Writing

Jordan Azcune: Raw Prawn

Dear Diary,

Jordan Azcune’s object relations are familiarly uncommon. They negotiate actions of strapping, balancing, leaning, extending, buggering, blending, bending, shrouding, hanging, twisting, puncturing, spilling, stretching, strapping and tying. His assemblages emit and scramble the physical networks of bodies and lived experience and act as barometers and mirrors that question their processes and place. When viewing Azcune’s works, one can track intuitive material observations alongside snatches of thought and make-shift mannerisms that push familiar strategies for thinking and experiencing into array, melting and spreading their corporal conditions in luminous and playful ways. Azcune also has a tendency to make work from ‘re-working’ choice materials in new scenarios, leading one to view his work as ‘measurements’, ‘surveys’, ‘tests’ or research of the very ‘stuff’ to which they are made.

In formulating arrays of quotidian materials, Azcune employs common strategies in contemporary art that simultaneously highlight the consumer cravings characteristic of our time, while offering alternative ways to ‘think’, consume and re-recognise what ‘familiarity’ dubs as absolute and invisible. His works regularly use site, situation, sporting equipment and a ‘utility-tray’ pallet as subject and material. I’ve noticed him employing in his displays tie down straps, saw horses, bricks, bungee hooks, roof tiles, pool noodles, fans, floats, raw timber, mesh, tarpaulins, tin, and plants in ambiguous stages of life and death. A large selection of these objects appear to be rounded-up from the local hardware or the artist’s own shed/backyard. By reinventing and arranging such blue-collar relics into art and framing them within deadpan or ‘anti-decorative’ displays, Azcune draws forth slapstick and absurdist sensibilities. His titles also tend to heighten and complicate these dynamics and his installation titled: ‘I’d give my left nut to see that again (after Edward Scissorhands)’, reminds me of the exuberant and unapologetic poetry of Francis Picabia. Francis Picabia (a defining figure in the Dada movement), like Azcune, had no qualms in the art of re-editing and re-wording his outputs and was more inclined to ‘throw monkey wrenches into language’ than wait patiently for inspiration to knock at his door 1. Just as the man who mistook his wife for a hat, Azcune adopts ‘wrenches’ or a raw prawn mentality to mix and ‘mistake’ object and things. His shirts and raincoats evade the body, air blows through them, or they are bunched into balls. In ‘neck pain’ 3 (May 15, 2015) a saw horse with long timber ‘extensions’ fixed with yellow zip ties, reaches across the gallery to balance a flaccid rainbow umbrella. Such works are eagerly mysterious and rather than promising hard outcomes they encourage multiple entry points and play out in real time.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, the leader of The Cloud Appreciation Society (TCAS), works to dissolve negative perceptions of clouds in language. A business term he likes to debunk is ‘Blue Sky thinking’. Pretor-Pinney rejects Blue Sky Thinking because it implies that one must be removed from the ‘reality of the present’ to gain perspective and increase creativity. I feel people like Pretor-Pinney and Azcune are importantly unanimous in rejecting this view. They understand that beauty and creativity are much more omnipresent and that our problems and solutions are messily engrained in the material networks (or within the clouds) around us. While the TCAS remind us simply to look up, Azcune uncovers for us something unexpected within something familiar. He self-consciously experiments with materials to make them ‘conductive’ and he uses concepts of parody and pastiche to start this process. Azcune also relays a sliding scale of personal and art historical references through his works and engages in collaborative side projects as a sort of economical way to collect new content and enthusiasm to feed back into his repertoire. Like the process of painting, Azcune introduces tensions and developments by way of textures, materials and ideas, ruffling our feathers to remind us how rigid and fluid our relationships with order can be and potentially questing the integrity of meaning itself. Yet rather than feeling completely awash in a sea of private languages, Azcune is a strong story teller and avoids long winded tales and slow cooked meals. He constructs works that we can walk ‘through’ and he encourages us to experience works directly and intimately, allowing meaning to arise ‘in-between’ thought and experience. In butting together the subjective experiences of the unfamiliar with the real and physical present, Azcune confronts the ways in which we usually re-tell our more immediate realities, and in turn provides incentive for us to reflect and fine-tune our own backyards.

I’d like to sign off now with one of my favourite poems by Picabia, Easel Wife.

EASEL WIFE

Its abnormal leaves foreign parasite
Hold news items
in a country heavy with nerves.
The walnut tree in the banal unknown
is the only truth
further off.
———————

Essay by Erika Scott

Courtesy of Cut Thumb ARI, from the exhibition by Jordan Azcune: Raw Prawn.

