Writing

Helle Cook – Notion of Home

—Betwixt and Between—

In general understanding, the term ‘liminal’ refers to the ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual. It is a term for the threshold between the way one previously structured their identity, time, and community, and a new way once the ritual completes. In contemporary sociology, the term liminality has become used as “a prism through which to understand transformations in the contemporary world”[1]. It captures in-between situations and conditions characterised by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty about the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.

It is clear that migration is, in part, a liminal experience: a dreamlike state of cultural transformation and disruption. The liminal stage is arguably one of the most dynamic and challenging conditions of the migration process, and the concept of liminality is being re-introduced and re-contextualised as foundational in understanding cultural shifts within expanding globalisation.[2]

In Notion of Home, Helle Cook uses painting processes to investigate this intermediate period of her migration from Denmark to Australia. Her practice demonstrates liminality in migration to be a temporal state which fluctuates and slowly fades, but never entirely resolves. As with Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, the fluidity in these works depicts time as non-linear; rather, they present experiences and issues that come with remembering them: questions of perception, memory and identity. In this way, her work typifies the sensation of leaving home, and the grapple with memory that follows… as time is rendered fluid, memories become ambiguous, unstructured, and have connections drawn between them in hindsight.

The laws of gravity and logic also do not apply in such transitional works. Shifting between abstraction and figuration, they gauge the sudden interruption, existential unease, and the disorientation of the migration process through the subtle transmission of codes, symbols and structures with uncertain outcomes. This cultural translation of meaning is described as occurring in a “Third Space” in influential theories by Homi Bhabha. Third Space is a course of interpretation in which cultural symbols are not attached to their origins, and so can be appropriated, re-historicised and read anew. Meaning is unfixed. He states: “we should remember that it is the ‘inter’ – the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the inbetween space – that carries the burden of the meaning of culture.”[3]

As such, through allowing the painting medium agency in the process, Cook takes on a slow and intuitive method where the works can drive their own progress without a predetermined outcome; she allows for this Third Space. One is reminded of the surrealists, who sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind by the irrational juxtaposition of images and symbols. Bringing with her cultural concepts of hygge, she creates sanctuary to explore this space through the process of creating an image. Similarly, considered design aesthetics, something that Cook views as integral to being Danish, are set against ‘chance’. It is evidently a therapeutic approach; a means of self-exploration- one can see landscapes, creatures, cultural objects and design, with pathways, like neurones, making connections both within the painting and in dialogue with others around. It is an investigative process, and though the works are somewhat resolved pictorially, they remain unresolved in their intention.

This curiosity in the unconscious can be read in the work, but also invites the viewer. The result of such works is that they are emphatically non-prescriptive and evocative. By placing the viewer in a surreal space, one allows them to make their own connections and interpretations, taking into consideration the way “unresolved” or “undetermined” elements can create potential for new relationships to be formed. Perhaps the viewer has also experienced liminality; are they an outsider?

The dissolution of order during liminality creates a malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. Leaving spaces for contradiction, hybridity, fluidity and transition are fundamental in understanding the sensations of migration. In the experience, one does not find themselves splitting the world into neat binaries, but find themselves in an in-between state, the remainder, or the dream, that is essential in constructing culture in an increasingly globalised condition.

Written by Marisa Georgiou

—–

Essay written for the exhibition ‘Notion of Home’ by Helle Cook @ QCA Project Gallery, Southbank, Brisbane, April 2017.

[1]  2015, BREAKING BOUNDARIES; Varieties of Liminality, Ed. Horvath, A, Thomassen, B, Wydra, H, Berghan Books, Oxford, p1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] 1994, Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture, Routledge, p56.

Robert Andrew: Our mutable histories

Entering into Robert Andrew’s exhibition “Our mutable histories” at Museum of Brisbane, I am immediately confronted with a warping mechanical sound. This is coming from Andrew’s most recent work, “Data Stratification.”

Combining the sleek aesthetic of modern technology with natural materials, Andrew has developed a number of kinetic installations which speak of his Indigenous Australian history. Having descended from the Yawuru people of the Rubibi (Broome) area West Kimberley in Western Australia, Andrew generates work which questions the broader context of European colonisation in a way which is commanding and yet somewhat subtle.

Commissioned and meticulously built for the space, the work is comprised of a small TV screen displaying a definition of a Yawuru word with its English translation. I read the word “Buru Jara” with its English translation “Me and Your Land, World”.

My eyes can’t help but feel transfixed by the mechanical component of the work which moves hypnotically like an ouija board. The machine works within a Cartesian system relying on the text displayed on screen to generate a programmed movement responsible for the puppet mastery of materials.

Each string in the mechanical grid threads up along the ceiling to correlate with four rows of natural materials. The materials consist of small irregular grey rock; shards of mother of pearl tied in a tight bunch; rigid tile shaped rocks rubbed with ochres and natural pigments; and small chunks of charcoal branches dipped in a red ochre.

I am taken with the slow movements of the materials. I watch the strings draw and ease out tension which orchestrates an ever-changing choreographed dance, layering shadows and shapes in a way which is completely captivating.

I sit and contemplate Andrew’s selection of materials and I take in this concept of Buru Jara.

The use of text and language plays an important role within Andrew’s practice as a tool for critiquing colonisation.  Through this work, Andrew is educating the audience on a vocabulary that most Australian’s are not aware of. By using text within his art practice, Andrew reclaims a medium which has dominated cross cultural interaction within the process of colonisation and brings to light the significance of Indigenous language by acknowledging words that have become lost in their English translations.

What gives this work its strength is its ability to communicate the richness and connection that is lacking in text through the authority and communicative dimension of materials.  Instead of show casing these objects in a traditional glass case museum context, Andrew gives these objects the performative power to tell their own history, responding to the coded movement of each Indigenous phrase or word.

This shift in authority speaks heavily to past misrepresentation of Indigenous history within Museum culture. Bordering on an institutional critique, Andrew presents these objects from an Indigenous perspective. Through the hypnotic and gradual movement, Andrew provides the audience with space to contemplate the significance and history of these materials belonging to a culture rich in a connection to place and land.

It should also be noted the striking juxtaposition of combining traditional and earthly materials with the modernity of 21st Century technology. Andrew utilises this combination of old and new in relation to his own mixed heritage, generating a new way in which to approach cross cultural connection.

This is also evident on the far wall, another sound spits and spatters like a sprinkler starting up, rapidly delivering a message in a morse code like fashion. This work, “Ground Up”, is another mechanical installation which sees large white panels covered in chalk beginning to reveal their secrets.

Andrew has designed this work to play upon the tension of revealed and concealed histories. Timing on a palmisphet system, the machine squirts small sprays of water which in turn, wet the chalk background and reveal text written in natural ochres.

The machine appears to pick a spot at random, changing from high to low and only reveals a few small splotches at a time. Each sprayed section mimics the effect of wood weevils, dribbling and scribbling into the background.

At my time of viewing, only a few letters are revealed and I imagine being able to read more as time progresses, adding incentive to come back and experience this work again.

The tension between revealing and concealing weaves through Andrew’s body of work as a crucial process and conceptual concern most effectively achieved through this kinetic process. The work also relies on time as a key element to its durational aspect, slowly introducing the audience to a seriousness at the core of Andrew’s practice.

The last installation, “White Wash Over The Burn”, is a static sculptural assemblage on the wall. This piece stands to anchor the movement of the kinetic installations, reiterating the personal connection Andrew has to investigating his own cultural identity.

