Alex Wisser

photocentric

Tag: art

A Hole For Hill End

by Alex Wisser

A Hole For Hill End

hole-for-hill-end-day-9-27

 

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.

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The Aesthetics of Breathing

by Alex Wisser

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.

A Sorrow full of Happiness and The Happiness of Sorrow

by Alex Wisser

a review of Vienna Perreno’s “Rainbow Connection” and Yiwon Park’s “Personal Mythologies” at DNA Projects

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.

Everythingism. installation.  Mixed Media. Vienna Perreno 2012

“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.

Vienna Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Bones, installation, size varibale, WEB

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.

Vienna Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Everythingism, installation, close-up 2, size varibale, WEB

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.

Vienn Del Rosario Parreno, 2012, Happy as a Kite, installation, size varibale, WEB

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.

Yiwon Park,2012, I was there, mixed media on cotton, 100 x 100cm (1)

Yiwon Park,2013, unknown familiar story of us3,mixed media on paper, 25x35cm.jpg

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.

Yiwon Park, 2012, I was there, mixed media drawing on cotton,120 x 90cm

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.

Yiwon Park, 2013, Personal Altar, mixed media installtion, size variable

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.

Is Nothing Sacred

by Alex Wisser

 

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.  

The Forest for the Trees

by Alex Wisser

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

by Alex Wisser

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‘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.

you call that street art

by Alex Wisser

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To:

Caroline Mcleod Arts and Culture Officer, Marrickville Council

Dear Caroline,

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.

Yours

Alex Wisser

untitled: 16/49 process of selection (Melanie Khava)

by Alex Wisser

This text is the result of a three week installation/exhibition held at INDEX., an artist run initiative in St. Peters, Sydney.  The directors of INDEX. Alex Wisser and Georgina Pollard, and the artist Melanie E. Khava laid out 9 years of the artists work on the floor of the space and spent an entire week discussing and selecting work for a final exhibition.  This text is my response to the experience and the artwork I was privileged to encounter in such a sustained and intimate manner.

When we spread the inventory of nine years of Melanie’s E. Khava’s artistic production on rows of white paper across the gallery floor, the immediate, intuitive impression I had of it was a sense of snow.  Certainly this was not about the whiteness of the work, which was overpowering in the volubility of its color. Instead, I realized, it was the quietude of the work, as its cold, even crystalline silence recalled for me the smell of snow, especially when it is only a potency in the air.

It was a surprising impression, considering the riot of form and color that produced it.  When taken in survey, the body of work presented a formidable field of view, a brilliantly colorful array of predominantly geometric forms, at once anarchic and regimented within the grid of white rows on which it sat.  Though I knew of the quietude of Melanie’s work when viewed in isolation, it was surprising to encounter it through the cacophony of its informal and cumulative treatment on the floor of the gallery.   By all rights it should be yelling at the top of its lungs and yet the main impression was one of silence.

If we look at the work more closely though, we soon discover that the nature of this silence is far more fascinating than the surprising fact of it. At first approach, it often presents an intensely care inflected surface, predominantly made on paper painted in numerous painstaking layers and sanded to a smooth consistency.  The forms are methodically drawn, often with a light touch, sewn, punctured or cut, both literally into the surface of the paper, and figuratively in precise paint work.  The use of color is often cheerful or soft: light blues and bright yellows, subdued greens and pinks, combine to produce intimate objects of hard-edged abstraction with domestic overtones.  The consistent use of stitch and thread work, the layers and layers of applied paint, painstakingly smoothed, and the delicate precision of its execution, invests each object with the sustained care of its making, remarking the intimacy of touch required by its process and the handled nature of its production.