1. Lowenthal, M. 2007. I Am A Beautiful Monster : poetry, prose, and provocation Francis Picabia. MIT Press: England p12
2. Sluggish Videos 2015, fighting blue sky thinking. Available from: . [19 January 2016].
3. Azcune, J 2016, Jordan Azcune personal website. Available from [21 January 2016]

Taste with your eyes, see with your mouth

Elizabeth Willing’s Between Courses

Eat to live, or live to eat? On one hand sustenance, and on the other pleasure. Food is undeniably necessary, located right at the very bottom of Maslow’s pyramid1 , but it has the potential to be so much more than necessary – to excite, entice, enrapture. Food can be decadent, hearty, refreshing, moreish; in its many and varied forms, eating food is a ritual we all partake in multiple times a day. Whatever our circumstances, the need to stop what we are doing and enjoy a meal is a constant among life’s variables.

Food is an agent of true universality, so fundamental are the pleasures it offers. People of every race, culture, age and class instinctively know the comforting warmth of a bowl of soup or cup of tea, the refreshing feeling of a cool drink on a hot day, the sticky-sweet drip of a juicy piece of fruit. These sensations are part of the shared human experience, transcending social differences like language, class and culture.

The pleasures derived from food are not exclusively the purview of the mouth, either. Our biology has us wired to respond positively to food in general – we are innately attracted to its colours, textures, smells, and even its sounds. Food engages all of our senses in a fundamental, carnal way, stimulating our bodies and inspiring desire. Ghrelin, the so-called hunger hormone, is an anti-starving mechanism built into our very chemistry, causing us mouth-watering sensations when hungry and food-coma lethargy postfeasting.

Your ghrelin level may well contribute to your gut reactions when viewing Elizabeth Willing’s Between Courses. Practicing at the intersection of food and art for nearly a decade, Willing’s work breaches the divide between the gallery and the restaurant, playfully and cleverly blending the rules of one with the other. As institutions they are not so different – both are highly codified and steeped in class expectations, and indeed these days what major gallery does not have its own café, or vice versa good restaurant contemporary art on its walls? Stretching the boundaries of where art and food might each begin and end, Willing toys with the vernacular of both worlds to locate their intersection.

Willing’s infinite spirals of antipasto are simultaneously sumptuous and nauseating, devilled eggs and rolls of cold cuts fanned neatly for presentation. Collaging photographs found in dated cookbooks, Willing’s Banquet, Flesh and Cold Platter works teeter on the edge of taste in both senses of the word, their instantly recognisable but now entirely unfashionable style of photography transformed into mesmerising expanses of kitsch. Visually complex works, each one is surreal in its overwhelming excess, particularly when compared to the stark cleanliness of her Help series. Images of multiple sets of hands demonstrating bizarre collaborative recipe steps, the crisp whiteness of these works serves to amplify and dislocate the craftsmanship of food preparation. A wry comment on cooking as a social activity, the Help collages present a contradiction – many hands make light work, but too many cooks can spoil the broth.

If the collages are Willing using her studio as a kitchen, her sculptures see her kitchen become a studio. Her fascination with food itself as an artistic medium is endless; where you and I see ingredients for a meal, she sees sculptural potential. Viscosity, texture, colour – irrelevant for making lunch, but very important when making art. Bright yellow and cheekily curved, Pear liquor for one is the sculptural equivalent of an abandoned half-finished drink, or alternatively the food equivalent of a neon-light installation. Having been sucked through this upscaled crazy-straw, the vivid sticky substance rests abjectly at gravity’s behest. Pear liquor for one explores formalism, line and colour as much as it is also a reflection upon the shared experience and performance of drinking alcohol.

Food as an essentially social experience is a recurring theme in Willing’s work, and Between Courses sees her begin to explore the ties between particular foods and national identities. Concisely articulated in Banquet (Australian) and Banquet (German), food’s agency as a facet of cultural identity is significant, and a natural avenue of reflection for Willing having recently completed residencies in Berlin and Helsinki. Homemade explores this idea within the context of Australia with nuanced complexity, contemplating Australia’s colonial history and its ongoing relationship with the UK. A hand-carved shortbread mould featuring a map of Australia, Willing extends an invitation to opening night attendees to break apart and consume their nation.