The use of his own fence palings conjures up the great Australian dream to own a house.  Andrew contrasts this aspirational concept by burning words exchanged between the artist and his grandmother into the white washed palings.

The patina reflects layers of history revealing the wooden origins of the fence, kindling thoughts of the land and connections to place. Through the process of burning, Andrew makes us think about our past and the pain of genocide, displacement and disregard experienced as part of our colonial history.

This piece particularly echoes the silenced and white washed history that is only just beginning to be heard and acknowledged. The quiet authority of the exhibition reflects within the title “Our mutable histories” as Andrew challenges through the communicative power of materials, mechanical revealing processes and text, the story of our collective Australian and personal histories.

Written by Ally McKay

References:

Museum Of Brisbane, 2017. Robert Andrew: Our mutable histories, accessed 21/03/2017

Robert Andrew, 2015. Recalibrating Country, accessed 20/03/2017

Image: Installation view, Robert Andrew, Our mutable histories, Photograph Carl Warner.

Essay written for the exhibition Robert Andrew: Our mutable histories′ showing at Museum of Brisbane (3rd March – 16th July, 2017).

Sit. Pose. Snap. Exhibition Review

Sit. Pose. Snap. at Museum of Brisbane is an exhibition curated by Philip Manning consisting of photographs from the extensive collection of Marcel Safier, amassed over nearly four decades. Considering the enormity of the collection, some 40,000 images, the exhibition represents a relatively small scope, predominantly consisting of studio images made in Brisbane from 1850-1950. Displayed in a dynamically partitioned gallery space, the images, framed and matted thematically, explore the progression from particular 19th century Brisbane photographic studios and their outputs to more informal group shots and images outdoors, permitted by the availability, cost and physical practicality of the cameras that created them. The context of the exhibition illustrated a linear progression from exclusivity of the medium to a more democratic availability, and yet an almost full cycle in terms of the prominence of post production.

Despite its indexicality, even from the beginning photography could not be trusted to represent ‘the truth’. Representing and disseminating the truth has been adopted as a code of conduct in areas such as photojournalism, but is not inherently embedded in the medium 2. Both subtle and obvious choices by the photographer and the subject(s) including lighting, composition, choice of garments and pose all contribute to the final image being a constructed ‘version’ of reality. With this in mind, photography can be understood not as the ‘truth’ but as a ‘limit’ of time and vision 3. Far from the ethical considerations of photojournalism, however, the subjects of these early portrait images instead merely desired to present the best version of themselves. In exchange for a handsome fee, photography studios would do all that they could to idealise the subjects, whose image increasingly could be sent to friends and family members by mail. The time period outside the scope of the exhibition, 1950 – present, is a period where photography became accessible and readily available, therefore largely bypassing postproduction. It is only recently with the filters and effects of Snapchat and Instagram that postproduction is now widely used again. The main difference is that rather than being edited by a professional, choices of retouching are now made by the subject, who is also the author.

Several images in the exhibition clearly demonstrate photography’s ability to augment reality such as a small ‘ghost’ image and as Philip Manning, curator of the exhibition points out in one of his favourite images, the addition of snow in post production to a woman’s portrait. It is unknown why the snow was added to the image, perhaps a longing for a previous country of residence, although it is exactly this mystery that gives the image its magic and charm.  The novelty of such effects have persisted over the decades, manifesting in images posed with humorous face cut-outs, CGI images at tourist attractions to more recent Snapchat effects which respond to the users facial features and movements, transforming them into various animals and characters.

While moments of humour and novelty punctuate the exhibition, the overall tone of the show is one of nostalgia. This is not only due to the serious expressions of those it captures (due to long expose times, smiles were too risky) but also due to photography’s position as an updated version of the Dutch still life tradition, memento mori. Due to its indexicality, photography (more literally than painting) captures images of time passing. The nostalgic nature of photography has been most extensively explored by French critical theorist Roland Barthes (1915-1980), who noted that even photography itself is temporal, with creases, fading and yellowing representing the images finite lifespan 1.

Another contribution of Barthes’s which manifests in Sit.Pose.Snap. is his formulation of the studium and the punctum. According to Barthes, the studium is a cultural, general and polite interest one has in a photograph, such as the appearance of sitter or the details of the location etc. The punctum is a more intense, subjective interest in an image, a moment which fascinates a viewer without particularly knowing how or why. He states, “a “detail” attracts me. I feel that its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value”1. Navigating the visually eclectic exhibition, these punctum emerge over a period of slow and consistent looking and reading. Subsequent visits are further rewarded, and magnifying sheets provided by the museum bring one closer to small, often strange details of the carte de visites.

Sit.Pose.Snap. is a fascinating survey of a distant century of Brisbane studio photography. What the exhibition illustrates is how some aspects of photography have changed forever (its technology), how some aspects have never changed (the desire to present the best version of oneself) and how some aspects have only recently completed a full loop (the prominence of post production). At a time where photography is visible to the point of invisibility, Sit.Pose.Snap. offers a quiet and informative moment of reflection.

Written by Aaron Butt

1 Barthes, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Canada: Harper Collins Canada Ltd.

2 Grundberg, Andy. 2012. “The Look of Truth.” Art in America 1 (3): 67–70.

3 Sentilles, Sarah. 2014. “The Photograph Not as Proof but as Limit” In Ethics and the Arts, edited by Paul Macneill, 47-56. London and New York: Springer.

Image: Two Salvation Army girls Thomas Mathewson  Co. Postcard, 1910 -1915, courtesy of Marcel Safier’s collection.

Essay written for the exhibition ‘Sit. Pose. Snap. Brisbane Portrait Photography 1850 – 1950′ showing at Museum of Brisbane (24th March – 30th July, 2017).

The Expansive Temporality of the Duplicated Rock: a Review of Tremor of Form.

Helga Groves’ solo exhibition Tremor of Form, held at Woolloongabba’s Milani Gallery, consists of artworks which represent geological or cosmic objects whose timelines verge on the incomprehensible. These include minerals and stones which form underground over thousands, if not millions, of years, or meteorites whose genesis, trajectory, crash landing, and human rediscovery cover similarly immense temporal distances. Such natural items and developments belie a quantifiable classification, for dates and numbers do not adequately represent their vast timelines.

Formally, many of Groves’ artworks are founded on duplication, on the juxtaposed reflections and doublings of representations of fallen meteorites, cross-sections of underground rock, and commonly overlooked stones. The multiple repetitions or re-representations (the re-presentation of an image as a completely new object within an artwork) which are the result of these duplications allow Groves to obfuscate the appearance of her artworks’ source materials. The visual specificities of particular stones or meteorites remain unknowable within the context of the exhibition. Groves’ works hence construct an aesthetic distance between the viewer and these original objects, layering representation with representation as a way of continuously reimagining geological and cosmic items.

This not only obscures the appearance of particular objects, but reflects the unknowability of the temporalities such items signify. That is, the aesthetic layers Groves crafts parallels the layers of time that define geological and cosmic temporalities. Within the exhibition, the aesthetic distance of the viewer from the represented object reflects the immense temporal distance of the represented objects’ timelines. Unimaginable temporalities are glimpsed, and they can only be glimpsed because of their vastness, through the imaginative reconsidering of their material signifiers.

One of the first pieces in the exhibition is Pages of a building, 2016. Groves combines two images to create a grid out of twenty square sheets of watercolour paper. The work is composed of wavering lines and forms made out of cut-outs of an archival pigment print (from a photograph taken by Groves) of Manhattan schist, the rock which underlies the eponymous island.[1] The form of the image is that of another photograph taken by Groves, one of the distorted reflections of a New York building.

