Writing

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)

crosseXions

crosseXions is an exhibition where feminist and environmental concerns can be said to cross over. Though nothing is quite as obvious as this may suggest. Beth Jackson the curator of this quiet and somewhat diffident exhibition speaks of the “cooperative investment” and the “flux of the interpersonal” through which it developed. “Involved and evolving”, Jackson says “infected and connected, organic and alive.”

To be clear then, crosseXions does not command the gallery space. Even the form of things seem to take on a minor aesthetic role. As viewers, we actually need to find the work; find the links and correspondences between works; trace the spaces of the artists’ journeys; consider what could be their experiences and insights and what these say about the ways feminism and nature might be connected? In tuning into this mode of address crosseXions becomes greatly rewarding.

Take for instance Leena Riethmuller’s work Describe a positive feeling 2015-2016.  This is a single-track audio work with a monkish stool provided for the listener. The recorded interviewees speak awkwardly about positive feelings that they have experienced. It suddenly becomes clear that this quality of being is something that cannot be fully described. We barely notice it. It lurks about in memories of childhood, or viewing the moon from a new bedroom, or riding a bike home late, or having immediate rapport with someone unexpectedly. Why should we be so lost to know positive feeling? Could this speak of ‘the disconnect’ of daily life?

James Barth’s digital prints Wish you were here (FERN) 2016 and Wish you were here 2016 are persuasively evocative. We know them to be entirely digitally created.  The cluster of decorative palm fronds in one image, catching light and movement of the sun and wind are fully exposed for all their lack of nature. The accompanying seated trans woman is also from the same world, yet such is the suggestion of longing, that these images become the actual photographs—we know them not to be. It is here we are brought face to face with some of the serious contradictions within the philosophical discourse of nature and gender. How or why is the female gender closer to nature?

Val Plumwood Australian philosopher, environmentalist and ecofeminist in “Women, Humanity and Nature” (1990) notes that ‘closeness to nature’ often attributed to the feminine is “hardly a complement” (Plumwood 1990, 214). Especially, she says, when the concept of nature, and the feminine links with nature have been part of a logic to “inferiorise and exclude women (as well as other groups)” from the valued pathways of human life and culture (Plumwood 1990, 213). In the Western philosophical tradition maleness is identified with rationality, production, and public, social, and cultural life. It is the domain where “human freedom and control” shapes the social and natural world (ibid.).

The concept of nature, Plumwood urges us to remember, can be a tool of conservative thought. Let’s not forget the way it is often argued that it is nature itself, and not “contingent and changeable social arrangements” that accounts for inequality (Plumwood 1990, 214). While some limited positive affirmation for both women and nature has been derived via the romantic tradition, nevertheless as Plumwood notes, overall, the dominant tradition linking women with nature carries with it a lower status for women. Despite this line of argument, Plumwood arrives at the position where she says the woman/nature connection should not just be set aside, or considered best forgotten. It should be addressed purposefully because of its impact on the notion of humanity, and in turn humanity’s relationship with nature.

Plumwood makes this point clear:

…unless the question of relations to nature is explicitly put up for consideration and renegotiation, it is already settled—and settled in an unsatisfactory way—by the dominant Western model of humanity into which women will be fitted (Plumwood 1990, 216).

In crosseXions consideration and renegotiation of relations with nature are  proposed in quite a few ways. While possibly small gestures, they are perceivable and memorable ones.

Katina Davidson’s Down near the wild flowers heightens our senses to one of the acts of suburban development — carving up plots of land.  Natural plant growth has all but been removed. In their stead are hand-made ceramic wildflowers held up by wire tentatively secured to the ground. Compressed into this small work are many tales of carving up Aboriginal land.  Initially this was undertaken by creating places that were to be segregated missions— for Aboriginal people only. Davidson tells the story of how Deebing Creek (once a mission) is now to be suburbanised and given over to commercial housing development. This work is a memorial to be sure—for what has been lost many times over. But it also leaves the viewer recognising the importance and urgency of renegotiation with Australia’s first peoples and their land that white Australia now calls home.

Plants figure in Julie-Anne Milinski’s work too. Exchange arrangements 1 is an array of indoor plants scattered on what turns out to be highly polluting moderne furnishings that emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).  These very familiar materials of PVC piping, plywood, MDF board, acrylic paints and glues emit off-gas.  But scattered through these pollutants are the unremarkable indoor living plants that absorb and remove the polluting compounds.  We know being surrounded by plants makes us feel better, we just haven’t known to what extent. Works like this capture in an ironically fresh way the extent of our dependence on the natural world, and our serious need to recognising this.