Given its non objective, often hard edged content, this intimate, hand crafted, even “lovingly made” work conflicts with itself and the description I have given (even as I give it) appears to me completely inaccurate and misleading.  Take for instance one striking work made up of light yellow, pink, green and blue hard edged forms created through intersecting diagonals.  From this surface, three circles have been cut out, painted different colors, criss crossed with black thread and sewn back into place.  The colors you cannot describe as anything but “cheerful” and yet they combine with the extreme flatness and sharp edged purity of the forms to generate an effect of anxious severity; bright, cold, and hard to the point of being impenetrable.  This is emphasized by the fact that the work is literally penetrated: through the use of cutting, but also through the puncturing of the needle that sews the cut material back in to place.  These penetrations give nothing. In demonstrating the paltry 3rd dimension or literal depth of the paper, they only amplify the unforgiving flatness of the picture plane, denying any of the consolations of depth, any sense of ‘give’ in the surface.


In fact, far from ameliorating the cold ideality of the surface, these penetrations produce an undeniable effect of violence.  The cutting of the surface is only exacerbated by the suture-like stitching that ‘repairs’ it: an effect that implicates the razor sharp edges of the painted geometric forms with a sense of cruelty.   The paper itself, thickened and stiffened by the layers of paint, has the consistency of animal hide, suggesting at once surgical laceration and leatherwork.  This last effect is more fully emphasized in another work on paper that is literally dissected along its diagonals and incompletely sewn back together.  An irregular anamorphic plane is also cut out of the dissected pink picture plane, painted red and again incompletely sewn back into place.  When hanging on the wall, the bottom segment swings a fraction away from the wall, suspended off the work like a flap of loose leather or viscera.  The centre of the work, where the cut diagonals cross, is also left unsewn, creating small flaps, beneath which a literal interior is vaguely glimpsed.  Yet, as in the first work analyzed, the interior seems implied as a means of foreclosing the absolute nature of the picture plane.  By showing us what is literally beneath the image, Khava confirms for us that we can only ever get behind the ‘canvas’, never behind the image.

Perhaps because of the violence implied by its means, this strategy at first presents as a kind of cruel refusal, mocking the viewer with an offer of revelation that is itself a rebuff.  But there is another possible reading, one that suggests that the works are made with a genuine desire to speak, a desire to reveal depth but within an awareness of its impossibility.   Interpreted along these lines, the penetrations become invitations to perceive what cannot be seen, to listen for what cannot be spoken.

 

There is also a further possible implication, derived from the highly disciplined formal severity of the surface, that the purity of formal means is itself that which forbids speech or renders it impossible. Seen in this light, the silence first perceived as an effect of this work becomes particularly the silence of the silenced.  The muteness of the object is imposed upon it by the cruelty of formal rigor as an almost sadistic imperative.  But this imperative is experienced not from the perspective of the sadist, but of the victim.  Thus the conflicted nature of these much loved, unloving objects: the intense, sustained, and intimate care (often self effacing) with which they are made stands in rigid tension to their cold brilliance, unforgiving surface, and austere indifference to the viewer.

 

The works so far discussed are extreme in the tendencies I am attempting to elucidate. While they are significant for the raw statement of their under-sublimated conflict, they should not be mistaken as indicative of the modulation of Khava’s oevre.  Her development as an artist, it could be argued, tends toward a mitigation of this conflict, rendering it more subtle and understated, in a sense stating its silence more silently.

This reading is supported by reference to another work, again on paper composing two light blue rectangles, each with a narrow rectangular slot cut neatly into its surface, one on the left side and the other on the right.  A thin skein of thread is sewn across each slot, one red and one yellow.  The overall effect is far more ‘cheerful’ than the previous works discussed: the light blue surface reacting in complement to the bright yellow and red thread, which rims the slot with a cushion of stitch work and softly veils its aperture.  Also, the absence of converging diagonals helps to stabilize the image, relieving it of the sense of explicit irrationality of the works previously discussed.  Yet, despite this more pleasing demeanor, the painting has lost none of its tension.  The narrowness of the slits, the bright color of the thread and the softness it offers to the eye, both in the transparency of its skein, but also in the edging around the rim of the window, invites the viewer into the its intimate ambit, but only to trap it within the triple bind created by the veiling.  At once covering over, revealing, and revealing nothing, this ‘window’ only emphasizes the flatness of the picture plane, the hardened materiality of its painted surface, and ultimately the inadequacy of the blue to remain ‘cheerful’ in concert with these more severe qualities and in competition with the brightness of the thread.  Its promise of pleasure seduces the viewer towards the internal limit of that pleasure, drawing you up to that absolute boundary of desire, the picture plane.  Not only is it impenetrable, but beyond it’s veil there is nothing but the banality of a wall.