The representation that is the print of the rock is re-represented as light and the scrambled reflection which might be found when a building is mirrored in a body of water or on the exterior of another building. This act of transmutation emphasises the organicity of rock and its existence within, and as a part of, the same natural processes as natural light.

The layering that takes place when light is represented by representations of schist, and both are then used to represent the reflection of the anthropological building, constructs an aesthetic distance between the viewer and the original schist, distorted light, and actual building. And this distance is larger than would be accomplished through a singular photograph or simpler representation such as a traditional painting. This visual relationship parallels the vast temporalities which the aforementioned natural elements exist within, the strata of decades, centuries, and millennia that define their immense natural lifespans.

The next work in the exhibition is the eponymous Tremor of Form, 2016, a series of five linen panels. Here, Groves again takes inspiration from an American location, King’s Canyon Fold in California.[2] The work’s foreground is made up of fine lines of purple ink which fluidly reinterpret some of the canyon’s rocky surface patterns. Such forms are molded by the glacial folding and movement of layers of underground rock, subterranean strata which are represented by the work’s background bands of iridescent oil paint.

Tremor of Form collapses spatial distance as both the underground strata and the rocky surface patterns are simultaneously visible. But the axis of connection between these two elements has been twisted. The surface is laid over a cross-section of its geological foundations whereas it is actually the uppermost layer of these iridescent bands. Space has been reimagined with the reorientation of these two features.

The end product (the surface patterns) is hence visually divorced from its foundational processes (the folding underground strata). They exist independently of one another, no longer connected or related within the image. The work’s thin and meandering purple lines reimagine the form of the canyon’s surface while visually differentiating it from the earthier tones of the geometric blocks of underpinning rock.

Within Tremor of Form, the immense temporal distance that defines the forming and eventual surfacing of the canyon’s visible crust is reflected in the distance this surface now has from these very processes. The vast timeline, one that extends over millennia, which delimits the rocky surface’s tectonic creation is virtually incomprehensible. The unknowable immensity of this development is reflected in the aesthetic gap between the image’s foreground and background. Both are predicated on incompleteness. Just as a complete understanding of a glacially slow timeline is difficult to acquire, the rocky surface is broken-up and rendered incomplete in its disconnection from its formational strata. Over the course of five canvases there is the repetition of the emptying out of the rocky surface’s temporal background.

Crustal/fold #1 and #2, 2016, are the first works in the show that utilize three-dimensional elements. Groves collages three archival pigment prints in these pieces, those of Manhattan schist, the surface of the Williamette Meteorite (discussed in detail in relation to the exhibition’s next work), and iron magnetite and red jasper. Through the latter terrane object Groves references the period 2400 million years ago when oxygen was first generated on the earth. Visual traces of this process are found in these deposits.[3]

Like Pages, prints of rock are here not just represented as themselves in the image, but are re-represented as constitutive elements of sculptural structures. The prints are folded into small square based quasi-envelopes that each have four triangular appendages. The surface of each Crustal/fold is made up of forty-eight of these objects. The envelopes are only half open, their square bases partially concealed by their four coverings.

There is often a complete change in colour and pattern as the eye traverses the works. The edge of a cut-up print meets another completely different image, a contrasting visual element, every few centimetres. These proximate and incessant juxtapositions create a vibrating visual field (a tremor of form, perhaps). The eye never settles on a particular part of the works as there are too many instances of visual collision.

Simultaneously, there are the continuous meetings of the divergent temporal concept each print signifies. Through the physical folding of their signifiers, the works’ multiple temporalities are conceptually layered over one another. There is the combination of cosmic time (the trajectory of a meteorite), a singular and archaic event in the earth’s development, and the tectonic movement of Manhattan schist. The way times are layered over and over one another within the work reflects the immense layers of time that define each individual concept.

The final works in Milani’s downstairs gallery, Deliquescence #1#6, 2016, do not consider the ultra-terrestrial subject matter of previous works but represent an extra-terrestrial object. The works fluidly reimagine the surface of the Williamette Meteorite. This cosmic rock was re-discovered by Anglo-Americans in Oregon in 1902.

Groves’ works are a collection of six panels which are divided into three diptychs. Each diptych presents an image and its flipped reflection. Copper ink has here been mixed with shellac to create two luminescent colours, a red and a blue, which are drawn on the top of a silver pearlescent archival velum.

Not only is the original meteorite’s surface known through the three diptychs, but each representation of the meteorite is known through its mirrored re-representation. Each component of each diptych is both an original and a copy, as there are no visual clues which dictate which part came first and which was second. The viewer’s eye charts the flipping and reflecting within each work and registers a new focal point and refreshed relationship between identical pictorial elements.

The re-representing of each diptych’s visual elements parallels the relationship between the human spectator and the non-anthropological time of the meteorite. Just as this cosmic object’s origin, trajectory, and crash landing are all ambiguous and unrecorded events, there is a desire in each Deliquescence to never provide the viewer with a strict reading of the meteorite’s surface. The reimagining of this object parallels the necessarily imaginative consideration of the object’s journey through space and time.

Situated in the upstairs level of Milani Gallery, Fallen star, 2016, also takes the extra-terrestrial as its source material. Groves here depicts the Esquel Meteorite, which was found in Esquel, Argentina in 1951. The work consists of two mirrored representations of the meteorite. Each one is made up of three Perspex sheets. A white, orange, and red layer are here arranged in two different configurations. With a laser cutter, Groves carves lacunae into the orange and white sheets. These shapes align and create deeper fissures in the works.

The red bottom layer on the right-hand side becomes the top layer on the left-hand side. The left-hand work does not have any punctures in its surface, the internal area of the red Perspex unmarked by the laser cutter. Though, the textured surface created by the layering of the orange and white is visible beneath this red lens.

Fallen star hence hides part of itself from the viewer by using a component of itself. The work blurs its own visual definition through the re-layering of its constitutive elements. It never fully exposes its most luminescent layer, the orange. Obfuscation is a latent property of the artwork. And this self-concealment conceptually parallels the meteorite’s temporal unknowability. Just as its cosmic timeline, and the accompanying temporal distances, remain incomprehensible and unknowable to the human spectator, so too does a complete picture of Fallen star because of its reflection, re-layering, and re-representation.

Situated nearby is Optical Terrane, 2015, a lone heptagon which interprets the appearance of lichen on a rocky surface in Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria.[4] The work’s background is an orange monochrome, representing the rock on which the organic lichen exists. Meandering, luminescent lines of turquoise and blue represent the lichen.

As a component of an earlier body of work, Optical strongly relates to the conceptual and formal relationships experimented with by the more recent works in Tremor. The work equates the visual value of organic lichen with the rocky surface patterns of King’s Canyon or the mottled surface of the Williamette Meteorite. All of these works’ similarly use meandering and interconnected lines to represent strikingly different objects. By repeatedly using similar linear forms in completely different ways (such as with different materials or configurations), as representations of different objects, and through visually divergent artworks, Groves encodes vast expanses of natural time through a unifying trait of her visual style.

The final works in the exhibition are Erratic line #1 #3, 2017. Each work is a lightbox that contains a collection of resin moulds of stones from New York’s Central Park. Each lightbox houses ten copies of a different stone. The rocks are paired with their reflected selves. The original stones are mementos of time Groves spent in New York’s Central Park.[5] The sterile environment of the lightbox decontextualizes these stones, divorces them from their original setting in the park. They appear untouched, an intact and preserved memento of a different, past time.

