Alex Wisser

photocentric

Tag: group exhibition

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.

Abstract/Object

by Alex Wisser

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artists: Adrian Clement, Alexander Jackson Wyatt, Andre Flament, Angela Stretch, Annalice Creighton, Anthony Bartok, Francesca Mataraga, Georgina Pollard, Goran Tomic, Hayley Hill, Josh Harle, Julia Kennedy-Bell, Muzi Li, Melanie E. Khava, Ro Murray, Susie Williams, Tom Isaacs, Zeo Ledux

CURATIORIAL STATEMENT:

Like an object, this idea is describable from several perspectives, three of which I will present here.

PERSPECTIVE 1:

Throughout the 20th Centry, art discourse has questioned and critically excoriated the context in which art is placed and displayed.  From a very broad perspective one might conclude that nowhere on this earth is there a space that does not somehow degrade, corrode, or diminish the artwork that it contains.  On the one hand there is the home of the collector, into which the artwork enters only through its conversion into commodity fetish through the process of its purchase.  Once there it must endure its humiliated condition as an object amongst other objects, functioning in the service of decoration and the symbolic production of status and prestige.  On the other hand, the gallery space is perceived as a sterile, negative space, scrubbed of any reference to or residue of the outside world, even to the point of denying the bodily presence of the viewer.  Abstract/Object is an attempt to superimpose these two spaces, creating a third paradoxical space in which the status of the object is made uncertain: at once challenged by its placement in a context permeated by the every day world, and at the same time a space abstracted and rarefied by its gallery status.

PERSPECTIVE 2

At the same time, the 20th century also saw the growth and agglomeration of mass media coalesce into an integrated, continuous plane of representation, virtualizing much of contemporary life.  Forced to question its own powers of representation in a world oversaturated with virtual content, art began to look outside the frame to the potentials of presentation, consistently challenging the boundaries between art and life.  In so doing art inverts its traditional role from the production of virtualities to the presentation of actualities, developing an array of strategies that emphasize the presence of the object, the embodied nature of the experience of art, and the object status of the work.  These strategies are diverse, and range between emphasizing the heightened presence of the object to obscuring the difference between the object and the everyday.  Abstract/Object is designed to challenge the audience to discern the difference between the objects of art (which won’t be marked as such) and the domestic everyday objects from my home.  At once, the art object is made to compete with the everyday objects while the everyday object is changed by its placement within a space that insists that it be looked on as art.  In this way, this show is intended to test the artwork, to show how it stands up as art in an environment permeated by non-art and to question the entire process.

PERSPECTIVE 3

This installation does not pretend to do anything new.  The tensions and conflicts it explores have predominated art production for as long as it has been called modern.  Abstract/Object can be considered a performance of these tensions, presenting these concerns through a condensed, unified platform that engages their historical dimension with local and contemporary practice.

NO PEOPLE – Curatorial Statement

by Alex Wisser

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artists: Damian Dillon, Ella Dreyfus, Georgia Blackie, Georgina Koureas, Goran Tomic, Hayley Hill, jason White, Jenny Evans, Jon Reid, Kurt Sorenson, Lena Obergfell, Marcela Vilaplana, Marieka Walsh, Melissa Howe, Melissa Verschelde, Polly Thornton, Alex Papasavvas and Clare Devlin-Mahoney, Rachael Everitt, Sarah Versitano, Sue Storry, Thomas C. Chung, Yvette Hamilton, Zachary Handley-Garben

The idea for a show of pho­to­me­dia that excluded the human form came out of two related frus­tra­tions I have with this medium.  The first is the dom­i­nance of the human fig­ure within the com­mer­cial and pop­u­lar pho­to­graphic indus­try and the sec­ond is the self-congratulations with which much con­tem­po­rary the­ory and some of the art based in it reach unthink­ing, almost absolute con­clu­sions on the anthro­po­mor­phic nature of pho­to­me­dia.  The two issues are related in that the for­mer insists within a mate­r­ial eco­nomic and cul­tural con­text upon the impor­tance of the human fig­ure while the lat­ter insists within a the­o­ret­i­cal and dis­cur­sive con­text that the human fig­ure is not essen­tial as every instance of pho­to­me­dia is itself an expres­sion of anthro­po­mor­phic pro­jec­tion and con­cern.  I find myself trapped between two posi­tions, nei­ther of which ade­quately describes my own rela­tion­ship to the pho­to­graphic — a rela­tion­ship I find to be pro­foundly ambiva­lent, uncer­tain and paradoxical.

