Writing

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.

[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.

 

Written by Simon Brigden

 

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

Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water & From ideas of tending

Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water by Hew Chee Fong and From ideas of tending… by Judith Kentish are simultaneous exhibitions at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery that juxtapose the work of two mid-career artists. Like Yin and Yang, the artists’ work share key differences and yet deep similarities.

Hew Chee Fong’s exhibition consists of an arrangement of stone and wood objects; some carved, sanded and polished whereas others remain seemingly unaltered. Some objects are treated as plinths for others, where smaller forms are perched on top. Particularly striking objects include two large pieces of granite that form Still waters and Calm before the storm, which have been carved to resemble two states of water; one calm and reflective with two small ripples, the other unsettled and violent, and yet the title suggests that there is more to come.

Of particular interest is also Tenacity and adversity are old foes, an elongated rock with an egg-shaped rock seemingly balanced impossibly on top. From this object emerges a forked branch; however, like the other objects in the space no longer seems to be living (or in most cases, never was). The elements of the exhibition feel autonomous, yet are enriched by the others’ presence. One can imagine an infinite arrangement of the various individual objects and yet the composition and placements are highly considered, intentional and sophisticated.

In terms of materials and processes, Judith Kentish’s work operates quite differently. At the beginning of the exhibition are three large and quite overwhelming pieces of fabric titled Inkfolds, all stained with ink and one stitched in the middle to form two troughs. They are splayed and pinned, as if still drying. In the next alcove are Woolworks; similar forms, though filled with wool and resemble cocoons or hammocks. At various points through the space are small, delicate, woven and ink dipped forms, suspended from a single strand. Each form, collectively titled Wovendrops, is unique in size, amount of ink and exhibiting height, and appear to have been created by a bird or insect, as opposed to the artist.

Over time, the similarities and differences between Judith Kentish’s and Hew Chee Fong’s work continue to strengthen. More consciously than many other artists and exhibitions, the artworks oscillate between natural, untouched products of the earth and the refined processes indicating human presence that are imposed on them. More so than Hew Chee Fong, the processes undertaken by Judith Kentish seem to allow a higher degree of chance, such as the dipping of fabric in ink which would undoubtedly behave (to a degree) independently, as well as producing unique folds by draping the fabric each time the works are exhibited. Hew Chee Fong’s materials and processes on the other hand, seem to emerge more slowly due to the rigidity of the materials. Nonetheless, both exhibitions seem to address water and fluidity in nature; Judith Kentish’s through the ink stains which function as evidence of the fabric being previously immersed and Hew Chee Fong’s by shaping the materials to represent water, as well as one of the compositions, Island, containing a shallow pebble-filled pond. While museums are traditionally (physically) dry environments, this focus on liquid, specifically water, is a poignant metaphor for the materials themselves, which, if they ‘spilled’ out of the museum context would ‘evaporate’ back into the world. The artists therefore seem not to be creating heroic representations of nature, but its passive collectors and facilitators.

This passive quality with regards to the materials and processes is extended by the degree of viewer participation in these specific exhibitions, developed and facilitated by the gallery. In Hew Chee Fong’s space, visitors may gently touch the works and arrange pieces of granite to make their own forms. In Judith Kentish’s, visitors may participate in a range of activities such as creating drawings on translucent paper which are then exhibited on an illuminated surface, or contribute to a wall of knots and wool-filled forms. With these activities, the gallery gives visitors agency opportunities to experiment with the materials as the artists have, creating a space of exploration and co-creation. Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water by Hew Chee Fong and From ideas of tending… by Judith Kentish are an example of how the juxtaposition of two or more practices can create unexpected connections and counterpoints that further enrich the experience of the individual practices.

Written by Aaron Butt

 

Essay from exhibitions: Hew Chee Fong’s – ‘Don’t dive shallow in dark deep water’ and Judith Kentish’s – ‘From ideas of tending’ . Courtesy of Caboolture Regional Art Gallery

Images: Judith Kentish, inkfolds, 2015-2016 (Left). / Hew Chee Fong,Tenacity and adversity are old foes, 2016 (Right).