Groves re-represents and re-reflects these small stones over and over again. If the original rock is tied to the recollection of a distinct memory, then memory is not framed as a singularity. Instead, there is a conceptual acknowledgement within the works of memory as a series of recollections after the event’s original occurrence. By being re-mirrored, the stones continuously attempt to recall their original place in the park.

But, such copies and re-copies are never completely their original selves. They remain separate from their original context within the isolated environment of the lightbox and are made from materials divergent from their original minerals. That is, the rocks in the Erratic Line works do not act as a complete and undisturbed memento. The lightbox, the resin and the duplications, these artifices of the artwork, always separate the three different rocks from their original space. The stones in Erratic are hence memories of their original selves, memories of mementos, and accomplish a temporal layering and re-layering which represents the temporal distance between an original moment and its recollection. In doing so, human time is framed in a way similar to how geological or cosmic time is defined in Tremor. All are contingent on imaginative projection, an acknowledgement that something is always missing in time.

Art-history and geology endlessly meet as the viewer wades through strata of time throughout Tremor of Form. Groves takes the (seemingly) visually impenetrable stone or meteorite and instigates a complex negotiation with temporality. Time is visually read on surfaces that are not clocks or calendars, and is hence defined by a suite of objects outside those which ordinarily act as markers of time. And just like Groves’ works, this visual time is not clear, linear, or demarcated, but, fluid, layered, and imaginative.

Written by Simon Brigden

[1] Ingrid Perez, “Tremor of Form,” Milani Gallery, accessed March 27, 2017, (Link)

[2] Perez, “Tremor of Form.”

[3] Perez, “Tremor of Form.”

[4] Jane O’Neill, “Helga Groves: Optical Terrane,” Helga Groves, published July 2015, (Link)

[5] Perez, “Tremor of Form.”

Essay written for the exhibition ‘Tremor of Form’ by Helga Groves. 11th February – 4th March 2017. Milani Gallery, Woolloongabba.

Less Than: Art and Reductionism

“Less is more”, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s oft-quoted and appropriately sparse mantra goes. In contemporary art practice especially, it seems that sophistication is the result of simplicity. The current exhibition at QUT Art Museum Less Than: Art and Reductionism primarily explores art made from 1960 that takes a visually reductive approach to image making, although what is it that these artists have removed, and for what reason(s)?

The exhibition consists of four distinct focuses over four rooms. The first room consists of monochromatic objects, many consisting of or arranged in a grid and made using materials designed for commercial purposes. An appropriate introduction to the exhibition is Ian Burn’s Systematically altered photographs (1968), tourist images copied until they have become degraded simulacra of the ‘originals’ above. In this section the characters of a sobering economics equation are at first sight abstracted and yet given objecthood in Daniel McKewen’s Kafka on the shore (2014), whereas Alex Seton’s Contempra (White) (2006) and Sam Cranstoun’s Proposal for long term sustainability; Plano, II (2012) allude to something larger than the objects themselves.

The second and largest space is filled with colour, and more so than other sections presents works that suggest infinite iterations. Peter Atkins’s Hume Highway Project (2010) consists of 12 colour screen prints which allude to the form of roadside signs and suggest endless variations, as does Gemma Smith’s Boulder #3 (2009), a non-symmetrical geometric object made from triangles of acrylic varying in shape, size and colour.

The third section consists of works that employ earthly colours or materials. Immediately greeting viewers is Rosalie Gascoigne’s Grassfest (1999), slivers of wooden soft drink crates arranged on a square base followed by Rover Thomas’s rich and solid Cyclone Tracy (1996) painted with coloured ochre. Where artists in other sections of the exhibition have used refined materials to produce reductionist works, in this section the reductionism is doubled with many objects made with unrefined materials directly from nature.

In a full loop, the final room returns to monochromatic objects, some gestural and others geometric. Most striking in their simplicity were Christian Capurro’s Breathfalls #1-5 (2011), consisting of varnish and correction fluid on polycarbonate discs. The combined materials seem to mix and disperse however they like, resulting in strange celestial forms in dark portholes.

I return to my question of what the artists have removed and for what reason(s). The scope of the exhibition, 1960 onwards, encompasses a number of movements that have been pivotal in the direction of contemporary art practice such as minimalism and conceptual art, as well as representing a turbulent socio-political section of time not far from collective memory. One of the necessary processes of reductionism is the disavowal of socio-political content, at least visually. As opposed to consisting of only explicitly socially relevant art, and works being used as ‘artefacts’ of historical events (which some institutions seem to do, narrowing the reception and subsequent scholar), the reductionist art in Less Than documents artists’ ongoing commitment to aesthetics and, according to Kant, the subsequent necessity of indirection to maintain a position of moral disengagement. Yet far from being completely detached from the events of the time, the dates and titles of some works have become highly charged, and it was not impossible to imagine the images the artists were turning away from, choosing not to represent or instead represent through indirection. As W.J.T. Mitchell states, “prohibit something from being shown, hide it away from view and its power as a concealed image outstrips anything that could have been achieved by being shown.” 1 However personal, self referential or resistant to narrativisation, the almost empty picture planes of some works from turbulent moments in recent history, in part, operated in this way.

Nevertheless, what was overwhelmingly conscious experiencing these reductionist works was the role that the didactics played in revealing and withholding information about them. Some works were given short paragraphs containing information that I felt that I should be aware of (both to engage with the work and in general, particularly Daniel McKewen’s Kafka on the shore (2014)). Other didactics contained only the usual objective details; artist, year, title, date, materials. Particularly unencumbered was Trevor Vickers’s Untitled (2003), which deliberately resists any reading outside of its physical properties and presence in space. The result was an irresolvable curiosity of what the works without didactic paragraph were concerned with (that is, if anything outside of themselves) and reinforced that reductive art’s visual opacity gives both artists and curators more agency over the information that a work of art conceals or reveals, as opposed to less reductive and more didactic approaches such as social realism. By foregoing easily identified intentionality as well as familiar symbols and signifiers, not only can artists explore their ideas in private and create works with greater curatorial flexibility, but also create a void of meaning which is filled with the subjectivities of whoever is looking, exponentially increasing the ways in which the work may be engaged with, both cognitively and affectively. In other words, less really can be more.

Written by Aaron Butt

1 Mitchell, W.J.T. 2011. “The Unspeakable And The Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror” In September 11, edited by Peter Eleey, 168-189. New York: MOMA PS1.

Image: Daniel MCKEWEN – Kafka on the shore, 2014. Gypsum and acrylic polymer. 

Essay written for the exhibition ‘Less Than: Art and Reductionism’ at QUT Art Museum (18th March – 21st May).

Connection through Difference: A Review of Folds of Belonging

Folds of Belonging, curated by Tess Maunder, is an exhibition of lightbox images in Brisbane’s CBD. It runs concurrently with the BrisAsia Festival (27th January – 19th February, 2017), and features works by both emerging and established artists from Asia: Fahd Burki (Pakistan), Motoyuki Daifu (Japan), Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thailand/USA), Shilpa Gupta (India), and Slavs and Tatars (Eurasia). Maunder has curated an exhibition that investigates the terms on which diasporic cultural groups from Asia find a place in the social fabric of Brisbane. The artworks in Folds instigate exercises in social connection and cultural inclusivity in order to nurture a sense of belonging within the Western city.