The Earth goddess Gaia, possibly of pre-Greek origins came to figure prominently in the scientist James Lovelock’s thinking and writing since the 1960s. His work at NASA on the high presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surrounding Mars, led him to examine the presence of carbon dioxide on earth and to identify the widespread presence of chlorofluorocarbon. His Gaia hypothesis proposes that the earth is like a single organism with the living and non-living components part of an interacting system has had wide appeal. It is not surprising then that the self healing philosophy of Lovelock’s hypothesis found ready adaptors among non traditional medicine and free thinking entrepreneurs. This is where Lyndon Stone as her alter ego Angelica Leight and partner Runcely Chaser enter. For their Sacred GaiaTM Trade Fair Table they have produced in the colours of the rainbow, tinctures and essences and oils and jewellery and CDs and paintings and posters, and world tours.  It is a potent reminder of our real world of subterfuge, superstition, delusion, exploitation, and plain old fraud.

crosseXions is a welcome wind. The twelve artists generously bring to the exhibition works that cause us to consider the important renegotiation of relations to nature that we know has to take place. Excitingly this exhibition will travel from Brisbane MetroArts to Sydney The Cross Art Projects and ALASKA PROJECTS. It is also is accompanied by a complete edition of The Equal Standard Broadzine titled “A Dirty Word” edited by Gabriela and Brent Wilson, published by Provoked.

Written by Susan Ostling July (2016)

 

Val Plumwood “Women, Humanity and Nature”, Feminism, Socialism and Philosophy: A Radical Philosophy Reader, S.Sayers and P. Osbourne (eds.), Routledge, London,1990, pp.213-234.

Image details:

James Barth, Wish you were here (FERN) 2016, digital print

James Barth, Wish you were here 2016, digital print

 

 For more information please visit the following Links: 

Metro Arts crosseXions  /  The Equal Standard, Issue #4 – A Dirty Word

The Transcendence Of Time In Australian Indigenous Art

Time is a fundamental and axiomatic philosophical concept that has long been a chief subject in several areas of study. Numerous different values, meanings and ideologies can be linked to it, which makes defining time in a universally acceptable manner quite difficult. This is never more true than in Australian Indigenous culture, where their concept and portrayal of time in their artworks remains a subject that is widely debated, even today. Conventional understandings of the concepts of Indigenous time do not, unfortunately, provide a thorough insight into the portrayal of said ‘time’ in Indigenous artworks. Consequently, the representation of time in Indigenous artworks remains somewhat ambiguous. However, the relationship that Indigenous artists share with their land, illustrated in their artworks, is undeniable. Through an analysis of artworks by renowned Indigenous artists Emily Kame Kngwarreye, John Mawurndjul and Rover Thomas, I aim to examine these artist’s potent connection to ‘place’, steering the focus of interpretation away from a purely temporal reading of Indigenous artworks.

Before examining proposed concepts of Indigenous time, one would have to gain, at least, a general understanding of Indigenous culture and ontology. As observed by Australian anthropologist, Lynne Hume, Indigenous cosmology is “centered on The Dreaming”[1], which, often referred to as the ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘everywhen’ to its express its timelessness, embodies their entire being. It is the sacred wisdom, moral truth and understanding of their Country that is altogether derived from Dreaming events and stories. The land where their mother feels the first signs of pregnancy determines each Indigenous person’s Dreaming and totem. At this location, the child receives the spirit of a totemic ancestor, for example, a possum or honey ant, and the Dreaming akin to that place.[2] The question now arises as to how these spiritual and cultural concepts are transferred, if at all, onto Indigenous people’s artworks. Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history, Dr William Gallois, encourages his readers to contemplate how the Dreamtime of Aboriginal people or Buddhist interpretations of ’no-time’ might shed some light on a human history of the world.[3] He begins his study with the argument that “we live in different times” and attempts to persuade the “obdurate historians in the West” who (apparently) privilege their idea of linear time, to picture time, and all beings in time, as a fluid and ephemeral.[4] A possible reason behind this shift away from a ‘traditional’, Western understanding of time could be, as Dr Brian Edgar concludes, due to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.[5] Einstein’s relativistic view of time demonstrates that time is not absolute and cannot be comprehended in an “objective, objectified and, ultimately commodified manner.”[6] Instead, it allows for a reading of time as a sequence of personal activity, which Edgar likens to Aboriginal Dreamtime. He suggests that Indigenous Australians do not view time as a horizontal series of pasts but rather as a vertical relationship to the present, a “sacred-past-in-the-present.“[7] Edgar, however, is not the first to propose an understanding of Indigenous philosophies of time and the subsequent effects of such on their daily lives.

