROADS A BICYCLE BELL THAT HAS NO BICYCLE TRAM NORTH TAKE THE.... CARS CROSSING THE TRACKS TYRES AXELS 57 TRAM 19 TRAM LAUGHTER HIGH PITCH WHY ARE YOU PLUGGED INTO THE GROUND THE 57 AGAIN ON SWITCH 16 SECONDS 10:45 CHIME OF THE GPO CLOCK TRAM BRAKING POLICE CAR SQUEAL TRAM BELL TRAM ACCELERATION CARS OVER TRAM TRACKS DJUG DJUG TRAM DOORS HIGH HECK CONVERSATION DECELLERATION CLICKER LOWER PITCH BIRDS TRAM TICKER CAR CONVERSATION LAUREN BROWN SECOND ECHO TICKER A LIST OF SOUNDS HEARD IN THE CITY 10:40 HUM TRAM 08.06.09, 09:30 7 X BOGANS LISTENING TO THE CITY, I (PERFORMANCE) CNR ELIZABETH AND BOURKE STREETS, MELBOURNE WE GOTTA GET ON THIS TRAM OVER HERE
10 1:10 10
union.unimelb.edu.au/georgepaton Second floor, Union House The University of Melbourne Tuesday to Friday, 11am-5pm, Saturday, 12-5pm 28 July-7 August
Haptic Sense Seijiro Nishioka
PRESENT(IN)TENSE Kotoe Ishii, Mayuko Itoh, Matsumi Nozaki and Makiko Yamamoto
25 August-4 September Peripheral Vision Amelia Johannes, DongWoo Kang, Evangelos Sakaris, Michelle Sakaris and Emma Waheed Curated by Michelle Sakaris 8-18 September
Recent Work Alice Wormald, Ilsa Melchiori and Made Spencer-Castle
Silent Dialogue dimple… and Jessica Emily Price
Brain Garden Kylie Wilkinson
Makiko Yamamato A study of little death, (installation view) Sound recording, 20 second loop, dimensions variable, 2008
Mark Parfitt 24 July– 19 September
1 Finnerty Street Fremantle WA +61 8 9432 9555 fac.org.au
MARK PARFITT, DREAM BORE VISUAL DIARY (DETAIL), 2009 PHOTOGRAPH, GRAPHITE WATERCOLOUR, 297 x 210 CM COURTESY AND © THE ARTIST
Simone Hine Rooms Opening and Performance Tuesday 15 June 2010, 5 - 7pm Exhibition Runs 16 June – 3 July 2010 Tue to Fri: 11am – 5pm Sat: 12pm – 4pm Image: Rooms (Production Still) 1, 2010, digital image
The School of Art offers undergraduate and higher degrees in drawing, printmaking, painting, photography, and sculpture and spatial practice.
Visit us on Open Day: Sunday 15 August
For course enquiries call +61 3 9685 9419 Faculty of the VCA and Music The University of Melbourne
Aspire, artist: Judy Perfect, 2008 Graduate Exhibition
June 4 - 25 Lets Make the Water Turn Black Pat Brassington, Wayne Brookes, Joel Croswell, Jamin, Geoff Parr, Pip Stafford, Lucia Usmiani, Carolyn Wigston Curated by Mat Ward July 2 - 24 Performing the Digital Jai McKenzie, Victoria Lawson, Amanda Williams August 6 - 28 Sรถnaris Matt Warren September 3 - 25 Psychometropolis Danielle Clej and Claire Robertson October 1 - 23 Photographing Fiona Williams October 29 - November 20 Rosalux Gallery, Berlin (Exchange exhibition) November 26 - December 18 Curtain Place Llawella Lewis
This project was assisted through Arts Tasmania by the Minister for the Arts
237 Elizabeth Street, Hobart
July – December 2010 — A4 Art 2010 Adam John Cullen Ai Sasaki Alasdair McLuckie Atsunobu Katagiri Dane Lovett David Mutch Emily Ferretti Emma Thomson Hamish Carr Hisaharu Motoda Jacob Weiss
Jeremy Bakker Kiron Robinson Layla Vardo Liquid Architecture Matthew Perkins Mila Faranov Nick Waddell Nobuaki Onishi Rowan McNaught Simon MacEwan Suzie Attiwill Utako Shindo
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Volume 4, Issue 1 of un Magazine: Melbourne's leading independent art magazine.