The exhibition is hence founded on visual cross-cultural communication. The works of culturally disparate artists engage in a dialogue with diverse public audiences. By acknowledging the cross-cultural nature of the exhibition, belonging in Folds can be predicated on the acknowledgment and appreciation of cultural difference. Belonging is precisely to not just feel a part of a larger whole such as the city, or to acknowledge the many similarities between different communities within Brisbane’s community. Belonging is the act of acknowledging the self as existing alongside other cultures and selves while inhabiting the homogenous cityscape. It is necessary to ask what kind of belonging is argued for by the exhibition, and whether it is equitable within the power dynamics of the Western culture of Australia.

In Eagle Lane, a diptych depicting a single Shilpa Gupta photograph is placed near a triptych by Rirkrit Tiravanija. Gupta’s Untitled Don’t See Don’t Hear Don’t Speak, 2006, depicts four children acting out the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” They are arranged in a tiered formation, rising into the background of the photograph. Each child covers the eyes, ears, or mouth of another, except the girl at the front.

The children appear sombre, any playfulness connoted by the proverbial game undercut by their firm hands and sideways glances. The tension and determination contained on the face of the young boy on the photograph’s left-hand side reverberates throughout the image as its only unobstructed facial expression. It is a focal point and a key to interpreting the body language of those around him.

There is a physical connection between the participants accomplished through the intruding hands. The children are corporeally linked, a haptic connection with one another accomplished by incapacitating acts. Linkage is hence founded on the disabling of a sense. Disconnection underlies connection. The children are unable to equitably engage with those they are connected to, and at the same handicap one another.

The work questions on what terms connection takes place. It does not belong in Folds because it stops short of representing or creating a sense of belonging. Gupta problematises the idea of interconnectivity. If belonging is founded on a connection between different individuals and cultural groups, then it is necessary to ask what kind of connections are taking place. Untitled invites the viewer to critique the way interpersonal and cross-cultural connections are advocated for by the works in Folds. The type of connection defines the sense of belonging, how power is transmitted between different entities, and if cross-cultural engagement is equitable. This probing then of course makes it a part of the exhibition, an antithesis within the dialectic of Folds.

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s triptych untitled 2016 (folds of belonging, do we dream under the same sky), 2016, is the reimagining of one of the artist’s earlier works.[1] With three lightboxes, he represents the eponymous question in English, Vietnamese, and Chinese Mandarin. The latter two languages are the two most spoken in Brisbane outside English.[2]

Tiravanija’s work, and not just its title, is emblematic of the exhibition’s aim to foster a sense of belonging amongst different cultural groups. The artist asks a simple and immediately answerable question: “Yes, we do dream under the same sky.” And as a question rather than a statement, the work is not an assertion of inclusivity but an invitation to formulate cross-cultural connections. In answering the question, the beholders engage with the points of difference represented by the three languages. Although they may only reply in one of the languages, viewers are responding to all three of the panels at once. They establish a linguistic connection with disparate cultures. Though, this is only a partial connection. Many viewers of the work will only be able to respond in a single language.

A sense of belonging, an equitable coexistence, amongst multiple cultures is established by the willingness of the work to engage with them on their own terms in their languages. Do we dream treats cultures and languages as equals. Although the physical space in which Tiravanija’s work exists, Brisbane city, is one in which English is the dominant language, he short circuits this dominance by representing each language as an equal component of the work.

But do we dream takes as its basis something so broad, the atmospheric phenomenon of the sky, that the resulting connectedness is too general. It does not allow for a meaningful or productive linkage between communities. An expanded answer to the question could be “Yes, we do dream under the same sky. So what?” Invoking the whimsical concepts of dreams and the sky aestheticises this generalisation, but does not define the precise process through which to foster belonging. As Gupta’s work established, connections are fraught and complex, and Tiravanija’s work only partly accomplishes a meaningful sense of cross-cultural belonging.

The next closest work is Fahd Burki’s Hyperreal, 2016, in Hutton Lane. A newly commissioned work, it is a collection of eight lightboxes of varying dimensions representing abstract images. Burki here toys with geometric forms and constructs regimental cross-sections of colour. The images appear pixelated and blurry, replicating the look of an extremely zoomed in section of a picture or an out of focus photograph. Each band of colour is defined by a light central section which gradates into gradually darker tones toward its boundaries. Some lightboxes play off their physical connectedness. The image second from right duplicates the path of the power chord that links it to its neighbouring pictures.

Like any abstract work, Hyperreal instigates a process of diverse meaning creation. The work invites various readings, yet at the same time the viewer cannot decide which one seems more correct.[3] It could be read allegorically, literally, or as an abstract artwork that comments on the similarly abstract cityscape.

As a newly commissioned piece, Burki’s work was created with the space of a Western city in mind. Simultaneously, it is informed by Burki’s artistic education in both Pakistan and London.[4] To look at this work is to be invited into a dialogue with not only Western concepts of modernism, but concurrent Pakistani and South-Asian ones too. The work does not define, reduce, or simplify what constitutes these latter traditions. It acts as a gateway to multiple, culturally contingent readings alongside the various pre-existing readings of abstraction grounded in Western aesthetics. Hyperreal engages with two artistic traditions at once, and advocates for a belonging which embraces duality, fluidity, and the unknown.

The nearby King George Square Carpark houses Motoyuki Daifu’s Still Life series, 2013. The installation comprises eight lightboxes which sit at eye height and follow the downward slant of an access ramp. The photographs are close-ups of Daifu’s kitchen table, depicting the cacophony of objects which populate it. Predominantly littered with food stuffs, the table is also inhabited by a box of band-aids, a gnome, and a miscellany of other household items. Daifu’s bustling photographs do not have a central focal point, as each item has equal weight in the framed chaos. The viewer’s eye endlessly darts around the images.

Still Life references the visual language of advertising, depicting glossy products and bold brand names (some of which will remain unknown and untranslated to certain audiences). But the product that is meant to be advertised is unknown. There are so many in each photograph that not one could be said to be the focus of the advertisement.

In taking food and the kitchen as his launching pad, and representing foods such as sushi and instant noodles, Daifu depicts one of the most familiar forms of cultural engagement relevant to city life. As a part of hubs such as Chinatown or the food markets of the BrisAsia festival, restaurants specialising in Asian cuisine are familiar to many inhabitants of Brisbane. Daifu points to how food is often the medium through which cultures interact. Eating sushi or curry is an accepted part of contemporary life and belongs within Brisbane’s social fabric. Daifu’s pseudo-advertisements of food encourage the visual and then actual consumption of the goods he represents.

But Daifu does not just stop at this acknowledgement of diversity. The untranslatable words and brands on some of these items create a point of difference within the photographs. The content and ingredients of many products are unknown. The artist challenges the viewer to go past a superficial consumption of non-Western foods and delve into the cultural unknown.

By representing unfamiliar cuisine alongside the familiar, Still Life allows the viewer to realise that the two poles are actually quite similar. Many non-Western foods and cuisines have a place of belonging in the contemporary city. They are familiar and accepted. They would have once been startlingly new, an untranslated and unfamiliar cultural product. Representing both side-by-side, Daifu asks the viewer to acknowledge how engaging with the unknown is the first step in crafting a sense of belonging with different cultures.

