Alex Wisser

photocentric

Tag: contemporary art

The Colour for the Air.

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.

”Yellow” 2018, mixed media installation

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?

”Orange” 2018, mixed media installation

 

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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.

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.

Review: Damian Dillon “Jailbreak” at Artereal

by Alex Wisser

Damian Dillon’s work involves defac­ing doc­u­men­tary pho­tographs of banal sub­jects, insert­ing crude human ges­ture into the aus­tere dis­tance of the pho­to­graphic pic­ture plane.  The results have always been unnerv­ing com­po­si­tions of pow­er­ful effect that I could appre­hend intu­itively, but have never quite under­stood.  I knew that I liked them but I could never locate why.  While this expe­ri­ence was not some­thing I minded, it was a wel­come sur­prise to find in his new show at Arte­real gallery, Jail­break , a level of res­o­lu­tion and cogency that allowed me to bet­ter grap­ple with the forces he puts into play with his process.  What was not sur­pris­ing was that these forces took on the nature of contradiction.

This is per­haps best illus­trated through ref­er­ence to the odd­ity of his names.  Though the show is called Jail­break, all of the works in it are named Real Estate .  The log­i­cal dis­cord of this nam­ing strat­egy is strangely off putting, the two terms belong to com­pletely dif­fer­ent realms of dis­course and their con­junc­tion is awk­ward, unsta­ble, even trans­gres­sive.  Yet, when the ques­tion of their rela­tion is allowed to set­tle, the terms res­onate, draw­ing fas­ci­nat­ing, asym­met­ri­cal con­nec­tions between them.  The con­ti­nu­ity, for instance, between Australia’s con­vict past and it’s cur­rent obses­sion with real estate, or the oblique par­al­lels that run between hous­ing estates and pris­ons – begin to make a kind of sense that is only gen­er­ated through such transgression.

This same strat­egy is at work in Dillon’s pho­tographs of hous­ing estates in Great Britain and Aus­tralia.  Rough frag­ments of these two worlds are brought into abrupt con­junc­tion and marred by shapes crudely drawn in Pho­to­shop or made directly onto the pho­to­graph using an indeli­ble marker.  Dillon’s inter­ven­tions into the pho­to­graphic pic­ture plane have the qual­ity of van­dal­ism, con­tain­ing within them the destruc­tive expres­sion of the desire to break, dis­turb, and dis­rupt the inescapably grim con­ti­nu­ity of the real­i­ties they refer to.  This destruc­tion though is essen­tially cre­ative, seek­ing to decom­pose the rei­fied form of bleak, con­crete and fatal cer­tainty, releas­ing the forces of pos­si­bil­ity con­strained within them.  The cre­ative ges­ture is left crudely incom­plete, trac­ing the child­ish out­line of a human house from of the inhu­man forms that make up its prison.

The effect of all these dis­rup­tions though is one of unex­pected con­ti­nu­ity.   Ros­alind Krauss once observed that the mute­ness of the pho­to­graphic index derived from the implaca­ble con­ti­nu­ity of its pic­ture plane: that it could not be artic­u­lated into dis­crete units of mean­ing, as lan­guage can, gave the pho­to­graph its unspeak­ing aspect.  I was sur­prised to find that despite Dillon’s many dis­rup­tions and break­ages, the con­ti­nu­ity of the pic­ture plane remained, or per­haps closed over its newly dis­uni­fied con­tents, envelop­ing them in its ret­i­cent tes­ti­mony.  This was due, I sus­pect, on the pre­dom­i­nant use of Pho­to­shop to make his marks, which leaves the sur­face of the pho­to­graph intact.  The occa­sional inter­ven­tions onto the lit­eral sur­face, act in con­trast as strik­ing, almost vio­lent accents break­ing the illu­sion of break­age he has cre­ated for us within the pic­ture plane – at once shar­ing the same impulse and ori­gin as the Pho­to­shop marks and yet tak­ing place in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent dimen­sion and thus remark­ing upon and encap­su­lat­ing the entire van­dal­is­tic process in his art.

These works are ulti­mately an expres­sion of hope; a hope sus­tained by the desire to shat­ter or trans­gress the impla­ca­bil­ity of the world as it is, so that some­thing, any­thing might be cre­ated from its ruins.  This expres­sion, though, is itself entrapped in the world it attempts to tear down.  This hope is as fatal­is­tic as the world it bright­ens.  It does not offer us utopic vis­tas or pris­tine Arca­dias or any of the other dreams into which we might escape real­ity. It offers us only pub­lic hous­ing estates, these habi­tats of poverty, fear, and extreme despair and yet, within that world, as a native to it, hope and a wil­fully cre­ative urge dwell as the impulse of run­ning water in a frozen place.