Willing’s major new work for Between Courses is Dessert III, an intimate participatory art-eating experience. Five courses of foodsculpture are consumed degustation-style by the participants, who wear Willing’s signature Serviette shirts. The point where her collage psychedelia meets relational aesthetics, these kaleidoscopic shirts retain the trace of the Dessert III experience, a lasting memento of the performative event. As for the menu, Willing’s visually stunning courses are each a multi-sensory extravagance; drink a wedding cake, listen to a pancake, smell wearable herbal headdresses. Continuing her ongoing exploration into dining room décor, in testament to her impeccable attention to detail, Willing has also designed a tablecloth upon which Dessert III is staged and produced Parted, a kipfler potato-print wall paper installed as part of Between Courses.

Always looking to disrupt the expected, combine the incongruous and surprise the senses, Willing’s greatest strength as both an artist and a chef is her ability to simultaneously execute the equally transformative experiences of art viewing and food consumption, either both at once or one through the means of the other. Playing excess and simplicity off one another to strike a precarious balance between too much and just enough, Willing’s Between Courses offers viewers and participants a satiating sensorial experience.

Lisa Bryan-Brown, October 2015

 

1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory regarding human motivation, which posits physiological needs (sleep, water, food, shelter) as the foundation for all other needs (safety, belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualisation). Maslow, A.H. (1943) A theory of human motivation, in Psychological Review, 50 (4), p. 370-96, accessed at on 28 October 2015

Essay from the exhibition ‘ Between Courses’ by Elizabeth Willing, shown at Spiro Grace Art Rooms, 14th November – 12th December 2015.

Image: Flesh, (2015), Collage of all the images from the book Fleish-und Aufschnittplatten:meister, 60 x 100 cm

 

Parallel Park: Tandem

Holly Bates and Tayla Haggarty explore themes of gender, sexuality and representation in their respective practices. When working together as Parallel Park these concerns are amplified. Romantically involved, the collaboration combines their individual interests in materiality, recontexualised found objects, humour, metaphor, gender and sexuality, and merges them with questions pertaining to pairing, love and relationships. The resulting work is critical, funny and seductive in its presentation. In their work to date, they have provided lesbian manicures (google it), produced a music video of sexual athletics, and cast 101 cement double-ended dildos and exhibited them as a bone yard, but to list a few.

Tandem is their next offering and is quite an ambitious work and exhibition. Installed in Cut Thumb’s gallery, the work consists of two distinct elements: a set-like installation (in the shed), and a live-feed video projection (under the house) of said installation. The shed houses what could be described as a music video-like set. Comprising a glitzy backdrop, bright lights, a used exercise bike with attached BMX stunt pegs, a soundtrack blaring and fans blasting, the scene invokes memories of 90s exercise videos. In this scene however, there are no G-string leotards over bike pants. Rather, the scene is set and is waiting for us to complete the work.

The empty set invites audience participation, in pairs. The bicycle is unoccupied and is calling for performers. Traditional tandem bikes consist of two seats, two sets of pedals and two wheels, they are designed to share the workload between two – they are an ideal romantic metaphor. However, this is not a traditional tandem bike. In Parallel Park’s version, there is room for only one to comfortably sit and pedal, while the partner must rest on the pegs, up close and personal. How will these relationship dynamics play out? As duos approach the bike, who will be seated and peddling, and who will want to be taken for the ride? The work provokes additional personal questions such as: As a partner do you coast along, while your significant other does all the hard work? Will you allow someone else to take control of the situation, while you can sit back and relax? Are you more concerned with your appearance than the actual dynamics of your relationship? Is relationship intimacy invited or labored? Or will you instead go it alone, peddling and/or resting solo for your 15 seconds of fame?

Regardless of whether or not they the participants are peddling or resting, they are going nowhere, except to the moving image projected under the house. They are performing both live to an audience and mediated by the flat, edited projection. The audience is split into two: viewer/participant/performer or viewer/watcher/audience. The two iterations of the work present two views of the one action; one is messy, warts and all, while the other presents a more slick, edited façade. Depicting two sides of a relationship, perhaps?

The dual aspect of the work extends this line of questioning to include a broader dialogue regarding the role of performance, documentation and mediation in art. By offering both a “real” and “constructed” representation of the scene and ensuing performance/s, they are asking us to question our role in this discussion. Where will you position yourself to view the “art”? Parallel Park proposes a great deal of questions in this exhibition relating to the dynamics of relationships, the role of the artist vs. audience and the representation of the real (unedited) vs. the constructed (edited). While this may seems like a lot to ask from one work, the personality of Tandem invites us in to have fun first, and ask questions later.