The final work in Folds, Slavs and Tartars’ ööööpS, 2016, is installed in Southbank’s Fish Lane. Across six identical lightboxes, this collaborative Eurasian group have installed the term “ööööpS” (each letter receives a lightbox). The sharp edges of the rectangular diaereses which sit above the rounded form of the letter “o” differentiates the two from one another. This visual contrast accentuates the linguistic strangeness of the diaereses if the work is read in English as “oops!” This installation is actually a misspelling of the Turkish word for kiss.

Even when the Turkish translation is understood, the English reading of the word is never lost. And once the Turkish misspelling is known, it cannot be forgotten either. Both the English, Turkish, and the misspelling, oooops, kiss, and ööööpS, are all present at the same time.  There are multiple understandings of the work understood through the same visual cue (an interesting contrast with Tiravanija’s work arises here). So yes, the work invites a reading of the curatorial rationale of belonging because both Turkish and English are folded into the misspelling as part of the work’s aesthetic texture. Visual and linguistic difference cyclically appears, disappears, and reappears, as the audience engages in a process of translation and cultural education.

All of the works in Folds act as small pinpricks of visual independence within the overwhelming sameness of the cityscape. By aesthetically differentiating themselves from Brisbane’s urban landscape, they advocate for a sense of belonging that allows for diasporic cultures to maintain their independence within a Western city. Gupta opens the show as an artist critical of connectivity. Tiravanija invites cultures together linguistically. Burki expands on how visual art can belong to multiple, culturally ingrained readings. Daifu’s Still Life Series demonstrates how the process of belonging takes place. Slavs and Tartars explores how the differences between languages allow for a playful form of connection. By autonomously arguing for cultural inclusivity, the works fulfil the message of belonging argued for by both themselves and the exhibition at large.

Written by Simon Brigden

[1] “DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY,” e-flux, last modified June 12 2015,  http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/29383/do-we-dream-under-the-same-sky.

[2] “Greater Brisbane: Language Spoken at Home,” .id, accessed February 11 2017, http://profile.id.com.au
/australia/language?WebID=270.

[3] Also see Rex Butler, An Uncertain Smile: Australian Art in the ‘90s (Woolloomooloo, NSW: Artspace, 1996).

[4] “Fahd Burki – Biography,” Greynoise, accessed February 11 2017, http://www.greynoise.org/Biography.aspx?AID=1.

Essay written for the exhibition ‘Folds of Belonging’ – The Brisbane City Council’s Vibrant Laneways program across sites in Brisbane’s CBD. 27th January – 1st May 2017.

Tess Maunder is an India-based curator and researcher. She was a curatorial collegiate of the 11th Shanghai Biennale and has previously worked at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. Recently, she and Brisbane Art Guide writer Simon Brigden sat down to discuss her current exhibition Folds of Belonging (January 27th – May 1sst, 2017). Maunder and Brigden here discuss how chance, notions of city-life, and diaspora feed into the show, as well as covering Maunder’s work with the New Delhi based collaborative group Raqs Media Collective.

Click to listen to the – Interview

Image: untitled 2016 (folds of belonging, do we dream under the same sky), (2016), digital print, size variable. Courtesy of the artist, © Rirkrit Tiravanija. Photos by Carl Warner

 

Michael Phillips: Recent Works on Paper

For Michael Phillips – Recent Works on Paper, the artist and curator Beth Jackson have formulated a collection of minimalist installations. Throughout the exhibition, Phillips experiments with the form of the grid by manipulating colour, line, and space (for the purposes of this review the grid is defined as a flat image with ordered and identical lines which demarcate and separate space into identical segments). [1]

This is not such a radical statement, as many of the works in the exhibition explicitly represent grids or components of them. What is engaging is that the formulaic and banal grid is taken by Phillips as the basis for a series of visual experiments that produces diverse, visually engaging artworks. The grid loses its identity as a manufactured image and has its visual value reinscribed through works of art that engage with ideas of individuality, physical space, and time. Yet, the viewer never loses sight of the grid itself, and this is the duality that energises Recent Works.

Untitled (Letters from Tarkine), 2016, is one of the strictest and most complete grids in the exhibition, and the work closest to the gallery’s entrance. The installation presents a five-by-five grid of dark blue rectangles made of Indian paper (four other works in the show use this medium). Each paper sheet is handmade and is hence slightly different from its neighbours. Variously irregular surfaces and rough edges differentiate them from one another. The surface of the wall acts as the line which divides these blue segments.  Unlike the other works in the show, these spaces sit atop this demarcating line, rather than the line being laid atop them.

Although affixed to the wall with two small silver nails in their top corners, each piece of paper slightly peels off this supporting surface. This disrupts the expected flatness of the grid. By physically moving off the wall the paper has a tentative three-dimensionality. As Phillips explains to Jackson, the sheets in Tarkine have a basecoat of yellow, followed by brown, followed by either two or three coats of blue. [2] The lighter blues create a U-shape within the grid.

Phillips’ painterly process emphasises the uniqueness of each sheet of Indian paper. The grid, which is ordinarily just the repetition of the two identical forms of line and space, is now reimagined as a collection of individual visual moments. Layers of ink were applied to the sheets at specific intervals and different times dependant on each object’s drying rate and how many layers of paint each one required. As a unique component of the installation, each sheet represents an alternate temporal point in the making of the grid.

The next work in the show, Untitled (Tree Sitters), 2016, is not as radical a break from Tarkine as first appears. Phillips has here connected sheets of Indian paper to create a  single row or column. It has no end or beginning, and is a tangled loop which has two distinct but intertwined bodies: an open bottom section and closed top section. It is hung off a white t-shaped stand. Tree Sitters’ sheets are inked in a vibrant orange, and each is connected by a white line. Unlike Tarkine, the line which divides space is here layered over the orange space/visual moment.

The three-dimensionality of Tree Sitters was premeditated by Tarkine. The exhibition’s first work, with its slight separation from the wall, was a tentative sculpture. It began to have a physical presence as a grid, but was not overtly invading the viewer’s space. Tree Sitters transmutes and amplifies the prior peeling. With a portion of the lifeless grid the work creates a three-dimensional sculpture. It is a body engaging in a dialogue with the same space as the viewer. Yet, the work barely looks like a grid. It cyclically digests itself in an endless repetition of line and space (yet the controlled repetition of line and space is precisely what constructs a grid).

Following the perimeter of the gallery would now lead to Untitled (Vanished Rooms Newtown for Shirley and Colless), 2016, the large piece which faces Side Gallery’s entrance. But Tree Sitters’ relationship with Newtown is not as clear as its relationship with Untitled (Raise the Green Flag!), 2016, which sits opposite Tarkine and diagonally across from Tree Sitters. Dialogues appear in unconventional patterns in the exhibition as a by-product of Side Gallery’s intimate space.

The support which leant languidly against the wall in Tree Sitters is straight and flush against the wall in Green Flag. The post’s timber surface is unadorned except for a jet-black section which meets the wall’s bottom skirting. This post holds up a piece of handmade Indian paper which is coated in a deep red ink.

Tree Sitters and this work speak to each other through their twin use of the supporting timber pole and the similarity between the vibrant tones of orange and red. Both pieces isolate components of the grid. In a more extreme case of separation, Green Flag upholds a lone grid segment, segregates a single portion of a grid’s space. Tree Sitters represents an entire row/column. Instead of the languid lean of Tree Sitters, Green Flag is erect, disciplined, and isolated, seemingly iconic in its flag-like upholding of the lonesome red space.

