Alex Wisser

photocentric

WHO’S AFRAID OF PUBLIC ART?

by Alex Wisser

This essay was originally commissioned for an art magazine that will remain nameless.  It was ultimately rejected, for reasons that were obscure and confusing to me.  I  shelved the essay for several years until recently tripped across it while thinking about an artwork I am currently making that relates to public artwork.  Giving it another read, I thought that this was indeed a good essay and the editor who rejected it probably didn’t know what they were on about.  So here it is.  Let me know if its crap.

I was recently invited to curate an exhibition of public art.  It was an intriguing offer, if only for the fact that I don’t particularly like public art.  In considering the proposal, I had to ask myself if I could put together a decent show in a medium I’m not fond of?  It was a good question, and so I accepted.

To be accurate, its not so much that I don’t like public art as that I am acutely ambivalent about it.  I avoid it at every opportunity.  In my efforts to recall a significant instance of considered engagement with the genre, all I could manage was an image of myself hurrying under the shadow of some hulking monolith, eyes averted as I attempted to evade the affect of its domination.

 

It is appropriate then that the first work I will address is one that I have never seen.  This is because it has been removed from its place of display due to public outcry.  Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc 1981, was a 120 ft long, 12 ft high slab of Cor-Ten steel that tilted precariously as it dissected Federal Plaza in Manhattan.  The sheer mass of this rusty wall leant above the viewer in a looming expression of the force of gravity, both sustaining it and implying the threat of its collapse.  The physical being of the material is made to confront the viewer through the threat it posed or implied to their body, compelling them into an awareness of the embodied nature of the experience of the work. In other words it functioned via intimidation.  Furthermore, you literally couldn’t avoid it.  It cut across the plaza, interrupting the openness of the public space and compelling its ‘audience’ to traipse around it in a gesture of imposed inconvenience.

For this reason, I can identify with those who argued for its removal.  While the physical scale, and material permanence of public art is often the source of its intimidation, it is also confronting in its subject position.  Public art is never the isolated statement of an artist, but is composited of those civic forces that must combine in order for a work of art to claim its place on the public stage.  Both the historical weight and the social body of any work of public art is confronting in its scale relative to the subject position of the individual who walks past it.  In this, the experience of public art is always the experience of one’s own relationship to power.  This is more immediately evident in the traditional statuary of historical figures, but persists even in the most benign of modern installations.

Contemporary artist Cigdem Aydemir exploited this dimension of public art in her work, Plastic Histories by shrink-wrapping in pink plastic the bronze statues of white male historical figures in the South African town of Bloemfontain.  These statues litter the regional city as remnants of its colonial past, depicting men who had participated in some of its darker moments.  Despite South Africa’s relatively recent political reversal, these monuments remain in place as residue of that history.  Cigdem’s work was a direct attempt to lift the veil of banality in which these statues subsist.  In doing so, she confronted their public with the history the statues were intended to proudly represent, but now hide from view as objects of repressed memory.  The demand of the contemporary artist that we face this history and the society it has produced is a confronting challenge, requiring of its audience the resolve to lift and keep our eyes upon it.

And yet, this does not relieve me of my ambivalence.  While I can identify with the office workers who rejected Stella’s Tilted Arc, I am also aware that opposition to it was reactionary in nature.  The removal of a work of public art is an expression of the same civic forces that resolve in its commissioning.  There is some truth in the argument in defense of Tilted Arc, that its detractors disliked the work because it challenged their conventional expectation of both art and public space.

At almost the same time that Tilted Arc was being commissioned, another work of art was being removed from a public square in Melbourne’s CBD.  Ron Robertson Swann’s Vault had none of the arrogant provocation of Tilted Arc, though it was bright yellow, abstract and completely foreign to the taste and understanding of the local newspapers and council factions.  Even Queen Elizabeth, on opening the square, commented that it might have been done in a more pleasing color.  After a vitriolic campaign, it was removed to a park on the banks of the Yarra River.  Robertson-Swann, who had not intended to offend anyone, felt that had the sculpture been allowed to remain, it would have eventually achieved acceptance.  “If something new comes into the world then it takes a while for taste and sensibility to adjust”. [1] And if history is anything to go by, he was right.  It is now proudly displayed in front of ACCA, an art space, where it can be safely ignored like any other public artwork.