Written by Courtney Coombs

From the exhibition ‘Tandem’ by Parallel Park  presented by Cut Thumb ARI 

PINKING. Decorative. Edge.

In an art world marked by big business sponsors and French champagne it is refreshing to see the kind of bottom–up show like PINKING. Held in residential West End, Cut Thumb gives an enthusiastic, share-house support to young artists.  Indeed, a light-hearted, art-for-arts-sake sensibility cuts cross the whole of Rachael Archibald’s practice.

There is a gentle irony then as Archibald creates non-commercial, non-orthodox art yet with a “decorative edge”. The tension between categories of high and low art, Avant Garde-ism and décor is brought to life in the two lenticular prints: images with the illusion of movement as one shifts their gaze upon it. The lenticular is a gimmicky medium, if we were even to call it that: its label is toy, not masterpiece. And yet Archibald superimposes three images of abstract, intricately textured and voluminous forms onto the surface. So when we shift across the lenticular, rather than see eyes pop out of a cartoon character or a lions mouth open in a roar, we are faced with an interlacing of pink landscapes and the appearance of letters P I N K I N G. How do we react? We can no longer think of the lenticular as child’s entertainment because here it appears so ethereal.

This really leads us to Archibald’s primary practice of digital art; and how the digital is seemingly locked in a binary opposition to Art. Archibald is often asked if she works within the vaporwave movement, which she has denied[1]. I think, if anything, Archibald does not work under vaporwave but against it. The “joke” in vaporwave is the flatness. The creators are using 90’s computer graphics precisely because they subvert aesthetics; they are “ugly” and so overtly not art. Archibald’s work is nothing like this. The forms in her digital images are not angsty but earnest. She is bringing the texture and movement already established in “high art” to the scroll up scroll down gallery wall of the Internet.

Establishing what Archibald is not, we might realise she is in fact closer to the past then on first glance. Both framing the show and forming its focal point is the large projection of a moving digital image. The projection may initially appear like a pink stream running across the screen. But layered above the glass-like swirls are patches of a more textured and metallic surface. And so these aluminium scabs disrupt the flow. The projection is in fact more like an extreme close up of her previous rock forms. The image is something like a spinning planet: tectonic plates resting above a molten centre. If we think about Archibald’s work in this way then she falls not so much into the camp of form but into that other, side-lined thread in art history of surface. Archibald liberates surface from its form. The metallic, the liquid and the plastic all exist in the work but are not limited to any one object; that is to say, this is not a collection of metal, liquid or plastic objects but a collection of metal, liquid and plastic essences, surfaces. Much like those strange images by Hieronymus Bosch or the crowed scenes of Robert Campin, the reality of Archibald’s work lies in its texture.

Archibald’s work then seems at once strikingly new and strangely familiar. The mediums of her works confront. However, as our eyes adjust to digital we can see underlying the new is an age-old pursuit for tangibility.

Written by Sophie Rose

 

[1] Interview with Saskia Edwards. Aesthetic Fixation, 19 April 2014.

Image: Poem by Callum Galletly

From the exhibition: PINKING. Decorative. Edge. by Rachael Archibald (28 November 2015). Courtesy of Cut Thumb ARI

Jason Haggerty: BODYPOD

Sphereology   noun.    the study of the human need for interior space.

On a metaphysical level, the meaning of my theory is that human beings never live outside of nature but always create a kind of existential space around themselves. Urban spaces are a humanized environment where nature is completely replaced by a man-made reality. This can provoke a kind of alienation; a sense of loss within cities that you might normally expect to feel in nature.[1]

American architect Thom Mayne once discussed the term ‘connected isolation’ in regard to modern day living. The term remarks on our propensity to build immunised spaces where we exist in isolation, protected from the elements, yet we remain connected via technology. Urban developments continuously spawn new apartment buildings housing compact living environments to accommodate for a vastly increasing population. We live in close confines, connected while isolated. The modern human lives with rigor on the threshold of a paradox.