The ‘Self’ in Self-Portraits

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This widely known and used proverb refers to the simple notion that complex ideas can be conveyed more effectively with a single image. It is important to consider however, that those thousand words which offer meaning to an image are reliant on the active engagement of the viewer, or who French literary theorist and philosopher, Roland Barthes would refer to as, the ‘spectator’.[1] A photograph is a visual depiction of an individual or scene, captured at a particular time and place by the photographer or whom Barthes classifies as the ‘operator’. Although, a ‘real’ image of a person, a self/portrait is never a completely true illustration of the individual captured on film due to the interference of the aforementioned spectator and operator. Everyone has a unique and individual identity, which may combine cultural, genetic, religious, linguistic, and several other influences. Thus, it would be wrong to say that the spectator and operator involved in the viewing and making of a photograph are void of said identity-inclusive influences. In the making of a photograph, the operator may choose to introduce aspects of their own experiences, opinions and values into their work, that will affect the final image, just as the spectator will bring their own individual experiences and beliefs into the viewing of the image; which, in turn, influences their perception of it. In this manner, therefore, the stagnant, objective and material form of the photograph is transformed into a stimulating, subjective and fluid extension of the construction of one’s ‘self’ and identity; a construction that is impossible to establish due to its ever-changing nature.

In order to understand the multifaceted representation of identity in a photograph, it is crucial to understand the meaning of the ‘self’ in self-portraits. A person’s identity, as explained above, can be personal, cultural or even determined by a relationship. It can be something that is determined by you or for you, something enforced on you or taken away from you; regardless, one’s identity is always changing and hence inexplicable. Historically, the self-portrait has been analyzed and understood as a representation of emotions, which might “bestow an immortality of sorts upon the artist.”[2] Arguments have been made that identity can also be understood as a reflexive concept which corroborates this essay’s central argument that there is no one, true self. When spectators view a photographic self-portrait, they are not merely seeing an individual depiction of an existential being, but rather a “display of self-regard, self-preservation, self-revelation and self-creation”[3], that is open to a myriad of interpretations imposed on it by individual spectators. Through the use of photography as their tool, several artists interested in portraiture create works that provoke the viewer to question how they identify themselves and others.[4] In this never ending pursuit of a distinguishable and classifiable identity, the viewer is made to think about the way they perceive identity and what they have previously learned about the subject. An interesting aspect regarding self-portraits is the impossibility of their existence, as the artists can never completely capture a mimetic representation of the physical reality that they are seeing. Hippolyte Bayard’s “Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man”, 1840, is one such impossible image, as the artist could not see what he was representing in the image, at the time.

This image shows Bayard, posing as a suicide victim, slumped against props. He is presenting himself as a dead man who has drowned himself due to the failure of the French authorities to recognize him, instead of Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, as the first inventor of photography. Although he never gained popularity as the inventor of the medium, Bayard instead, inadvertently, created the first photographic self-portrait. This image is no doubt of paramount significance to scholars and critics around the world who are interested in the idea of ‘self’ as it works to reveal the paradoxes within this style of photography. As mentioned before, due to the artist’s oblivious eye towards their own self-portraits, the ‘self’ represented in their images takes on the form of an ‘other’.[5] This is to say that an individual’s true self, when captured in portraits or even self-portraits, is never truly a whole depiction of who they really are. As soon as the camera fixes the image, the identity of the individual captured on film is no longer a concrete representation of their true self as, “to photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.”[6] In this one simple sentence, writer and filmmaker, Susan Sontag has explained the inevitability of incorporating oneself into a photograph. Once reproduced on film, the individual is exactly that – reproduced, making the rendering the responses to their image innumerable. This can be corroborated with Victorian photographer’s suggestions that “rather than capturing identity, photography effaces it”,[7] where a self-portrait can be likened to a “form of literature and a form of fiction,”[8] equipped with the tools “to reflect both a personal and universal element”[9] in one’s individual and collective construction of identity.