The work is an antithesis to the visual language of the majority of the exhibition’s pieces. Without repetition there is the highlighting of a single aesthetic moment: one instance of Phillips’ artistic practice imbued on a single sheet of handmade paper. The isolation of Green Flag actually negates the individuality of this sheet. As it has no other grid segments to compare itself to, a lack of surrounding and unique moments in space and time, the red segment that is Green Flag is unique only its loneliness. Throughout the show, the uniqueness of the sheets in Phillips’ grids is contingent on the multiplication of unique moments. Take the prior analysis of Tarkine, for example. Only through comparison within a work itself does the idiosyncrasy of each sheet of paper surface. Or, in other words, individuality is often defined in Recent Works by the formulaic image of the grid.

Moving clockwise towards the back wall, the viewer next encounters Untitled (The Melt), 2016. Here Phillips has begun the restitution of the grid after the simplification and isolation of Green Flag. Repetition returns. Lines return.

Sheets of Indian paper are again connected by white strips. The work is a single column of six spaces. A large chunk of paper is missing at the white join between the second and third bottom sheets. Combined with the paper’s rough edges, this gives the appearance that the work is ripped from a larger grid (of course this is also a by-product of the paper’s handmade quality).

The top sheet is dark green, and the five bottom sheets are all black. The addition of this top colour disrupts the clean contrast of black and white. Not only does the bold green differentiate itself from the colouration of the other works, it is differentiated from the constituent parts of its own column. It alienates itself from the form it is part of as an isolated and unique colour compared to the interrelated contrast of black and white.

As a “melt,” the work feasibly began as this green segment before unfolding downwards into the black and white sections. The chunk which is missing from the bottom segments refers back to the melt’s original green moment, and implies a process of creation which does not rely on a manufactured formula. That is, the grid in the hands of Phillips is reimagined as an object which is not logically constructed but is illogically and organically formed through his own artistic practice. Black and white have their source in green just as the order and construction of the banal grid relies on the contrast of paper sheets which are individual moments in time and space.

The power of The Melt’s top section also lies in its ability to link the work to the exhibition’s final piece, Untitled (Vanished Rooms Newtown for Shirley and Colless), 2016. Dark and absolute green links to the latter’s ambiguous yellow/green background hue (colour’s importance to the exhibition is stressed by the linking of Tree Sitters to Green Flag and of the connection between The Melt and Newtown).

Newtown does not lie flat against the wall and unfolds and curves down from the ceiling. The horizontal post which weighs the bottom of the work down is visible. The paper used is not the same Indian variety as the other works. It is much larger, and its sheets are connected by three zig-zagging perforation lines. There are triangular folds and crumples visible on the relatively smooth paper, and this texture begins to emulate the rough surface of the Indian paper.

Whereas each work, aside from Green Flag, has thus far relied on the contrast of white line with an uncompromising colour, such as blue for Tarkine or green and black for The Melt, the background of Newtown is an ambiguous green/yellow hue. Whereas the prior works assert themselves through a deep tone, Newtown is remarkable for its background colour’s unassumingness. The boldness of Tree Sitters is replaced by the overwhelming neutrality of Newtown’s lime hue.

The work’s lines hence become the subject of the viewer’s attention. The brown, orange, and two silver tones which demarcate space in Newtown paradoxically lay over and under one another: brown is overlapped by light silver, light silver travels under orange, and brown somehow then overlaps orange. The two silvers, especially the lighter tone, vividly reflect the gallery’s abundant natural and artificial light. The inversion of the viewer’s focus onto the lines which demarcate the grid truly relegates the background colour to the background of the viewer’s attention. Phillips uses the repetition of fine, wavering lines in varying colours to create a grid which is not very grid-like at all. There is only line and no space. The grid’s background is a void of colouristic emptiness that is overwhelmed by the energy and dynamism of Newtown’s lines and its unfurling energy.

The strata of aesthetic concepts contained in Phillips’ works attest to his ability to reimagine the manufactured space of the grid as an experimental platform for space, time, and individuality. In Recent Works, the manufactured and banal coexists with the illogical and the visually engaging. Hence, the artworks are continuously caught in a process of transformation as they simultaneously represent two binaries without fully embodying either.

Written by Simon Brigden

[1] For a more detailed definition of the grid in art history see Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1985), 8-22.

[2] Beth Jackson, “In Conversation: Michael Phillips; Artist Michael Phillips in conversation with curator Beth Jackson, 4 November 2016,” Side Gallery, published on November 8, 2016, http://sidegallery.com.au/news/in
-conversation-michael-phillips.

Exhibition: Michael Phillips – Recent Works on Paper. November 18 – December 2, 2016.
Side Gallery, Red Hill.

A Celebration of Queer Arts and Culture

The annual MELT Portrait Prize, a celebration of queer arts and culture, is a lively visual exhibition that showcases the works of global artists at the Brisbane Powerhouse. In MELT, it is a time of celebration for the LGBTI+ community. A time to acknowledge the hardships that this community has endured and the triumphs that has been made. It is yet another step towards equality. It embraces diversity among the community; as seen in the difference of subjects in the powerful artworks of the exhibition. Each artwork contains a person who is associated with the LGBTI+ community; and each work is produced by a different artist with a touch of their unique style, flair and meaning. Such artworks were produced in a variety of medium, more particularly in the field of photography.

Kenn Santos, with his artwork Pretty. Hurts., is a demonstration of the two-sided lifestyle that the LGBTI+ community has dealt with. Featuring Brisbane based artist as the subject, Miss Poodle; Santos uses her as a symbolic figure filled with the prejudices and hardships that is inflicted upon the community. One can interpret this meaning through Miss Poodle’s face. Her left side; a perfectly made up face in front of a celebratory facade of rainbow flags and marches. While her right side, a messy and distraught figure that looms behind a disguise, can contradict her ambitions to fulfil steps towards equality.

#FOODP*RN is a comical yet creative body of work made by portrait photographer Joel Devereux. Located in the Visy Foyer, downstairs from the front doors of the Powerhouse, it displays a large series of photographs involving the same pattern. This being colourful backgrounds and naked men posing with different types of food. It is a clever interpretation of the popular #foodporn trend. It serves the purpose of satisfying and encouraging cravings that are made by the viewer itself. While it is considered to be playful and imaginative, it can also be interpreted as a critique on our modern societal obsessions and trends; one being food. Devereux celebrates these through men and aims to leave viewers gawping stupidly. Through these artistic means, it is safe to say that Joel Devereux promotes sexuality in a fun and saucy way.

The MELT Portrait Prize is mainly split in two categories: the celebration, and the acknowledgement of difficulties. As one walks through the doors of the Brisbane Powerhouse on the opening night of MELT, they are instantly captured by the lively performances made by global artists. The decorative interior design in the Powerhouse, transformed into a celebratory party filled with all colours of the rainbow. MELT, an inclusive festivity that celebrates the diversity of the LGBTI+ community; is an inspiring vehicle towards social justice and queer arts and culture.

Written by Jazmin Duque

 

Written for the MELT Portrait Prize 2017 shown at Brisbane Powerhouse  from the 25th January – 5th February.

Image: The People’s Choice Award – Artist Kenn Santos: Pretty Hurts. Photographic Print.

Mote

Many of the online definitions for ‘mote’ relate it to a perceptual impediment, a speck of dust in our eyes.

The dynamic nature of perception, constantly reshaping the reception and evaluation of an artist’s creative output, remains an integral concern within contemporary art practice. That our perception changes as contexts change is now commonly understood, what is less commonly known is that our perception is also in a state of constant physiologically change. “Perceptual adaptation” is the term applied to this activity within our sensorium and nothing demonstrates it more clearly than our visual perception of the world.