Without reducing the diversity of Khava’s artistic output to this singular statement, its concerns can be found to iterate across her oeuvre.  The predominant use of paper, and an aversion to framing the work keeps it flat against the wall.  When viewed from any distance, this reduces it ostensibly to the two dimensions of its picture plane, yet leaves it in paradoxical communication with the wall.  What is literal and what is pictorial remain in open conflict.  Her work, overall, tends toward the smaller scale, producing an intimacy that contradicts the hard edged content it asks the viewer, impossibly, to be intimate with.  When Khava does work larger, it is through modular assemblage, often creating grids out of square serial works that draw pictorial continuities across the spaces between the individual frames; in other words creating a continuous picture plan that spans the literal gaps in it’s support, often creating forms that mimic or tease the form of those very gaps.

This use of the grid is not uncommon in Khava’s oevre, and I suppose, given the nature of the work, not unexpected.  The grid was after all originally a tool for translating literal three-dimensional reality onto a two dimensional plane that became itself a central object of modernist self-conscious concern.  It’s role as medium between the pictorial and the literal made it a perfect object for abstract contemplation.  Khava treats the grid with typical care, taking this impersonal, objective, and universalizing form and manifesting it’s geometric severity as a hand crafted, lovingly made object.  This is perhaps most obvious when the artist strays from paper to stitch gold and silver thread grids onto four small square ‘samples’ of un-stretched canvas painted in subdued pink, grey, mustard and black.  The works immediately deprive the canvas of its pretension as canvas, reducing it to the status of mere cloth and making the objects resonate toward the category of domestic needlework.  Yet the form so embroidered on this “denuded” support is one of the central paradigms of universal modernism  (some would argue it is modernism’scentral paradigm), and the contradiction between the highly personal, hand crafted object and its impersonal, abstract, and universalist subject matter is emphatic.

In a sense, Khava is taking modernism personally.  Far from the abstract universal rhetoric of high modernism, her work encounters the universal through the finite aperture of the individual, consistently invoking it through means that emphasize their corporeality and the conflict of sublimation that makes the relationship possible.  On one level the subject exists in an almost symmetrical relationship to the universal form to which it is subjected, i.e. the formal severity of the work, its ordered, impassive beauty and pristine indifference, stands in almost inverse attitude to that of the subject– enthralled, supplicating, vulnerable: the lover of the much loved unloving object.  Yet on another level, the subject is defiant, always transgressing the rule of order.  By insisting on the imperfection of means and the finitude of the subject, the work defies the purity of form, and refuses its tendency to totalize toward the delusion of pure abstraction.

From this perspective, the tension, cruelty, and even violence we have found implicit in this work, takes on a new dimension.  The silence of the silenced becomes a teeth gritting defiance: its unspeaking nature assumes an edge of implacable refusal and defiance of the order to which it is enthralled.  This contradiction defines and sustains the relationship between subject and object, holding it open in a tension that refuses to allow it to collapse: either the subject extinguished in its subjection to the object or the object consumed by the limitless desire of the subject.

This single movement of attraction and resistance to the Other, seeks at once the ideal union between the two terms while insisting at the same time on the very real distance and difference between them.  In other words, the artist endeavors to discover, impose, or imply order in the very same movement that she resists and transgresses it in a self-assertive gesture of liberation.  Khava makes this relationship manifest by describing in her work, the love affair between the artist and the absolute as a running battle that is lost as soon as one side wins.

For more images of this work, go to the INDEX. website.

Review: Tom Polo “Hit and Miss” at Parramatta Artist Studios

by Alex Wisser

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.

Review: “Intersections” at At The Vanishing Point – Contemporary Art, Newtown

by Alex Wisser

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.