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.
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.
‘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.
Tom Polo’s Hit and Miss at Parramatta Artist Studios presents a motley of slogans and one liners, often framed in the form of motivational posters, badges, buttons, flags and pinions, arranged for the most part in the main gallery on a powder blue wall. It looks a little like the fantasy of a small child who has chosen to worship not sport or celebrity, but the motivational industry and has decked his bedroom walls with naïve effigies of promotional materials he dreams will beguile and seduce his friends into purchasing his overpriced books and cd sets as a side effect of the immense popularity his clarity of vision and incisive turn of phrase would win for him.
There is no counting on how many levels such a child is disturbed and mistaken. If he actually did exist, I would, for his own obviously traumatized sake, contradict my usual position and advise administering heavy doses of both sport and celebrity in alternation in the hopes of shocking his system back… at least away from this dangerous turn of mind. And still we have not yet plumbed the depths of his condition, because, when we look more closely at the works, it becomes apparent that this kid has gotten something else wrong. Instead of filling our eyes and minds with the resounding acclaim of absolute and universal affirmation, our imaginary child has included expressions of many of the emotions that surround the pursuit of “personal fulfillment”, but are usually excluded from its programmatic content. Many of the slogans express anxiety, self-doubt, self-criticism and self-deprecation even as they maintain their brightly optimistic promotional attitudes. Polo has created a self-help philosophy that promotes the negative on par with the positive. When you think about it, that’s all that any self-help philosophy does.
The result is an uneasy sense of ambivalence that draws out and emphasizes an uncertainty at the heart of much of this language. Positive statements take on a more menacing, and self conflicted aspect. The phrase “Winning not Whining”, begins to look like bullying, positioned as it is beneath the drooping words “Sad Sac”. These conflicts and contradictions multiply, producing a field of dissonance, each work disrupting the smooth functioning of the others, until you cannot be sure of how to read any of it. The result is a discursive flatness that mirrors the visual flatness of the paintings. The reader, like the viewer, is unable to discover any depths of meaning into which they can project themselves and this lack of a coherent, unified subject leaves the viewer ricocheting between the various untenable subject positions.
It felt as though the flatness of the picture plane had somehow infected the subject position of the viewer, and that where I stood looking at the work was as limited in dimension as the picture plane of the objects I examined. There is some evidence that this is exactly what Polo had intended for me. The cover of the catalogue, for instance, is a print of one of the works that has been made into button. You can actually stand in front of the work, wearing one of the works as a (flat) badge of the subject position it permits (and disrupts). This is taken further in a side room, dressed up as a theatre, in which round paintings of various crude, flatly rendered faces are arranged in depth as though sitting in the audience, all facing a single red painting with the name tony written in black that hangs on the far wall. The paradox of paintings of human faces facing a painting of language establishes a mis en abyme, in which subjectivity ricochets between the two positions. Where does the viewer stand? In the position of discourse (and discourser), looking at the representations of faces, or in the position of representation looking at discourse? Again Tom doesn’t allow us a comfortable place to sit and we are left floating, homeless between the two.
This review was originally published on DAS500 on May 04 2011
Intersections is not curated by Adrian Clement. This is a point he insists upon in his (not) curator’s statement. Instead, he considers the exhibition a single artwork made by himself out of the works of the other artists involved. As one of those artists, I have to say, the statement raises some mixed emotions.
Conceived as a challenge to the conventional wisdom that curators employ to isolate the experience of individual works from each other, Intersections is the careful combination of the experience of different works to produce “intersections” between them. These points of overlap create effects unintended by the original artist as neighboring works are brought to impinge upon each other.
For instance, the only illumination in the exhibition is provided by the several light based and projected video works within the show. A tall door of light tubes in the main gallery illuminates Kate Mackay’s large wall of colored cubes when closed and when opened it lights a photograph of a night seascape by Kurt Sorenson barely perceptible through the blinding you must endure to push the door open. On one side of the room, a polished brass mirror made by Tom Isaacs, reflects perfectly Adrian’s arrangement of Petri dishes containing dripped paint by Georgina Pollard on the far wall. The exhibition is full of these discoveries that make you wonder where each of the intersecting artists leave off and Adrian begins. The result is often a sense of elegant confusion and a heightened awareness of the relational nature of meaning. The unity of individual works is disrupted, pushing coherence back to the level of the entire exhibition so that in the end the viewer is brought indeed to consider it a single work of art. And this is the source of my mixed emotion.
On the one hand, Intersections successfully fulfills its original brief, mounting a challenge to the conventions of curation by grounding its “curatorial” practice in artistic rather than theoretical, or art historical concern. It was exactly this prospect that excited me about participating. On the other hand, there is a sense in which it has succeeded too well if the curator thus passes over the threshold being challenged to become artist – curation itself remains unscathed and we end with another monster altogether, the meta-artist, who uses other artists’ work as the raw material of his own. 500 words could never contain the maelstrom of implications that such a figure unleashes. It’s not surprising that he should appear here. Often, it is only through crossing a boundary that we come to understand why that boundary exists.
Once on the other side, Adrian deftly negotiates the ethical minefield he treads. This particular incursion is marked by the profound respect any artist worth their salt has for their medium, which in this case is the work of other artists. In this way, Intersections is as much about the relationships between people as it is about the relationship between things.