by Alex Wisser
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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” 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/
‘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
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.
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’ 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.
Caroline Mcleod Arts and Culture Officer, Marrickville Council
Thank you very much for considering participation in my art work for “Sketching The Gamut” art project. As I explained on the phone, this artwork and the exhibition it is a part of will be propositional in nature: in other words, it will be a work that presents only the idea or proposal of a far larger work that might one day be achieved along The Sydney Green Ring (though it need not actually be achievable either).
The work which my project is proposing is to create a stencil of the design below and to then paint it in temporary spray paint along The Green Ring, enacting in temporary form, an analogy of the more permanent signage we hope one day will be erected to designate The Sydney Green Ring as a recognized active transport corridor and continuous public space within Sydney:
The making of the stencil and the painting of the form along The Sydney Green Ring will only be one part of the work. The second part of the work will be the documentation and display of all of my efforts to secure permission from the 13 local councils through which The Sydney Green Ring passes and any other authorities that I might need to confer with in the making of the work.
The idea behind this art work has two dimensions.
Educational: I am hoping that this work will offer its audience a perspective onto the workings of council and the procedures and mechanisms through which council actualizes the designs and intentions of its community while maintaining standards and safeguards that protect against activities that threaten the well being of the council LGA. This dimension is directed at rendering the processes of council more transparent, giving people a better idea of how it functions in actuality and in cooperation with its constituents. This will result in a lessening of the sense of confusion that people feel when approaching council, rendering it less intimidating and more accessable. Such an outcome would give people more confidence in engaging with council and contributing to their community through such engagement.
Motivational: By making an artwork directly about the people who make local council work, showcasing their daily contribution, I am hoping to bring to both The Gamut and The Sydney Green Ring projects an dimension of personal investment from the people who will be essential to their realisation. This investment is something that artists usually enjoy and council workers rarely- that of recognition for the work that they have done. My art work intends to illuminate the contribution and credit accordingly, those working participants without which the creation of such an ambitious public project would not be possible. Another way of framing this is to suggest that The Sydney Green Ring offers to every potential participant the same motivation that the artist enjoys: the possibility of taking credit for the creation of a 34 kilometre public art work etched into the map of the city that also serves as a functioning active transport corridor and continuous public space.
If you hadn’t already guessed it, this email will be the first document in the artwork I am attempting to make. Please understand that I might use any direct response that you give to it in the artwork as well.
WHAT I AM ASKING FOR:
In order to make a propositional display which will be composed of a number of the elements of the final work I would like to ask the following from you:
Permission to paint a sample stencil somewhere along The Sydney Green Ring in temporary spray paint for the purpose of documenting it for display in “Sketching The Gamut”. This paint, I am informed, is commonly used by road repair crews to mark roads for repair. The paint is environmentally safe and can be removed at will. I have attached a document brochure for a paint similar to that which I intend to use. Pending further information I will supply you shortly with the documentation for a paint that I can access here in Australia and for a price that fits my budget.
I would like to useI would like to arrange a meeting in which we can further discuss this project and during which we can mock up some photographs of us meeting, shaking hands, possibly reviewing The Green Ring. These photographs would be displayed in “Sketching The Gamut” as a part of my work.
I look forward to talking further with you about this project.
The idea was to take a pile of rubbish as they are often placed on the sidewalk, as a discrete and complete body of material for a work. What surprised me most that I found the works to unfold photographically rather than in a painterly manner and had more to do with the found nature of photographs rather than the abstract expressionist concerns of say Rauchenburg. I am hoping that the photographic documentation conveys this.