Distinguished author, Tony Swain, in his seminal book ‘A Place for Strangers’, examines attempts made at understanding time in Aboriginal philosophy and the challenges of academic preconceptions of time. Swain begins his study by acknowledging the work of influential Australian anthropologist, Adolphus Peter (A.P) Elkin whom, in Swain’s opinion, made the first serious attempt to understand Indigenous concepts of time. Elkin argues that for Indigenous people, time is current, where “then is a past…the past, however, is present, here and now.”[8] Swain goes on to explore the work of William Edward Hanley (W.E.H) Stanner, another prominent Australian anthropologist who worked extensively with Indigenous Australians. In his famous article ‘The Dreaming’, Stanner examined the relationship between Dreaming and time, coming to the conclusion that the Dreaming could not be ‘fixed’ in time as “it was, and is, everywhen.”[9] Therefore, from the somewhat varied opinions of Indigenous time mentioned above, where some academics argue that Indigenous time flows vertically, while others argue that it cannot be quantified period, it can be deduced that a single, definitive definition of Indigenous time does not exist. Due to this ‘problem’ of expressing Indigenous understandings of time as embossed in Dreaming and in general, Swain asserts that he is not surprised “to find scholars either avoiding definitions completely or attempting to dress obscurity in poetic guise.”[10] What is perhaps most striking about Swain’s argument is his rejection of a binary view of temporal constructions, where he denounces academic preconceptions of time. He argues that a largely unchallenged assumption in the field of academia remains that if time is not linear, then by default, it must be cyclical. This, Swain argues, is what he believes has lead academics to presume that Indigenous understandings of time run in cycles.[11]

This remains true today, where contemporary art institutions such as the Harvard Art Museums, refer to time in Indigenous society as a “cyclical and circular order”,[12] suggesting that their conceptions of time is reliant on encounters with their natural and ancestral worlds. The problem with this view, Swain reasons, is that a circle is, in essence, a line that returns upon itself. Hence, if a linear representation of time requires an application of quantifiable numbers, circles too would revolve around according to a numeric sequence. In order to combat this approach, Swain encourages people to stray away from a “two-candidate typology”[13] and instead, allow conceptions of Indigenous time to be understood on their own terms. One way to do this would be to examine the intense connection that Indigenous people share with their land. In some cultures, ‘place’ is of paramount significance to the people, more so than time. Their land ties them to their elders, gods and heroes in a manner that time cannot. It is not possible for Indigenous people to go back in time and live with their ancestors, but it is possible for them to visit the land where these events occurred, where their ancestors lived. As a result, the present mingles with the past, where the land, as argued by Edgar, “embodies the Dreaming, and it thereby connects time to place.”[14]

Quite often, Indigenous artists create artworks that are visual representations of the symbols affiliated to their Dreaming, and therefore, their Country. One such example would be the works of acclaimed Indigenous artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996). Although Kngwarreye did not take up painting until much later in life, she was not new to artistic expression as she was exposed to a lifetime of ritual and artistic activity via the desert and body paintings for the Awelye song and dance ceremonies; Awelye being the word for women’s ceremonies and the specific designs applied to women’s bodies as part of a ceremony. In this way, Kngwarreye’s artworks resonate these ceremonies, celebrating her land, Alhalkereand her totems, kame (the yam) for which she was responsible.[15] Her painting, ‘Emu Woman’ 1988-89, is celebrated as her first major painting on canvas and was part of the first community-wide painting project administered at the Alice Springs-based Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association. The harmonious interaction between the warm and cool colours along with the innovative application of ‘dotting’ in Emu Woman signaled an unambiguous departure from the ‘dot and circle’ style of the, at the time, male dominated desert art movement. Almost immediately, this painting and the aesthetically vibrant hues, dotted along the surface of the canvas, encapsulate its viewer. Aside from the lively interaction between the coloured dots across the frame, there is also a sense of an underlying narrative present in ‘Emu Woman’, partially concealed on the surface. Her profound connection to Country and spiritual symbols is unveiled via painterly gestures that mimic the contours of body paintings and the designs made on women’s breasts for ceremonies. These gestures, though fairly abstract, along with the plants and seeds depicted in this work, bring out a raw energy in the painting that pays homage to Kngwarreye’s Dreaming and the Emu ancestor. When interviewed about the meanings of her paintings, regardless of which painting it was, Kngwarreye always had the same answer:

