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.
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?