The queen’s comment was perhaps most acute, because it does make us ask whether art must forgo its capacity to challenge norms, to shock or make its viewer’s uncomfortable.  Does it need to be pleasing if we are to live with it in our public spaces?   This question is almost beside the point because aside from any particular challenge an artist does or does not intend, the nature of public art is challenging.  And perhaps this is the source of public art’s power to deflect human gaze: it occupies a space I believe or understand, on some level, to belong to me.  The presence of an object resulting from and thus expressing specific values, interests, and positions of influence within a space that belongs to everyone confronts us with a sense of our ownership through its violation.

The act of ignoring a work of public art is at once a defiant refusal to validate its function as art by withholding one’s participation as viewer and at the same time an abnegation of that highly ambivalent birthright, one’s share of ownership as a member of the public in public space.  One’s relationship to a public artwork contains the relationship to those structures of power that made the work possible and before it we feel something of our own subjection.  Though this might seem a pessimistic analysis, it has another side to it. This collision brings us into contact with our own investment in and responsibility for the society that surrounds that space – it confronts us with our civic self.  This is exactly what Cigdem Aydemir was attempting to aggravate, not to generate a consideration of art, but a consideration of the social and political context it occupies.

To return to the dilemma of the proposed exhibition of public art: as I was reflecting on the proposed exhibition, I happened to drive down the back street of my hometown of Kandos.  On the side of an industrial shed, in bright pink letters, the words “We just want to throw flowers at the world” proclaimed themselves in a gesture of absurd enthusiasm.  The work, by Genevieve Carroll, was a hangover from the past Cementa festival.  The exuberant good will of its statement, flashing like a bright smile from the grimy face of an industrial shed made me stop.  I was not intimidated by it, but caught by its cheerful absurdity.  The humility of its position, so far from public prominence that the work escaped the burden of self-importance that so much public art suffers from. It embellished instead a place of industry, buried on the back street of a small country town.  It’s strangely empty subject-position, ‘we’ includes me if I identify with it, but if not can imply a specific subject speaking in a joyful tone, a message of nonsense that is more the expression of an emotional tenor than any kind of direct statement.

I can sift through the qualities of the work, rationalizing my affection for it, but try as I like, I cannot dispel the troubling suspicion that I like it because it expresses specific values with which I identify.  In fact, as a co-director of the festival that brought this work into the town, I directly participate in those civic forces that made it possible. My perspective is far from universal, and it is all too likely that some of the locals might not like it at all.  For them, the work would be but an imposition of bizarre and alien values, interests and positions of influence that have coalesced to adorn a town they rightly felt belonged to them with an object they would have little context for understanding.

There is no moment at which the ambivalence of public art resolves itself into the unified expression of the public sphere it inhabits.  This is because the public of public space is always multiple, disparate and permeated by difference.  Despite any ideological presumption of unity it is always a site of at least implicit contestation.  Whether one defend, attack or ignore it, any response to public art is implicated in the contradiction between the unity presumed by the term ‘public’ and the viewer’s particular difference to others within it.  In other words, it uncomfortably presents us with our own specific place, our own subject position relative to other, often competing positions within the public space it inhabits.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-05/vault-yellow-peril-sculpture-tributes-scattered-across-melbourne/7248702

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The Colour for the Air.

by Alex Wisser

Catalogue Essay for Perception (Colour, Air) Leo Cremonese

Bird’s Hut is, to say the least, a mixed environment.  The land itself is a scrappy bit of bush with steep cliffs rising up on two sides that wrap around a small clearing through which a deeply sunken creek bed flows.  A 19th Century shepherd’s hut is its chief architectural feature, and though predominantly intact, it has clearly suffered from decades of abuse and neglect that mix its rustic ruin with jarring modern accents of graffiti and repair.  The clearing is littered with several old cars and odd flimsy structures showing signs of weather and gravity.  Despite the ‘mixed environment’, Bird’s Hut has a kempt appearance.  Nevertheless, every broken artefact that sits within its frame argues with the natural environment, and the conflict disrupts the peaceful unity that the visitor is tempted to compose out of its idyllic context.