While it is evident that a photograph speaks to the affiliation between the subjective and objective forces working in the construction of identity, is it essential also to consider the way in which people create their own ‘self’ through the act of taking a ‘selfie’. Don Slater, professor of sociology, notes, “we construct ourselves for the image and through the image”[10] arguing that ones relationship to their photographic self becomes an impression of consumerist ideology. The compulsion felt by almost everyone who owns a camera to take a self-portrait is never more evident than in today’s society. With an unprecedented increase in the distribution of smart phones and other technological devices and applications that enable and promote self-portraiture, it is no surprise that the phenomenon of the ‘selfie’ has taken over this generation’s social sphere. With the brewing need to capture every moment deemed ‘special’, individuals around the globe are unknowingly contributing to a new stylistic discourse of photography, where the ‘photographer’ is seen either holding their camera with an outstretched arm or with physical aids such as the ‘selfie-stick’, facing the lens on their own subject – themselves.[11] Sontag put it best when she stated that this need to “have reality confirmed and experienced, enhanced by photographs, is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.”[12]

Through the use and manipulation of varying poses, filters and often times the use of Photoshop, individuals alter the objective lens of the camera and in this way, show their spectators what they choose to focus on. By caving under the pressures of “the most irresistible form of mental pollution”[13] and exploiting technological aids to present themselves in a particular fashion, several self-portraits taken today have become fragmented echoes of one’s true identity, only capable of hinting at but never truly capturing the authentic ‘self’. In contrast, self-portraits created in the 1970s and 80s often were not as ubiquitous as they are today and were often regarded as an important tunnel of passage for those beginning to question their individual place in a political and creative context.[14] Artists often turned to self-portraiture to express their identity in terms of gender, sexuality, race and so on, using their physical bodies as a means to attract attention to the otherwise overlooked aspects of culture at the time.[15] Robert Mapplethorpe is one such artist, who used the techniques of classical art photography to create images that dealt with “homoerotic and gay culture at the centre of the New York at scene”[16] at the time. His self-portraits depict the artist in a number of different situations, from acting as a woman, wearing devil horns to the haunting “Self portrait” taken in 1988, which reflects upon the notion of mortality.

This black and white image depicts Mapplethorpe’s head, which directly faces the camera, positioned near the top right-hand corner of the photograph. The opposite side consists of his hand that grips a cane topped with a small human skull. Although originally intended as a photograph of the ailing artist’s ornamented walking cane, Mapplethorpe decided to wear a black turtleneck jumper and incorporate himself into the image to create one of the most arresting self-portraits of his time. Seeing as he is completely covered by his turtleneck, except for his face and hand, the rest of his body is rendered indistinguishable from the background and hence creates the illusion of a floating head in an otherwise empty space. This illusion further perpetuates the overall stark paleness of artist’s skin and the image in general. The scale of Mapplethorpe’s hand compared to his head suggests that he is sitting further back with his hand outstretched, grabbing his walking cane. This in turn caters for the slight blurring of his head in relation to his hand and cane, which gives the viewer an impression that he is fading away. It is almost as if the viewer can feel the morose atmosphere, created by this photograph, even though they were not present at the time of its creation. Ultimately, Sontag argues that due to the ubiquity of self-portraits and photography overall, allows for the act of taking a photograph to become identical to participating in the actual event.[17]

There are several photographic works that are classified as self-portraits, or understood as such in a conceptual manner, without actually falling into the traditional sense of the genre. It is often argued that all photographs are self-portraits in themselves as the photographer’s personal view and interpretation is projected onto the image.[18] As seen in Mapplethorpe’s work, the contemporary definition of an artist’s self-portrait requires the artist to be part of the image itself however, there are many examples of photographs that break the traditional confinements of self-portraiture and display the expansive nature of the style. One such example would be Lee Friedlander’s photograph titled “New York”, captured in 1966. The image consists of a blonde female dressed in a fur coat, walking through the streets of New York, with her back turned to the lens. The most interesting part of the image is the shadow of Friedlander himself that is reflected onto the back of this female. The shadow has often been utilized in a similar manner, where the prominent reflection of the artist in this image, is transformed into the artist himself. There is a disturbing element to this photo as the female seems to be followed by the photographer however, the addition of the artist’s reflection and hence himself into the image, neutralizes such eerie feelings as it draws the attention towards “the construction of his image making.”[19] Another key example worth considering when discussing unconventional self-portraits would be the “Portraits” series, photographed by Thomas Ruff from 1981 to 1985.