“Whole lot, that’s whole lot, Awelye (my Dreaming), Arlatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seed), Tingu (Dreamtime pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (favourite food of emus, a small plant), Atnwerle (green bean), and Kame (yam seed). That’s what I paint, whole lot.”[16]

In other words, her art was solely tied to and informed by her connection to her community and Country, rendering her art and life inseparable. Through the analysis of her artwork, it is not clear if Kngwarreye had a clear agenda of expressing the temporal factors of her being in her artworks. What is clear though, is regardless of material or scale, it was always the depiction of her Dreamings and Country of Alhalkere that stood out as her cultural legacy, which she kept alive in her artworks.

John Mawurndjul (born 1952) is a contemporary Indigenous artist who is arguably one of the most experimental and influential bark-painters of Arnhem Land.  Before any paint can even be applied to the bark, it has to be carefully stripped away from tree trunks after the wet season and flattened over a fire, which undoubtedly requires skill and precision in itself. A common and traditional technique used by artists to create these paintings is known as rarrk, or otherwise referred to as fine cross-hatching. Not only does Mawurndjul have a strong command over this technique but he also employs these traditional motifs in radical ways to express, not unlike Kngwarreye, his spiritual and cultural values. One of his larger pieces, ‘Buluwana’ 2002, is a prime example of Mawurndjul’s technical prowess and relationship with his land and its stories. The Dreaming represented in this painting is that of Buluwana, one of the first people to inhabit the Kurulk clan region at Ngandarrayo. Buluwana and her family were camped here during the time of great drought and were very weak from thirst and close to death. It is at this time that they were confronted by the malignant form of the Death Adder snake that crushed and turned Buluwana into stone upon her attempt to escape. [17] An arrangement of rocks still stands on those grounds as a representation of Buluwana’s present form, where the Ngandarrayo site holds great significance and sacred value to the people of the Kurulk and Kulmarru clans. It is no surprise then that Mawurndjul has chosen to represent, on an immense scale, one of the legends belonging to the Kurulk clan estate, where he lives with his family.[18]

The almost two-meter long, marble-like figure of ‘Buluwana’ is both striking and awe-inspiring at once. The visual distortion and reductive features of Mawurndjul’s ‘Buluwana’ is almost akin to the cubist nudes of Pablo Picasso. The amalgamation of foreground and background, achieved through the merging of Buluwana’s body with the landscape, reduces her form to a mix of dismembered limbs, absorbed in an intricate field of rarrk. The sporadic, yet balanced cross-hatching used in this artwork, dominates the surface and encodes numerous secret meanings.[19] Curator and writer, Hetti Perkins suggests that one of the more “distinctive” features of Mawurndjul’s art is his use of white to offset the otherwise nude-toned colours in ‘Buluwana’.[20] Perkins states that the white pigment used in his artworks is a rather potent material as it “is sourced from a sacred site in Mawurndjul’s Country”[21] i.e. in the feces of Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent). In this way, Mawurndjul is not only “deftly manipulating the graphic potential of colour, he is also harnessing the sacred energy of Ngalyod in his work.”[22] It is unambiguous that in experimenting with his use of rarrk and the iconic representation of Dreamings related to his kin, Mawurndjul’s artworks are testament to his strong connections to land and ancestral power, where after years of its creation, the story of “Buluwana” continues to live on, almost as an eternal, living entity.

The artworks of Rover Thomas, one of the most influential Aboriginal artists in the history of the East Kimberley art movement, are of empirical significance when considering the concepts of ‘time’ and ‘place’ represented in Indigenous artworks. His art had its beginnings in a visionary dream sequence, which occurred in 1975, after the passing of a classificatory mother.[23] Sometime after her passing, the spirit of the deceased woman revealed to Thomas, her journey across the Kimberley back to her home near Turkey Creek, and endowed him with the songs, ceremony and images for a new Dreaming, referred to as the Krill Krill Dreaming.[24] The responsibility then placed on Thomas to sing his relative’s spirit back to her Country was of utmost importance as the safe return of her spirit, as argued by Dr Stephen Muecke, professor of ethnography, “is imperative to the wellbeing of the place so that it may continue as an enduring life source and again be the site from where life will continue to emerge.”[25] The subsequent artworks that came out of this invented Dreaming, specifically those created by Thomas himself, continue to captivate viewers around the world.