It is a challenging setting for an art exhibition, to say the least, as any object placed within its field of vision is necessarily drawn into and absorbed by the shear complexity of detail, from the speculation of sunlight in the leaves of every tree to flakes of paint and the objects of rust and the warping water-stained wood of a collapsing caravan.  There is a reason that art appears most regularly between white walls where, detached from the messiness of the world, it can assume its heightened object status as the thing itself: the art object.  At birds hut, the art object struggles to maintain its special status. The world in its plenum threatens to demote it into just another thing, another bit of junk littering this remnant of nature.

The temptation, I suppose, would be to compete: to create work that would somehow overwhelm the visual ‘noise’ of the environment with the magnitude of its presence, to create an object that would somehow maintain its self-sufficiency despite the world crowding around it with the cacophonous demands of its infinite field of relationship.  Leo Cremonese takes a more subtle approach, and one, I would argue, that is more satisfying than any such conquest.  He abandons the object for the air.

Perhaps I overstate, for he does not quite abandon the object.  There are objects in this exhibition, you will be relieved to learn, art objects, but they all discard self-sufficiency for their relation to the world around them.  This is established emphatically in a work that initiates the exhibition. “Yellow” is encountered as one enters Bird’s Hut itself, a large, finely crafted plywood cube occupies a small alcove to the right, one leg of the L shaped room.  A banner-like painting covers an entire wall of the alcove.  Between the painting and the box is enough room for an audience member to squeeze into an opening that allows access to the blackened interiority of the cube.  It is awkward, and slightly undignified, but after settling oneself inside, your attention inevitably turns to the opening through which you have just clambered.  Through its absolute frame, the world outside glows in a shear plane of yellow, your vision constrained to this rectangular perspective onto the yellow colour field that dominates the bottom 2/3rds of the draped painting.  It is serene and beautiful, and you might be drawn to linger within it. Do so, and you will begin to notice that what you are looking at is not the luminous surface of the painting, but the luminous atmosphere between the box in which you sit and the colour field at which you gaze.

”Yellow” 2018, mixed media installation

In a sense, this first work enacts the title of the exhibition and orients the viewer to what will come.

There is another work in the same room, but in order to describe it we must begin again from outside the hut and approach it across a large blue carpet spread over the open ground.  The carpet is old and looks as though it has lain on the ground for years, worn by the elements until it almost belongs to the earth around it. Inside the hut another two carpets of a similar condition cover the floor and upon one of them stands another contraption. This time it is a swing. Looking a little bit like a guillotine, it faces another banner painting, umber red draped from the ceiling of the hut.  Approaching across the carpets, I was struck by the relationship communicated between these rectangles of colour and the painting draped on the far wall.  I wondered if this was an intentional effect, carefully aligned by the artist to emphasise the family resemblance between the carpets and painting.  Were these carpets art or artefacts?  Whatever mental interrogation I made, the result was always an amplification of the ambiguity I was attempting to dispel.  In the end I had to resign myself to the awareness that these objects held their relationship to the artwork, and that I could not exclude them from my experience of it.  If these old carpets pulled the artwork into the world, the painting pulled the carpets into its own sphere as art.  Any further attempt to isolate the one from the other was absurd, and so I submitted myself to the guillo… swing.

I sat in its cradle and began to rock myself towards the painting, until I had a civilised swing going. I dutifully attempted to absorb myself in the surface of the painting, attempting to measure the experience through the novelty of having my body in motion, my point of perspective in constant vacillation.  I must admit that I was not very successful.  It was difficult to concentrate on  the picture plane as my body swung through space, the knuckles of my fingers threatened with  scraping by the supports from which I was suspended as the weight of my middle aged body strained to collapse the whole machine in its compulsion to return to earth.  Even beyond the sense of embodied alarm, the contraption disrupts the stasis with which the viewer customarily absorbs themselves in the surface of the painting.  The whole work is designed to deny to the viewer those conventional conditions in which abstraction occurs, in which we forget both our body and the world, and loose ourselves to the picture plane, becoming the viewer.  If Cremonese refuses the art object its abstraction from the world around it, insisting as he does that it has no existence unto itself, he also refuses his audience that same abstraction from the world in which we traditionally loose our bodies in the contemplation of idealised or idealising objects.