Though not actual self-portraits of the artist himself, the series consists of 60, half-length passport-like portraits, most of whom were Ruff’s fellow students. His series goes against the traditional purpose of portraiture, that is, to capture the emotions of the subject and in some cases, the photographer as well. In contrast to Barthes’ arguments about photographs having a ‘punctum’, or in other words, a moment where the image communicates a special meaning to the spectator, Ruff capitalizes on a more pragmatic view of portraits. Ruff’s series encapsulates the superficial surface of its subjects; the exterior and materiality of the image is the most important aspect of his work. Unlike most photographers, Ruff is not concerned with representing his interpretation of his subject’s individual personalities and would rather portray blank expressions under bland lighting conditions to emphasize the materiality of the medium. In doing so however, Ruff is unwittingly forcing his personal views and hence, sense of self, onto his images. It is fair then, to argue that despite the unconventional nature of these self-portraits, they still allude to that fact that ones identity cannot be accurately and wholly represented in a photograph. Spectators see what is presented by the operator however often struggle through the “painful labor” of “straining toward the essence of [one’s] identity”.

Through the analysis of the idea of the self, along with the compulsion to capture oneself on film, it is clear that the process of making and engaging with a photograph is purely subjective. The operator and spectator impart their own individual experiences into the subjective making and viewing of the objective image, confirming that it is the individual’s experiences and not the image itself that imbue an image with meaning and value. Thus, it can be concluded that photography offers enthusiasts a channel through which one can access their current conception of identity and self-hood, while establishing the meaning and significance of a photograph from where the material traces of the medium diminish and the individual’s dynamic and subjective experiences take precedence. [20]

 Written by Amanda Brachio

Image:
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989)
Self Portrait, 1988
Medium Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
577 x 481 mm
Tate / National Galleries of Scotland
For citation sources – CLICK HERE

Uncanny-self

We are looking. Seeing. Peering, through the two skin-wreathed holes in our skull. The two holes situated slightly apart from each other, each containing an evolutionary feat. An eye. Together they make our stereo vision. They give us a sense to perceive depth.

I’m looking at a flat surface and It reflects this depth of the space around me. Within that depth a body stands alone. Always peering out. A transfixed gaze mounted upon a neck and torso. Secured, captured, anchored.

The more I look the more uncanny it becomes. I move, it moves. I’m three again, chasing its shadow. I’m a new born transfixed, in awe. What is this body?

This body that is socially imbued with values outside of itself. A body of mass, behaves according to the laws that govern it. But these are not our laws. His laws tells us we should look away.

We ignore you. Wilfully and with abandon we embrace the gaze. Remember I’m trapped here. Our vessel holds us so tightly it can hardly breathe. Who is this? It whispers.

In our hand is an object, coldly illuminating her face.

We still manage to pout and stare back as if to the void held at arms length. The object takes the depth of that space and flattens it. It’s an image just slightly outside the perspective of the body. A single eye. Perception transcribed to flat, binary, data. A digital reflection.

This is the moment we see it, ourselves outside of its self. The vessel. A third person. Unrestricted by the constraints of a body containing a rational mind. Radical self-definition. Or the embodiment of horror. Perhaps the same thing.

I’m not sure if it’s just us but we take photos of ourselves when we cry. To remind us that we grieve. That our tears can be remembered, that they’re not just our own. That what we feel and what we are is real enough to remember. If you forget to look away the shapes start to change and distort until new. If we blur our eyes you become two.

Perhaps this is why the self-portrait is still so unforgettable. The original selfie. The original escape. Maybe this is what it means to make a mark. To create the image of self is to escape it. To look away or to look deeper.

