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.
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.
“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.
Two weeks of anxiety driven exploration into the effects of weightlessness on the holy relics of aesthetic theory culminates in a single evening of performance as our daring INDEX. directors, Alex Wisser and Georgie Pollard attempt to put the universe into motion through the use of scale models and high school physics. It was remarked afterward that the whole evening was like a soap bubble that rises fascinating and iridescent into the air before popping in a gesture that seems to suggest it was never even there in the first place.