In fact if there is a single consistent object that unifies this exhibition, I would say it was the human body.  Across the breadth of the exhibition, my body was the one thing I was made constantly aware of, as the works required that I scramble up a treacherous hillside, teeter on an uncertain tree stump or lay down in the undercarriage of a tree.  There is a sense that Leo is continuing, counter intuitively, the thread of minimalism, which also emphasised the embodied experience of the artwork.  Minimalism emphasised the relationship of the art object to the viewer by acknowledging the embodied viewer as contributing to the experience of the work.  They did this though by reducing the relations internal to the object to compose a gestalt or in Judd’s term “Specific Objects” and often using large scale to produce a sense of ‘whole’ objects.  Cremonese inverts this relationship by creating works that physically impose a self awareness on the body of the viewer and at the same time reduce the specific object status of the artwork that opens it to the entire relational field of the world around it.

In the end, the blurring of the lines between the world, the artwork and the viewer draw one to a singular conclusion, if you can even call it that.  As with the carpets, your attention is drawn constantly away from those things you know to be art works towards objects who’s status is more ambivalent, a pile of stones, an ‘arrangement’ of twigs, even the seemingly ordered way that fallen branches are distributed through the undercarriage of the trees.  The eye wanders to the horizons, until you see mountains and the trees and the stones, you notice the composition of the objects littering the site of Birds Hut and it is at this point that you might understand the artist’s intention.  His objects, instead of drawing you into themselves as inherent sites of meaning, constantly refer you outward, indicating the world around them.  Perhaps you might see this world as I did, with the idea that you are the artist, absorbed in the act of perceiving the world, of observing the molten relation of parts, the intangibility of light and colour, your attention constantly drawn between the swarm of detail and the stabilising vision of the whole.  Is this not what art is meant to do: to produce an awareness of the world that exceeds our awareness of those things which refer to that world?

”Orange” 2018, mixed media installation

 

A Hole For Hill End

by Alex Wisser

A Hole For Hill End

hole-for-hill-end-day-9-27

 

In November 2013 I spent a month in Hill End on an artist residency.  For the entire month, or for those days that I was actually able to be in Hill End, I dug a hole.  This is the story of that hole.

The Aesthetics of Breathing

by Alex Wisser

Made for the Exhibition “Super Six” curated by Gilbert Grace at DNA Projects in Chippendale.  The theme of the exhibition was asbestos.  The full HD video is 11 minutes 3 seconds long, and documents my attempts to breath through a plastic bag at various domestic “stations” throughout my house.

A Sorrow full of Happiness and The Happiness of Sorrow

by Alex Wisser

a review of Vienna Perreno’s “Rainbow Connection” and Yiwon Park’s “Personal Mythologies” at DNA Projects

For a two person show of work developed independently, the exhibition of Vienna Perreno’s “Rainbow Connection” and Yiwon Park’s “Personal Mythologies” at DNA Projects has a surprising continuity.  This surprise arrives across the evident disparity between them.   Yiwon’s work, a collection of drawings, paintings and small sculptures at the front of the space, is melancholy in tone, while Vienna’s installation at the back can only be described as cheerful.    Despite these differences, their combination does not produce the impression of  contrast.  Instead, the two bodies of work coalesce, drawing on a level of sympathy that exists below that of their evident contradiction.

Everythingism. installation.  Mixed Media. Vienna Perreno 2012

“Rainbow Connection” is a composition of a wall text, two umbrella frames, and an arrangement of small brightly colored arrows crawling across three walls of the space and collected in a pile on the ground in one corner.  The installation of colored arrows is perceived on approach, swarming over the walls in bright crèche colors like ants of childish aspiration, all headed eagerly in different directions.  It resembled a chart describing the currents of weather systems, except the arrows can’t seem to agree on which direction to indicate.  The eye follows these arrows happily around the walls, effusive and energetic as children, as they lead you, eventually, to the pile of arrows on the ground.  The pile presents a sobering conundrum. Despite, or more to the point, because of the profusion of arrows, you cannot tell whether the arrows are proceeding from the pile up and outward in their optimistic vector or whether they have fallen, exhausted from their manic distraction.