Thomas’s ochre paintings, despite their apparent simplicity, capture the soul of the East Kimberley landscape in both a geographical and spiritual sense. His painting ‘Nilah Marudji’ (Rover’s Country) 1996, like most central and western desert artworks, is characterised by an aerial and almost omnipotent point of view. Thomas’s illustration of his land in this ‘bordered’ artwork, consisting of an earthy-toned landscape outlined by vibrant white dots, draws the viewer in to further engage with these painterly applied and textured ochres. The rich and burnt umber tones of the landscape communicate a deep and lasting connection shared by Thomas and his land, where his landscapes are usually underpinned by a distinct sense of spirituality and mythological significance. The surrounding, stark white dots serve as a means to draw the eye of the viewer along the pathways of the story that Thomas is communicating, following the forms of the landscape, encrypted with key events. These dots create a perfect balance between the earthy landscape and the use of black in the center of the canvas, perhaps suggesting a waterhole. His strategic use of colour and overall image construction works to create an alarming, yet strangely emotional intensity, which unequivocally displays his bond with his Country.

These ideals are corroborated in Australian journalist, Nina Caplan’s article on Aboriginal Australian art, which includes an interview with an Indigenous Queenslander, Den. Caplan states that typically, in Western art, a landscape typifies its subject, whereas in Indigenous art, it is the land that explains the artworks. Her interview with Den enlightened her of the fact that, for Aboriginal people, “everything starts and ends with the land.”[26] The dashes, circles, and fine contours expressed in Indigenous artworks act as a “map and icon and more.”[27] Similarly, the rich and earthy palette, in conjunction with the simplistic yet engaging depiction of “Rover’s Country” mesmerises the viewer as they are presented with an ancient yet timeless landscape. By viewing these artworks in light of the artists’ relationship with their land and their Dreaming, the intensity of the visual is so encapsulating that one no longer questions the temporal aspects of the art. Whether the narrative of the artwork is based on an event that occurred yesterday, or 200 years ago, becomes irrelevant. This is not to say that an understanding of time and its implications on Indigenous culture and artworks is insignificant. However, the very ‘timelessness’ or ‘eternal’ qualities of Indigenous artworks that scholars refer to, as argued above, stems from their connection to ‘place’, and any attempt to adequately engage with Indigenous artworks should avoid analysis solely based on conventional understandings of Indigenous time.

Time and place undeniably hold different values and meanings in different cultures. Indigenous Australian’s perception of time remains a topic of debate, where anthropological understandings of their philosophy of time, albeit perceptive, are not clearly visible in Indigenous artworks. Several arguments can be made as to why there is an apparent lack of a visual representation of time in Indigenous artworks, however, this makes the process of engaging with these artworks quite prohibitive and detracts the viewer away from their optical dynamism. In saying that, the depiction and connection to ‘place’, in Indigenous artworks, is unmistakable. Land can mean a lot of things to different people. To the average Australian, it could mean an asset they can own if they work hard enough. To a farmer, it could be a means of living. To Indigenous people, as explicitly communicated in their artworks, their Country is not something they own, but rather a part of who they are and holds immense spiritual value to their being.

Written by Amanda Brachio

 

Image: Emily Kame Kngwarreye – Emu Woman 1988–89. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. 92.0 x 61.0cm

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you, me and a weirdo

The story goes:

As a child, D discovered a Zero fighter plane crashed in the bush behind her house. The wings were beat up, the nose was crumpled and banksias had started growing through the cockpit. The plane was practically pungent with history; a skeleton cast from the bombing of Darwin Harbour, a relic from one of the largest airstrikes on Australia. But for D and her sisters, the plane simply became one very cool cubby [1].

Narrative  weaves  precariously  in  and  out  of  Anya Swan’s  practice.  Yet  while  her  works  are  tied  to  reality  they hover on the verge of mystery and absurdity; where the discrepancies between fact, fantasy and  emotion bleed messily together.

Anya  paints,  draws,  pulps  paper,  molds  and  seals  eerie  figurative-esque  paper  forms  with  resin.  Her  works are rarely smooth; they appear to bubble, pulsate, sway and they represent and distort familiar  imagery,  unpacking  our  rituals  and  parameters  for  the  everyday.  In  presenting  us  with  overtly  hand-made,  ad-hoc  objects  Anya  permits  her  narrative  frameworks  to  swell  and  dissolve,  implicating  viewers  in-between  states  of  representation  and  subjectivity.  And  it’s  these  shifting  states  that  she  uses as allegories for the complex and precarious realms of ‘inter-personal exchange’.

