Decorating Loos

by Alex Wisser

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artists: Adrian Gebers, Alex Pye, Alex Wisser, Audrey Newton, Clare Johnston, Crystal Skolnick, Emma Anderson, Francesca Mataraga, Georgie Pollard, Goran Tomic, Huw Lewis, Kate Mackay, Laura Gamio, Mamadada, Pineapple Park, Susannah Williams, Todd McCoy, Victoria Waghorn

Dec­o­rat­ing Loos explored the aes­thetic impulse through the prism of one of its most basic forms – the desire to embell­ish the lava­tory walls with the mark of our dis­tracted fancy.  It did this quite lit­er­ally through the con­struc­tion of 15 toi­let cubi­cles in the gallery, each of which was given to an artist to “dec­o­rate” accord­ing to their prac­tice.  The result was 15 immer­sive envi­ron­ments, each draw­ing on dif­fer­ent medi­ums, gen­res, and sub­ject mat­ter – from video and per­for­mance to instal­la­tion, paint­ing and draw­ing – each a dis­crete world of imag­i­nary prac­tice, and all exist­ing in intense prox­im­ity to one another.  The instal­la­tion was intended to inter­ro­gate the value of aes­thetic endeavor by super­im­pos­ing advanced con­tem­po­rary art prac­tice onto the much den­i­grated act of pub­lic toi­let van­dal­ism, ask­ing what is the rela­tion­ship between these two activ­i­ties?  Are they so dif­fer­ent, and if so how?

At the heart of its enquiry is a wry ref­er­ence to the Mod­ernist archi­tect Adolph Loos, who equated dec­o­ra­tion with bar­bar­ity and the progress of cul­ture with the grad­ual erad­i­ca­tion of the orna­men­tal from cul­tural pro­duc­tion.  He wrote stri­dently against the dec­o­ra­tive urge.  He con­sid­ered it to be a prim­i­tive cul­tural prac­tice that moder­nity strove to over­come in its progress towards a ratio­nal, effi­cient, and orderly soci­ety adorned only with the clean lines of func­tion and the smooth planes of rea­son.  At stake is the sense of authen­tic­ity, of the capac­ity of art to carry the unadorned truth of its sub­ject, to give us some access to it’s real­ity, free from the signs of an explicit inten­tion to influ­ence or seduce us in it’s appre­hen­sion.  Dec­o­rat­ing Loos makes no attempt to resolve the ten­sion between the artis­tic and the dec­o­ra­tive, but only to stage it’s con­flict and ask what it might mean in an era that is no longer the high moder­nity of Loos, but is also no longer the post-modernity that attempted to super­sede it.

Decorating Loos was a joint curatorial project by Marrickville Art Lab (Alex Wisser and Georgina Pollard)

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