Vienna Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Bones, installation, size varibale, WEB

On the wall opposite, the words “Happy as Kite” are written in plastic fabric, each letter of a different color or design, and all of it as optimistic as the arrangement of arrows.  Two umbrella frames stripped of their canopy (it is this material that has gone to make up the text), lean against another wall, their neatly machined black ribs slightly splayed around their spines, topped by wooden handles painted in the same cheerful colors that inflect the rest of the work.  These skeletal remains, reduced to purely formal objects, are at once beautiful and useless.  They remark upon the relationship between weather and mood evoked by the metaphors circulating in this work: these umbrellas stripped of their protective capacity to serve an expression of joy.   This tension between the text and subtext runs throughout the work, disturbing the effusion of its happy surface with an awareness of its precariousness, its fleeting nature, and the costs of those disappointments we face in its pursuit.

Vienna Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Everythingism, installation, close-up 2, size varibale, WEB

The result is a work that, in all its elements and parts, is an expression of joy, but a joy sobered by what is not there.  The reality principle, informed by painful experience, that says one must protect oneself from bad weather, is excluded in these objects of optimistic abandon.  And yet, from its position of absence, it speaks all the more potently, not to contradict the joyfulness of its expression, but to temper it like an alloy, into something strong.  It makes of this happiness an act of courage, a kite that flies because it sails into the wind.

Vienn Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Happy as a Kite, installation, size varibale, WEB

Yiwon Park, on the other hand, has produced a series of objects that emit an atmosphere of melancholy.  Her small, sculpted objects, drawings and paintings all share an affective tonality that spans the disparity of medium and content.  An egg with human legs, the drawing of a crystal and what looks like a dropped handkerchief,  a greenish glass brick with the texture possibly of water, and a series of larger drawings of the human figure or body grafted to the leafless branches of a plant.  Despite the range of material and content, these works all inhabit the same delicate universe, glowing with a grace that is sometimes perceivable in the awkwardness of serious children.  Such children, caught in the conflicts of their transformation, execute their small, vastly consequential failures; their dropping of precious objects and their continuous falling down, with a grace that derives from the natural certainty of their metamorphosis.

Yiwon Park,2012, I was there, mixed media on cotton, 100 x 100cm (1)

Yiwon Park,2013, unknown familiar story of us3,mixed media on paper, 25x35cm.jpg

This theme of metamorphosis is treated in a series of drawings depicting plants grafted to the human body.  The plants themselves are bare of fruit and leaf and it is uncertain whether they are living or not.  One of these drawings depicts such a plant with all its joints taped together as though it was composed completely of grafting.   Eventually you notice that the plant is standing on a single human foot.  The joints of these grafts are all brushed with a wash of red watercolor, rendering them as wounds, as bruises.  The plant stands there apparently barren, awkward, and wounded, the product of a creative endeavor that is either the futile taping together of sticks or the crafting of life itself into a form that will produce the dreamt of fruit.

Yiwon Park, 2012, I was there, mixed media drawing on cotton,120 x 90cm

The figure of the egg, usually with human legs, also features in this body of work.   In viewing this figure, the mind wants to see the legs emerging from the egg, but they do not.  This is a fully formed being and yet, despite its obvious mutation, it has not yet transformed.  It is almost as though the figure, instead of transforming into the creature it was intended to be, transformed into the figure of transformation itself. The egg stands blind and mute, awkward, tentative, and nervous, in a world of which it is not properly aware.  Like that child, it is wounded by not knowing the context of its condition.

Yiwon Park, 2013, Personal Altar, mixed media installtion, size variable

This sorrow has the sting of the bruised elbow, the skinned knee.  It depicts an awkwardness, an oddity that is hurt by its own sense of inadequacy: of not having quite got it right.  Yet there accompanies this sense of frustration and disappointment an optimism inherent in the desire to transform; the ambition, the hope that catalyses all human metamorphosis.  The egg stands blind, yet somehow gives the impression that it is looking at the horizon.  In this figure, as in much of the other work in this body, Yiwon seems to imply that our capacity for hope, for joy even, is a precondition of the sorrows we gather throughout our life pursuing them.  As in Vienna’s work, this conflict does not result in negation, but produces an affirmation that includes both terms.