We see upside down, the images projected onto our eyes’ retinas are upside down. It appears that to make sense of our environment we instinctively and unconsciously develop the capacity to flip this image very early in our formative years. What is clear from research into this phenomenon is that we flip our vision in correlation to our touch of our environments. In effect we feel, rather than see, the right side up.

The three artists in this show privilege us by revealing parts of their lives in which they are perceptually adapting to significant loss, to an erosion of their worlds. While we may not be aware of the direct circumstances they are adapting to, their honesty and courage gives these works a poignancy we respond to. Having discussed these works with them I have glimpsed what has been lost; belonging, relationship and intimacy. How we address loss, how we grieve cannot be reduced to manageable parts. It’s a matter of allowing our selves to feel the new shape of a place after loss has eroded it and adapting. These three artists have scribed their lived experiences of adapting into materials, processes and form.

belonging:

Having refined her material palette in her last body of work Tess Mehonoshen hones and extends her vocabulary of marks and materials in this body of work. With references to wrapping, gathering, tethering and the intimate familiarity that comes from belonging, these bundled foldings give tactile shape to the loss of a rural family home.

The packages are a containment, some spill their folds to reveal their interiors. All are fraying and give off an inevitable residue of dust, even the act of containing effects a loss. From the new material – bitumen – disquieting bundles emerge, a further act of containment and at odds to the transition from raw earth to urban cement. These are almost a dead weight, and yet their presence does not overpower the clear narrative of adaptation. It’s futile to ignore loss, though denial is a fundamental part of its embrace. Naming things is a political act but it is also a release, and the visual naming of these perceptual impediments exemplifies the tangible role art can play in our lived experiences.

relationship:

Alison McKay’s work is fragile. Her practice is vulnerable and reflects the nature of her concerns. How do we describe an event when the language we use effectively alters its representation. In these works we are confronted with paradoxes supported by teetering structures. The material forms are tenuous and yet the immaterial here is substantial.

A suspended rectangular sandscape, orderly pierced by nails and eroded at the edges. We sense this object might fall any moment in a number of ways. As in all of McKay’s work there is an insoluble tension in this piece, evident in the relationships between its material parts. Take the escarpment edges, the unstable nature of sand and the piercing nails. Experience would tell us a nail probably formed these edges and yet the ordered rows of nails imply a more resilient substance than we sense.

These works ask us to be quiet, to consider the nature of relationships, of the inevitable loss that must accompany gain, the grief that must accompany love.

intimacy:

Working with materials that replicate a familiarity with our bodies, Naomi O’Reilly asks us to consider, what is it we loose when a visceral intimacy we share with another becomes distant.

Rest comes to mind as I consider O’Reilly’s question. The familiarity I share with my partner of our bodies emphasizes our blemishes. Combined we are a place, we need each other to rest from the incessant voices,

internal and external, that question our appearances. Change is fundamental to intimacy and touch within a relationship is integral to adapting to change. Out of touch is literally a loss of touch and a loss of place.

O’Reilly places us within a tiled space, a surface designed to tolerate the aggressive cleaning agents we are promised will help keep us clean. In a climate of hyper sensitivity to being clean, of touched up colours and images, our familiarity with our bodies is difficult to discuss and O’Reilly successfully engages us.

moat:

As with any language the capacity to express is tempered by the inherent constraints of a vocabulary. A moat might protect us if we cut our selves off, but from what? Language is a two way street, to remain in touch is to remain vulnerable, to separate from touch is to distance, to loose a capacity to perceptually adapt to our changing environments.

Feeling is still the only way to sense the right side up.

Written by Tim Mosely.

From the exhibition ‘Mote’, featuring artists: Alison McKay, Naomi O’Reilly and Tess Mehonoshen. The exhibition was shown at Queensland College of Art – Webb Gallery from the 11th – 28th January. Tim Mosely lectures in the Fine Art program at Queensland College of Art.

Image: Alison McKay, Untitled Sand (2016)

Between You and I

‘Beginning to think again – to grasp, to connect, to put together, to remember…
Only to remember to remember, or at least remember
you have forgotten….
Each forgetting a dismembering.
I must never forget again… the terrible danger of forgetting that one has forgotten. It’s too awful.’ – R.D Laing[1]

It moves you.

Watching Annie Macindoe’s video, Between You and I is like falling into the back of your mind. The hollow noise of bad weather: rain and wind swells and fades along with the rhythm of thoughts and memories that come to mind. The almost still images barely move. Often, they fade in and out of focus. The short phrases that float across the screen do not line up to tell a story. They don’t try to explain, caption or define the images in the work. The less said, the more we feel. In these sentences, the I/you/we/she/he make this personal. But is it personal for the artist? Or the viewer? It seems to be both. The more personal the observation is from the writer’s point of view, ‘I’m trying to say’, the more I am relating to this from my own perspective. It is the only one that I think I know and the only one that I cannot see from the outside.

The title, Between You and I refers to this paradox. It both references an intimate conversation between two people and at the same time, the word ‘between’ notes the absolute impassable gap that separates two individuals. The inability to use the dictionary of language that we have at our disposal to adequately express our worldly experience. Or, the weight of what we can remember to another. How can we understand? The phrases are fragmentary and incomplete like the slow moving close-up imagery. The video and words fade in and out to blackness, a gap, nothing. This does not so much build towards a closed meaning but instead disperses layer upon layer of time. Lost time, where we can reflect.
The everyday images switch between objects inside a Queenslander home and outside in nature. They have a strange emotive power. The philosopher, Gilles Deleuze has spoken at length about this element of cinema where ‘what the image represents is not the image itself’. [2] It’s not so much about the objects that are in the moving image but there is something else unnamable here that pushes us outside the frame. It makes us stop and feel and think. Photographic and video imagery, as medium, will always show a moment that has passed. And, in thinking about this, I want to refer to the ideas in Roland Barthes book, Camera Lucida where he writes about this unique nature of the photograph, ‘Not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory, but it actually blocks memory and quickly becomes a counter memory’. [3] Something that was there then. Within the rectangular frame of the camera, it was never perceived by the eye in this way. But, frozen and framed mechanically, it died in time.
And now. We view it here… in the present. Like the images that are framed by the camera, memory is never stable or total. It is patchy, deceptive and elusive. And what allows a memory to surface, to regain meaning is primarily what is happening in the present. We recreate the past in the present. Memory allows us to make sense of what is happening now.

And yet, to move from moment to moment, we must also forget.  Memory and pictures are the fragments that time leaves behind as it carries on into the future.

Sometimes, we are left with these traces.
Sometimes not.
Was it like that then?  Or is it like that now?
Remembering not as it was. Really. But a deep swath of what it feels like to remember. You’ve thought about it.
Sometimes.
In the back of your mind.
It’s been here ever since.
But you’ve lived everyday too. Without it.
‘Nothing tells memories from ordinary moments, only afterwards do they claim remembrance on account of their scars.’ [4]

Written by Hannah Grzesiak

1. R.D. Laing. The Politics of Experience And The Bird of Paradise. Great Britain: Penguin Books Inc, 1967: 150.
2. Gilles Deleuze. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. London: The Athlone Press, 2000: xii.
3. Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage, 2000: 91.
4. La Jetée. Written and Directed by Chris Marker. 1962. France: Argos Films. DVD.​

Essay from the exhibition ‘ Between You and I’ by Annie Macindoe (October, 2016). Courtesy of Fake estate ARI