On the one side I wanted to mount a show that explored and cel­e­brated the scope of poten­tial within con­tem­po­rary pho­to­me­dia for mak­ing mean­ing in the absence of a human sub­ject and on the other hand I wanted to exam­ine the capac­ity of the pho­to­graph to sus­tain the deci­sion, desire, or will of its maker as well as to resist and defy the human motives and invest­ments that went into its mak­ing.  The ques­tion I sup­pose I am ask­ing is “How human is a pho­to­graph?”  Is it as human as a paint­ing say?  To what extent is a pho­to­graph no more than the sum of the deci­sions, invest­ments, pro­jec­tions and sub­jec­tions of the human being either mak­ing or view­ing it?  And if it is more than a trace of the will and desire of its maker or viewer, what is the nature of that “more”?  Is it any­thing so unspeak­able as the “world”, or “real­ity”, or “truth” or is it just another means of weav­ing fic­tions?  If the cam­era is not, as we have dis­cov­ered, “the pen­cil of nature”, does that auto­mat­i­cally mean that it is the pen­cil of man?

The para­dox of the pho­to­graph, and by exten­sion pho­to­me­dia at large is that the image pro­duced is ulti­mately an index, a phys­i­cal trace of sur­faces reflect­ing light in the world pro­duced through the func­tion­ing of a machine.  At the same time, this machine sits in the hands of a human being, guided by the human eye, manip­u­lated by human intel­li­gence, and finally inserted within a con­text of con­ven­tional sig­ni­fy­ing prac­tices.   Ulti­mately, the cam­era is a por­tal device, exist­ing some­where between the sub­ject and the world.  Its prod­uct is derived from both, but in what mea­sure can­not be deter­mined.  This, for me, is its essen­tial mys­tery and its tran­scen­dent value as a medium for art: it belongs to the unknow­able bor­der between our selves and the world and in rare instances can speak pow­er­fully on this rela­tion­ship, if only to make us expe­ri­ence our own inabil­ity to dis­cern one from the other, fact from fic­tion, idea from man­i­fes­ta­tion. The fact that the premise for NO PEOPLE is neg­a­tive meant that the show would hang together on what it was not rather than what it was, and left it open to a wide field of sub­mis­sions.  I attempted to rep­re­sent this scope by cre­at­ing as broad a sur­vey as pos­si­ble, includ­ing works that I felt var­i­ously sup­ported or chal­lenged the ideas behind the show.  And yet, despite the broad field, there was also a fas­ci­nat­ing cohe­sion (with notable excep­tions) to much of the work that seemed to cen­tre around the fig­ure of the house in a con­tin­uum that pro­gressed from the domes­tic, and inte­rior toward the indus­trial or urban and nat­ural exterior.

The fact is that you can’t take a pho­to­graph of a gen­er­al­ity: you can’t take a pho­to­graph of the gen­eral con­cept: house, you must take a pho­to­graph of an actual, par­tic­u­lar house (how­ever that might later become gen­er­al­ized). Most of these works are of a sin­gle city, and beyond that a sin­gle coun­try.  I like the nec­es­sary nature of this con­stric­tion because it is par­tic­u­lar to pho­to­me­dia.  No mat­ter how an artist may ren­der their work imag­i­nary, the nature of this medium means they must traf­fic with the actual, the par­tic­u­lar, the real.  While this dia­logue is to be found in all art, the index­i­cal nature of the pho­to­graphic ren­ders it par­tic­u­larly acute — dra­ma­tiz­ing the con­flict that rages between the imag­i­nary and the real and con­fronting us with our need or desire to know one from the other.  For me, to reach one con­clu­sion is the same as reach­ing the other — I much pre­fer to wit­ness the para­dox­i­cal com­merce that passes between the two sides.

I would like to thank the par­tic­i­pat­ing artists for all that they have taught me through the gen­er­ous pur­suit of their prac­tice, and for the oppor­tu­nity they have given me to indulge my obses­sions and explore the objects of my fas­ci­na­tion on a field far larger than I could pro­vide for myself.