Alex Wisser

photocentric

Tag: installation

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 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.

Olafur Eliason took my time

by Alex Wisser

Orig­i­nally pub­lished on 2010-01-10 at Carnivalaskew.com

I went to see Ola­fur Elias­son the other day.  I’m sorry, but this is begin­ning to look like another fuck­ing art blog.  I was con­sid­er­ing writ­ing about how I ended up in the hos­pi­tal on Christ­mas day with sus­pected gall stones and a good 10 CCs of mor­phine for my trou­bles — how think­ing about the pain as I waited in the wait­ing room  before being seen made me spec­u­late about tor­ture, and how much worse my pain would be if it were expe­ri­enced in a con­text that offered me no hope of relief and no sense of con­cern from the peo­ple around me.  Later, as I con­tin­ued my spec­u­la­tions under the influ­ence of the mor­phine, which didn’t relieve me of my pain but put me at a dis­tance from it and made me a bit nau­seous, the drugs min­gled with the hor­ror of (the thought of) being tor­tured and I became fairly con­vinced that human exis­tence was a mixed bag of suf­fer­ing and futil­ity and really the Ora­cle at Del­phi had it right, if we can’t achieve that ideal of never being born, then the next best thing would be to die quickly. The next morn­ing I woke up no worse for wear and wan­dered back into the world.

But then I decided I really didn’t want you to know that much about me, so I thought I’d write about Ola­fur Elias­son instead.

Of course we can see why this show is here. Other than the bril­liant rep­u­ta­tion of the artist and his art, it is an obvi­ous choice after the block­buster suc­cess of Yayoi Kusama’s “Mir­rored Years”, fol­low­ing which we can safely assume that large scale immer­sive envi­ron­men­tal instal­la­tion reliant on high con­cept opti­cal effects would be all the rage, and a damn safe bet for the insti­tu­tion pay­ing for it.  Well it was a safe bet, wasn’t it?  And I have no doubt the show was a com­plete suc­cess, mostly because what I’ve just described can apply as nicely to a trav­el­ing carni or a block­buster movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the car­ni­val; its where I go for my large scale immer­sive envi­ron­men­tal instal­la­tion reliant on high con­cept opti­cal affects, kicks — but it was just a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing in the MCA.  I mean, where was the smell of horse shit?  Oh… its con­cep­tual…  Sorry, I didn’t mean that.  I like con­cep­tual, and frankly that was one of the reason’s for my dis­ap­point­ment.  I couldn’t find much thought in what I was expe­ri­enc­ing — beyond the tech­ni­cal bril­liance, and inno­v­a­tive imag­i­na­tion that informed the entire bag of tricks, I found myself wan­der­ing from room to room, open­ing my mouth in a big O and say­ing “oooo” and then walk­ing out with­out think­ing any­thing much.  In fact, the over­all impres­sion I came away from the show with was a sense that I had just vis­ited a trade fair for con­tem­po­rary artists.  Every­thing had the sense of being pro­to­typ­i­cal, and on dis­play not for its own sake, but as a poten­tial that some­one who actu­ally had some­thing to say might pick up and use one day.  In con­trast, for instance, Kusama’s mir­rored rooms had the same tech­ni­cal bril­liance, but the effects achieved were employed toward gen­er­at­ing mean­ing — ie, an image of the infi­nite that was at exactly the same time a cheap and obvi­ous trick with faery lights.  I loved Eliasson’s yel­low room, it was incred­i­ble to see peo­ple stand­ing within it turn mono­chrome.  But after I mar­veled at what my eye is hard wired to expe­ri­ence, I turned and walked on to the next dis­trac­tion.  Another of Eliasson’s works which could have worked for me, a spotlit water­fall room, which was ele­giac in its sim­plic­ity and at least had about it that com­ment we can draw from what would oth­er­wise have been a com­mon expe­ri­ence, had been ruined by my expe­ri­ence of nearly the same work in Pri­mav­era by the Aus­tralian artist Michaela Gleave which was so sin­cere in its min­i­mal­is­tic aus­ter­ity, in the hon­est poverty of its means that it made Eliasson’s work seem slick and bur­dened by its high pro­duc­tion val­ues, remind­ing me of some bad expe­ri­ences I’ve had in front of a Bill Viola or two.  As I walked away, my brain hum­ming from the sen­sory stim­uli over­load, I couldn’t really fault the artist.  They weren’t great works in my opin­ion, but cer­tainly they did what the brochure adver­tised, and some of them were fas­ci­nat­ing enough to war­rant blow­ing 15 bucks.  Hell, I’d do that for a block­buster movie when all I want is to sub­ject myself to … oh, don’t make me say it again… but when I come to the MCA I want to be made and chal­lenged to think, not just stim­u­lated and tit­il­lated.   What really ruined the show for me was the inescapable sense of trans­par­ent cal­cu­la­tion behind it, the lin­ger­ing sus­pi­cion that this was an attempt to cash in on a for­mula.  I was going to say that thank­fully for­mu­las don’t work quite as well in the art world as they do in Hol­ly­wood, but that would have been a stu­pid thing to say.