And after all this is done, somewhere here others can find a way to mark that body, encode us with a meaning we can never possibly comprehend. If we give in it will govern us till our grave. At least there the worms won’t care.

Look away.

To distract, to glance back. The reflections of other directions. What if in this moment our reflected depth looks like this.

I don’t make art anymore but at least I can take a photo to remind yourself I’m still here.

Written by Alex Cuffe

Essay from the group exhibition ‘Title Optional’  (September, 2016). Courtesy of Fake estate ARI

Image: Alex McGovern and Tyza Stewart, please do not climb, 2016 (installation documentation)

Everything That Rises Might Converge

Snatches of conversation and the sounds of cars are rising from the street to be funneled into this space. Passersby may look up and see—through the second floor window that Marnie Edmiston’s exhibition A Plant is a Plant hinges on—the unusual sight of a black, imposing parabolic dish staring down at them. It looks comically like a panoptic eye, but it is an ear. If the passersby are speaking, it will take in their words. Though its back is turned to us—the viewers made privy to its workings—it still proffers that we listen in.

Some five metres behind it and well below knee height, two white ceramic receivers perch on plinths that are neatly covered with a bright blue layer of material. The plinths themselves are at an awkward distance from one another—a touch too far for a viewer to stand in the middle and reach for both receivers at once. They are placed on a rectangle of black carpet that is angled diagonally: it faces neither the window where the dish hulks, nor the gallery wall where a curious series of perspectival drawings hang. There seems something ritualistic about the set-up, and it appears at once highly technical and makeshift. A functional hideout, perhaps, that could be dismantled at short notice. It prompts one to ask: what kind of set-up is this? Are we being set-up?

The ceramic receivers share the organic form of a sweet potato sliced clean in half, hollowed out, and glazed. Both are pierced at the top with red cord that is tousled across the room and joined to an amplifier, transmitting through it the sound absorbed by the big black dish. Reach down and pick one up, press its hollow to your ear, and catch what you will. Maybe you’ll hear an argument between lovers, the murmurings of a protest movement, or the conspiring of something criminal, but probably not. What converges is up to chance. Good composition is a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

The perspectival drawings, of which there are six mounted flat onto cardboard, hang around the room on gold hooks that make them appear both delicately levitating off the wall and easily removable. They each reconstruct, on a single plane, a different room rendered through a host of mathematically precise draughting techniques. Inset in each is a photograph that attests to the existence of their referents as real spaces, providing glimpses into living rooms that are obscured by the leaves of a plant or perhaps, as all the leaves look suspiciously similar, a fake plant. Each of these self-consciously covertly taken photographs has been meticulously mapped onto a diagram that reveals the vantage point from which it was taken. They expose utterly neutral spaces—no action, no life, no secrets—but built into their shrouded apparatus is the clear and paranoid expectation that someone could enter the frame of observation at any moment.

The declared banality of depicted content similarly finds form in a vertical row of laser engraved black squares—also hanging from gold hooks—that each bears an almost didactic diagram of an ordinary object. These icons include among them a potted plant, a chair, and a bookshelf. In light of the conspicuously looming parabolic dish, we begin to see these objects as potential, unsuspecting proxies for household or workplace spyware. They begin to beg the question: what are we looking for?

Edmiston’s works, beautifully constructed as they are, still strike us as indiscriminating in all of their specificity. Like the algorithms that harvest and sift through big data, they gather and present a mechanical cutout—a survey sample extracted from the endless fabric continuum of living. What they decisively do not account for is what cannot be mapped; the dimension of life that would vitalise these scenes is the excess that escapes them. These works articulate the ubiquitous paranoia immanent to data collection that, in its exhaustive efforts, somehow misses the point: what eludes them will continue to elude them. The bigger the sample, the more boring the outcome.

Yet the amateurish staged secrecy of the fake plant that frames each of the photographs suggests something else is at play—a conspicuous spy with the desire to be caught. This recalls another kind of spying: that of the female voyeur tracing intimate spaces, as in the seductive game that plays out in Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne, where the artist follows a fresh acquaintance to Venice, setting up camp near his hotel, donning a wig, and recording his movements. In Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, the filmmaker plants her camera in plain sight, recording scenes of her mother (in her home and on Skype) who repeatedly asks, “Why are you filming me?” In the amusing idiosyncrasies of this hideout, Edmiston’s exhibition notionally restores to the mechanics of technological spying something more simply intersubjective. After all, is a plant just a plant, or is it a plant? Who planted it?