Collective Landscape

by Alex Wisser

collective landscape rylstone

Christine McMillan, Reg Buckland, Geoff Payne, Owen James, Jude Bailey Preston, Jenny Moore, Marilyn Comer, Alisa Burlington, Gordon Smith, Shannon Pennell, Kat Brown, Darryl Brown, Judy Rasmussen, Georgina Pollard, Kate Cowden

collective landscape kandos

Georgina Pollard, Kat Brown, Darryl Brown, Fiona Macdonald, Kate Cowden, Judy Rasmussen, Carmel Spark, Mary Kavanagh, Ray Stout, Rose Evans, Terry O’Sullivan, Heather Wilson, Elwin Butler, Carol Henry, Helen Vowles

This project occurred to me when I stumbled on the Liverpool Painting Society exhibition at Casula Power House.  I was struck with the idiosyncratic singularity of style that all of the painters displayed.  It was all so strange and unique that I thought it looked like contemporary art.  It occurred to me that while contemporary art strives with great intensity to achieve singularity, singularity was also something that was unavoidable.  No matter how “conventional” a painter’s style, those idiosyncrasies of personal history, training, experience, etc would never combine to produce the same style twice, despite an artists efforts to submit themselves to a tradition. Instead of the supposed unique singularity of “genius” or originality, I wanted to celebrate the ubiquitous singularity of everyone.  The process of making these particular works began with me photographing a landscape in the viscinity of the community of artists I approached.  I then gridded the photograph and gave each artist a cell of the grid and a blank canvas.  I asked the artists to paint the cell according to their practice and asked them not to communicate with each other about the project.  I wanted to express the difference in perceptive style within a depiction of a landscape that was common to them all.  This work was exhibited in an exhibition called Collectivism at Kandos Projects in September 2013.

Is Nothing Sacred

by Alex Wisser

 

An installation of found media in Clandulla State Forrest.

(this text originally published on whereistheart.com.au)

This work continues a series of installations I call the rubbish works.  Originally the process involved scouting suburban streets during council pickup days, and selecting a pile of household detritus as it has been placed on the sidewalk.  I treat the pile as an art kit.  Using all of the material provided and nothing but the material provided, I create a composition.  The process involves a deep engagement with the rubbish, the need to question each object as to what it is and what it means, could come to mean and what else it could mean: who did it belong to and what would it feel like to place it in this position relative to some other thing.  Should I create a narrative?  Should I abstract it into a formal element?  Why don’t I just leave it as what it already was?  All of the problems of art present themselves as I struggle to resolve the work into some kind of coherence, which, when it comes, brings with it the rewarding sense that I have redeemed something… if only a little bit and for a little while.

My recent move to Kandos meant that I would no longer have access to council pickup days and I had considered the work stalled.  This changed when a friend showed me an illegal rubbish dump in the middle of The Clandulla State Forest.  The dump had everything I looked for in a potential “art kit” in that it seemed to be crawling with its own implications.  This dump was located 15 minutes from the free Kandos tip and it contained a lot of little girls toys, dolls and clothes as well as domestic objects such as cooking utensils, cleaning materials, old food in bottles, a tent, a patio umbrella, a car radio, some keys, etc.  It was as though someone had dumped their entire domestic existence in an act of rejection that was as symbolic as it was real.  The predominance of children’s possessions made you feel that you were looking at a murder site, scattered with the slow decay of innocence.  The matted fur of toy rabbits, the stained children’s underclothes, the limbs of barbie dolls contorted and discarded in the low brush all resonated with the frequency of b movie and television murder scenarios.  In other words, the material contained its own narrative resonance.

This particular installation was the most challenging iteration of this work to date.  This was so for two reasons.  First, the rubbish in this dump had been in the bush for several months and was particularly difficult to handle.  The clothing and soft toys stank and the books and paper material were falling apart. Much of it was in a state of decomposition that prohibited handling and refused the imposition of formal order.  Second, these works are normally made in a gallery context, where the imposition of order on the inchoate material is more easily achieved against the blank ground of pristine white walls.  The bush around this work had its own sense of organic anarchy and order that denied so many of my attempts to integrate the installation via formal strategies or render it coherent through narrative connections. 

The difficulty is always, how do I make this rubbish look like art and in this instance especially, I struggled with the fact that against a backdrop of the Australian bush, the material I was working with would always look like rubbish.  The work began to comment on the struggle to harmonise the man made universe with the natural universe, including the limits and failures implicit in this endeavour.  The installation became a primitive site of ritualised construction, already childish, demented, traumatised but also capable of joyful play.  By utilising these objects of everyday use and culture as the material of art, I find myself compelled to pay the kind of close, respectful attention that any artist must pay to the medium in which they work.   The understanding gleaned from such an examination and an endeavour to employ raises these objects from their obscurity as used, forgotten, discarded and habitualised objects into a realm in which they are made essentially to mean something, and something that only they are capable of meaning.  

