Alex Wisser

photocentric

Tag: installation 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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Someone Else’s Here

by Alex Wisser

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“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/

BLANK CANVAS

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

The Brickworks:

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.

Identity Politics

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.

Review: Todd McMillan “No More Light” at Grantpirrie

by Alex Wisser

This review was originally published on DAS500 on June 4, 2011

If the sublime had a logo it would be the flat line of the horizon. As a graphic form it signifies that unverifiable, unreachable limit to our perception, indicating without describing ‘the beyond’ of the very means through which we apprehend it.

This is something of which Todd McMillan is obviously aware, and even if you are unfamiliar with his oeuvre, no more light, recently shown at Grantpirrie in Sydney, declares its subject unequivocally, composed as it is of four videos – three of which are dominated by horizon lines. These videos are projected onto the wall through four overhead projectors that line the middle room like squat robotic sentinels hunched in locked surveillance of their own projections. The cut corner square images are rendered hazy and sepia toned through the translation of the projectors, referencing early photography in a semiosis of romanticism and nostalgia.

These images, and the temporality they suggest, compete with the nostalgia of the slightly less antiquated technology producing them. The projectors emit their own sense of the past. Their production of virtuality, which is dependant on the far too tangible technology of textured glass and block cut sheet metal, projects the viewer into their own past to whatever bored, pained or confounded experience of high school classrooms these objects are the familiar of. The images, seen in this context, seem like reference material for the illustration of certain Romantic poets: Donne or Keats or Shelly, compounding the temporal contradiction with something more metaphysical. How could these clumsy machines produce an equivalent of the great poets of the sublime?

The answer perhaps can be found in that classroom where, without visual aids (beyond those provided by language), some underpaid public servant first confounded and bored you in an attempt to introduce you to this very same sublime. Subjected as you were (keen perhaps, or intimidated), the idea of the sublime was born: the idea of a beyond that was at once immense and humanly fulfilling, poetic and intensely meaningful. Perhaps it was no more than the beyond of the banality of that classroom: the idea that out there somewhere there existed a world capable of sustaining the states of intensity that these poems and your teacher seemed to promise but failed to deliver.

McMillan suggests that in failing to communicate the sublime, your teacher succeeded in tethering you to it: presenting it by making you present to your boredom, confusion, and distraction (i.e. everything that was not beyond). There is the suggestion that this is the experience of the sublime. Not great emotion, but an awkward silence, the banality of detail, a sense of one’s own corporeality illuminated by the indifference of the universe to it. If this seems pessimistic or disappointing, I don’t think this is the artist’s intention. His work considers the conditions under which we experience the beyond with a rigor and sincerity that insists that it is there and well worth pursuing.

The Lighter Side of Gravity

by Alex Wisser

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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.

by Alex Wisser

the consolations of science

  The Consolations of Science  explored the nexus between religion and science, looking at the capacity (and I would argue necessity) of science to absorb and engage the human need for symbolic, mystical or religious experience.  The baloons are “animated” by the rising heat of the candles that illuminate them.

Review: Joan Ross, “Enter at Your Own Risk” GBK

by Alex Wisser

Orig­i­nally pub­lished 2010-11-10 on carnivalaskew.com

Joan Ross’ “Enter at Your Own Risk” at GBK looks like the liv­ing room of a poor man’s King Midas.  The objects within it do not betray great wealth.  The room is a patch­work of styl­is­ti­cally diverse com­mod­ity cul­ture, kitsch, and cheap dec­o­ra­tive home-ware seem­ingly selected by a sen­ti­men­tal taste with a cheap sense of humor and a pen­chant for colo­nial themes.  Almost every­thing within it has received the trans­fig­ur­ing touch, not into gold but fluro or hi-vis yellow.

Per­haps this is how a poor king might live: in the fac­sim­ile of wealth, com­fort, and taste that our mod­ern com­mod­ity cul­ture has made pos­si­ble.  Such a world is informed by the poverty of its illu­sion and the cheap dis­pos­abil­ity of it’s val­ues and at the same time it is sus­tained by com­pla­cent priv­i­lege and a sense of sov­er­eign enti­tle­ment.  The aris­to­cratic cul­ture, and the his­tory of sov­er­eign colo­nial rule that informs much of this taste is degraded in sta­tion by the plebian mate­r­ial cir­cum­stances in which it finds itself expressed.  In mod­ern soci­ety, sov­er­eignty itself has become poor.

This is the world that Joan Ross presents to us by paint­ing it fluro.  The color seeps into the creases that define this world, like the stain­ing agents that doc­tors use to reveal a malig­nancy, injury or dis­ease; this color also iso­lates, lift­ing into view, a qual­ity or dimen­sion that is oth­er­wise invis­i­ble beneath the unar­tic­u­lated sur­face of the world.  What you see are the objects, lifted from the obscu­rity and indif­fer­ence that famil­iar­ity shrouds them in, and ren­dered each as unique and res­o­nant depos­i­to­ries of those val­ues and rela­tion­ships that we inci­den­tally imbue them with.
Ross pur­sues this mean­ing relent­lessly, teas­ing it with dark humour, muta­tion and muti­la­tion that com­ment upon those val­ues and the absur­dity of their vehi­cles.  Strange growth, fun­gal forms, can­cer­ous and organic, spring forth, draw­ing con­nec­tions between the trite, sen­ti­men­tal­ized kitch object and the dark his­tory of which it is the prod­uct.  She does this not to lec­ture us on the vio­lent and crim­i­nal his­tory upon which we have founded our present world, but to mar­vel in par­tially hor­ri­fied awe at the absur­dity of it.  The fact of these arti­facts is that they are how we pos­sess our past,  our most heinous crimes are ren­dered ano­dyne to dec­o­rate our liv­ing rooms and impress our friends at din­ner par­ties.  Ross’ absur­di­ties accuse our world in a satir­i­cal alle­gory that reveals itself only when you real­ize that they are redun­dant — that the objects she has made are not nearly as absurd as the objects she’s made them from.

Stones of Summer

by Alex Wisser

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Decorating Loos was a show I co-curated in June 2010.  The curatorial statement can be read here.  My own entry was the text of one of my favorite novels written over 30 balloons inflated with helium.  The artist statement carries the rest:

This work attempts to deprive the narrative of its linearity by dispersing it in three dimensional space and at the same time render its dependence on the temporality of it’s support: the helium balloons which will slowly deflate over time, condensing the text and rendering it unreadable.  Through these disruptions, the work contemplates the nature of narrative and its relationship to identity.