Written by Ella Cattach

 

Essay from the exhibition by Marnie Edmiston, titled ‘A Plant Is A Plant’  (August, 2016). Courtesy of Fake estate ARI

Image: Marnie Edmiston, a plant is a plant, 2016 (installation documentation).

Flawed – An Annotated Interview

“I’m trying to be a realist but it’s unrealistic,” Coleman muses before considering the turn of phrase. She and I laugh, but the quote brings to mind an earlier theme of our discussion, the minimalist sculptors of the mid-to-late twentieth century, and specifically Carl Andre. “They’ve had their time,” she twinkles, and though I agree, I cannot help but to define her work with some opposition to theirs.

To Andre, his brick sculptures are matter for their own sake. Decrying conceptual art he believes that “a work of art is out in the world, is a tangible reality.” While Coleman’s exhibition Flawed is indeed comprised of patterned building materials, like Andre’s Equivalent series, it mimics the latter only in its tangible reality. “It’s loaded, it’s really loaded,” she admits. Thinking this might be a pun, I inquire after the exhibition title, Flawed. This too is a pun, I am told—one an American accent wouldn’t cater for—and one that is a signpost to the deeper conceptual and process-based aspects to the work: the components standing outside its tangible reality.

Conceptually, the installation is about humans. But it neither specifically represents humans nor wishes to integrate them into its composition as an aspect to the work. The installation is about psychology and emotion, but none in particular, rather, the tension, instability, and flux that are common to human activity. The installation is about imperfection, but as a gestalt is closer to perfect than its parts. Its materials are interdependent; they support or repel each other, in a variety of directions and to differing degrees. In their resting state their tension lies in their gravitational potential, tension that describes human behaviour, interrelation, and flaw. Patterns emerge from human behaviour despite the number and scale of the variables at play, and it is these patterns and the acceptance of the flawed nature of their constituents represented in the work.

The use of the concrete paver, a sleeker, more formally mundane building material, discourages the audience from becoming distracted by the mottled appearance of clay bricks, Coleman tells me. Compositionally, the pavers create different planes to negotiate, varied, tectonic, and cyclical. Their wave formation speaks of the underlying harmony in acknowledged imperfection and creates a calm and considered mass of stability that recognizes the instability of its components.

Coleman insists that she doesn’t like making ‘art’ and impresses upon me her interest in the process of making. Of converse importance, she considers her materials temporary and disposable. The Gumtree ad for her pavers is still live at the time of writing,[1] and is perhaps her greatest distinction from the objectivist American sculptors, who exhibited examples of industrial material form, but were pleased to consider their compositions art objects. For Coleman this installation is a moment of a labour process, the tension and imperfection of which is yet another way to access the ideas to which it refers. She ends a page of notes, “Nothing is permanent. Art is not a precious personal commodity.”

Despite the serious nature and stern tone of this aphorism, Coleman’s attitude is upbeat as she describes to me “the crookedness of being not perfect.” At the crux of her exploration is an ephemeron: the impermanence of comfort in imperfection. Wild variables force new decisions, patterns of behaviour are repeated or newly established, human interaction is nigh inescapable, and therefore these patterns are confluent, but at all times there is beauty in the ability to know yourself and operate in an aware state. This is the beauty apparent in this configuration of tangible materials that is Flawed, and it is a separate beauty to that of purely formal sculpture.

Written by Alexander Kucharski

1. http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-ad/ashgrove/building-materials/cheapest-you-will-find-bulk-grey-pavers-for-sale-/1115050681

Essay from the exhibition by Jasmin Coleman, titled ‘Flawed’  (August, 2016). Courtesy of Fake estate ARI

Image: Jasmin Coleman, flawed, 2016 (installation documentation)