The Forest for the Trees

by Alex Wisser

This exhibition at Branch 3d, a window gallery in Glebe in Sydney was made at the invitation of Branch 3d director Sarah Nolan.  I have been working with cans for well over a year, a practice that evolved out of a consideration of the 2d picture plane in photography which for me is more absolute than that of  painting because of the lack of material mark, and the weak relationship of the photograph to its support.  The can presented itself as a particular solution because it occurred to me that we 3 dimensionalise photographs all the time in the labeling of things.  The forest motif entered because at the time of the invitation I was photographing this feral pine plantation and really enjoying the democratic nature of these photographs.   I could photograph anything and it would turn out beautiful.  This seemed to me to be an appropriate marriage between the two projects.

Someone Else’s Here

by Alex Wisser

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“Someone Else’s Here” begins at the interface between self and world that manifests when one takes or even looks at a photograph.  Where does the subject begin and end, where the machine, where the medium, where the world?  Who makes a photograph when the majority of the decisions that fill its frame are made by someone other than the photographer?  Does the perceiver stand on the periphery of what they perceive, or do they stand in the middle of it?  Is an intervention necessary to the making of an image or is the making of an image necessarily an intervention?  These questions press against the membrane of the photographic picture plane until they spill out into the world they interrogate, only to find themselves still there, blinking, stupid, without answer

OUTSIDE IN (KANDOS)

This a photographic project exploring the identity of the town of Kandos, NSW in terms of its exteriority (the outskirts of the town) and its interiority (the inside of its residents’ homes).  The diptychs presented attempt to create a continuity between the inside and the outside that is impossible, staging the rupture of passage between these two spaces in its abrupt finality.  Nevertheless, the juxtaposition reminds us of the porous and complex relationship between inside and outside, between is and is not that is the lived foundation of any achievable sense of identity. To read Ann Finegan’s review of this work: kandosprojects.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/alex-wisser/

BLANK CANVAS

BlankCanvas’ is a photographic series of homes that have been lived in for more than 30 years taken on the day of their sale by auction. These photographs capture the decorative decisions layered decade upon decade and the traces of the lives lived within these interiors. The potency of these scenes is rendered salient by the fact that they are taken on the day of their sale and within the awareness that this will result in their ultimate erasure through renovation. Thirty years of one person’s life is another person’s blank canvas.

The printing of this series was made possible by a grant from Marrickville council

The Brickworks:

I am standing in a public place, holding a brick outstretched in my hands.  This simple act disrupts the normal smooth functioning of the space, causing a reaction that reveals what otherwise would have passed unnoticed.  At times I feel like I am holding open the aperture through which you experience the recorded scene.

Identity Politics

All of this material was sourced from a single pile of household detritus placed in a discrete pile on the sidewalk on council collection day.  I treat the pile as an art kit. Using all of the material provided and nothing but the material provided, I create a composition.  I don’t know what the audience gets out of it, but I enjoy the deep engagement with this rubbish, the need to question each object as to what it is and what it means, could come to mean and what else it could mean: who did it belong to and what would it feel like to place it in this position relative to some other thing.  Should I create a narrative?  Should I abstract it into a formal element?  Why don’t I just leave it as what it already was?  All of the problems of art present themselves as I struggle to resolve the work into some kind of coherence, which, when it comes, brings with it the rewarding sense that I have redeemed something… if only a little bit and for a little while.

Blank Canvas

by Alex Wisser

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‘Blank Canvas’ was an exhibition at MOP Projects in Sydney.  The exhibit was comprised of large scale photographs (1×1.5 metres) of homes that had  been lived in for more than 30 years just before they were about to be sold at auction. Blank Canvas was an attempt to capture the decorative decisions layered decade upon decade and the traces of the lives lived within these interiors. The potency of these scenes are rendered salient by the fact that they are taken just prior to their sale and within the awareness that this will result in their ultimate erasure through renovation. Thirty years of one person’s life is another person’s blank canvas.