Anya  mentions  that  her  works  start  with  stories  about  ‘people  interacting  with  each  other’  and  their  vignette, model-like properties propose birds-eye-views and third person perspectives. At times these  perspectives,  when  combined  with  bodily  references  and  textures,  alternate  viewers  between  feelings  of  watching  and  being  watched.  Her  choice  of  imagery  also  enhances  this  feeling  of  unease  through her tendency to depict figures and forms as un-rendered, isolated and estranged. I have seen  Anya present an array of lone caricature-esque figures and forms; one awkwardly holds a green baby;  another is despondently wrapped in a bath towel, garden hose in hand. I’ve also noticed skewed bat  formations (and other animals displaying human-like characteristics), an empty public pool and lumpy  floating boxes.

‘you  me  and  a  weirdo’  revolves  around  a  larger  aeroplane  relic,  carefully  painted  and  assembled  to  give  appearances  of  age  and  injury.  It  rests  in  the  gallery,  much  like  an  aquarium  ornament  on  the  bottom  of  a  fish  tank.  This  makeshift  model,  even  in  its  playful,  hand-made  state,  reeks  of  time’s  relentless  melt,  of  things  left  unkempt  and  the  way  tragedy  and  the  unresolved  nature  of  death  are  inevitably  things  that  haunt.  For  me  this  work  is  both  playful  and  serious.  It  collapses  personal  and  political arenas but with an uncertain smile. While inspired by a second-hand ‘truth’ Anya’s rendition  moves  beyond  specific  bodies  and  lips  to  emulate  frictions  between  the  sculptures  own  process  and  intent and conflict narratives more broadly. And while these themes are left in flux, we’re marooned  within our own detachment; at odds and unable to follow our habitual desires for order and resolve.  And  in  encouraging  us  to  re-position  ourselves  Anya  asks  us  to  think  for  ourselves,  promoting  speculative  interpretations  that  prolong  experience  rather  than  over-encode  or  stifle  it.    And  I  think  her clunky, formless techniques play a star role in all this; her textures and application delightfully and  noisily repel and intrigue, delude and persuade. They ask us to be wary, but of what I’m never sure. I  speculate it could be the freedoms but also the dangers of swimming outside the flags? Or she might  hint  at  how  insidious  and  all-encompassing  the  nature  of  misunderstanding  is;  and  the  way  it  can  dangerously haunt and infiltrate not only the borders of our media and technologies, but that of our  bodies and minds.

And meanwhile I discover:

The plane was unlikely a zero fighter (only a small number were reported missing and most have been accounted for). The plane that most likely fits the description is an Airspeed Oxford, as the RAAF had a heap of them, a couple went down over that area, from what D remembers (door on the side/gear inside) it’s the most likely of the planes that also match that description [1].

I saw Kate Tempest interviewed on ‘ABC’s the mix’ and as a poet/musician she connects her interests  to  ‘ideas  of  cycles  and  loops’  and  that  ‘in  a  hip-hop  sense  these  loops  become  the  mantra’.  She  concluded  by  describing  looping  as  a  ‘process  of  retracing  the  cycles  themselves,  and  that  part  of  getting older is to spot the cycle before you find yourself unwittingly back on it; in terms of behaviors  or situations or relationships’ [2].

So  I  imagine  Anya  is  finding  methods  for  interrupting  and  redirecting  the  ‘loops’  in  our  lives.  And  while  standing  here  gazing  at  a  paper  mache  aeroplane  and  a  series  of  stiff  mutated  bats,  hopefully  we start to ask ourselves: what are our own realities made up of? where do they come from? and to  what end? And most importantly, are they our own?

And I guess that’s why ‘weridos’ haunt our minds and conversations; they can’t be contained because  they depend on who ‘you’ or ‘I’ are; and in being essentially everything ‘we’ are not, they are home to  our fears and lack of understanding.

Written by Erika Scott

  1. Swan, A, 2016. Personal email correspondence [between A. Swan and E. Scott]. [1‐16 June2016]
  2. ABC The Mix: News 24 view. (2016). Kate Tempest speaks with Zan Rowe on ABC’s The Mix. [Online Video]. 18 May 2016.Available from: Link. [Accessed: 8 June 2016]

Essay from the exhibition  ‘you, me and a weirdo’  by Anya Swan (July, 2016). Courtesy of Fake estate ARI

Image: anya swan, bat rack I, 2016