Jason Haggerty’s BODYPOD engages this threshold via an exoskeleton of enclosed space, fully equipped for heightened sensory experience. For the installation, Haggerty employs methods of cybernetics, synthesising light, sound, and motion-tracking devices. Haggerty’s BODYPOD is not too dissimilar from the Utopian vision of R. Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth. In his 1969 publication, Fuller envisioned planet Earth as an operating system that requires care and caution on behalf of its inhabitants. Connection and interaction are paramount for the smooth running of Spaceship Earth. Thom Mayne explains that ‘only recently have computational systems allowed us to deal with very complex systems and large amounts of information – so that we can work integratively on projects …’

Fuller would have completely understood the need for the more sophisticated tools that allow us to think out our problems, because he was a person who did that in his mind. He saw problems from a multidimensional viewpoint. And that’s what we are aiming to do – harness technology not for its own sake, but to assimilate information, natural forces, and complex systems.[2]

Likewise, Haggerty’s BODYPOD employs a strategic modulation of technology for the purpose of engaging and altering sensory experience. Haggerty’s pod absorbs the human body, imitating flesh and biomorphic forms to create the smallest possible realm in which interactivity can occur. The internal shell is designed to respond to motion, mirroring movement and proximity. The viewer becomes immersed in subjective experience, trapped inside a feedback loop while completely armoured against the external world.

One reaches out toward a fragmented mirror. Quickly the mirror liquefies and begins to absorb the body until completely enclosed in One’s own liquid reflection. One awakes inside a pod. The contents begin to drain along with the illusion of safety. ‘Welcome to the real world.’[3]

Written by Kate O’Connor, July 2015

 

Courtesy of The Walls from the exhibition BODYPOD by Jason Haggerty.

[1] Peter Sloterdijk, ‘Something in the Air’, Frieze vol.127 (November – December 2009).

[2] Thom Mayne, ‘Thom Mayne on Morphosis’, Artforum International vol.47.3 (November 2008): 284.

[3] Scene transcribed from The Matrix, Dir. The Wachowski Brothers, 1999.

Private Places for Public Crying

Hello Possums!

Caitlyn “Caity” Reynolds has made some art for you and asked me to write some words to go with it if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. Maybe you’re looking at the art right now, oo-ing and ah-ing away happily, and then you walk out away in search of beer and sex, and here I am, I’m a piece of paper now, sitting here happily, waiting. WATCHING you leave! Come back! I am a lonely piece of paper! Pick me up, get your hand sweats on me, put me in your jeans!

Golly knows why Caity got me, a human boy with a paper fetish to write a thing for her. Maybe she knew it was to be printed on paper, and I could imagine being the paper whooshing through the printer as it left little inky kisses on me. I am not so lonely in the bosom of the printer! Caity is kind that way. She’s a very thoughtful person. I like her very much. A great deal. And you are getting a great deal by attending such a personages exhibition in the flesh. Make an effort to consider what the artist was considering when she made these wacky contraptions. What was she thinking about? What does it make you think about? And feelings too. Yuck, I hate feelings. But how I love them as well.

I’d say Caity made some art so she could get me to write on the paper that I love and make me happy. The art is a wonderful vehicle for my continued happiness as a loving and gregarious piece of paper that wants to be with you up in your hands and up in your eyes and up into your brain. Another reason is because Caity believes in art as a way of communicating ideas right to you, to make you happy and thoughtful and a bit sad as well. Caity is such a hardworking artist, and if she gets any smarter aliens will come and take her away to study her, or perhaps make her a guru. Smart is only half of it. Caity’s work, dealing in failure, seeing the humour in failure, is really as much about compassion, empathy, about seeing many failures in this odd and violent world as markers of humanity and reality – how we prove we aren’t zombies or robots, or liberal voters. The expectations we fail to meet are expectations that we often deep down want to fail to meet. These favoured and favourite failures tell us what we value and what we don’t, what we would like to change in the whole world maybe.

When Caity moved in to our house to live, I wasn’t coming out of my room much at all ever. When I’m depressed, when I think I’ve failed, I revert to my agoraphobic cave-self. My cave-place is where I cannot fail at anything. After months of not failing at anything, months of cave, I came to a complete emptiness of self. Big ol’ FAIL. I couldn’t speak much to anyone. Caity only knew I liked her a bit because I put up some of her paintings on the walls. That was my small communication. I liked her art. It made me a bit happier, having it there, having her do good things like that that were in the same world as me, and to see that this person, through art, had a view onto the differences and failures in each of us that makes us us, and seeing that that is okay, that that is good. Also she loves her cat, and I get to pat him and cuddle him every day which is great.

I started talking a bit more. And Caity is great to talk to. We also play Scrabble. She mostly wins. One time we played scrabble Caity played JARL. JARL?! Of course the incident is now known as “Jarlgate”. A Jarl is a Nordic chief. Caity is a Scrabble chief, a chief of wit, and art. Above all she’s a benevolent and often wise one. Her humour is her greatest wisdom.

People look up to her, not only because she’s probably the smartest chief in the room, she’s really funny too. There’s a lot of funny in the world and we need twice that amount, plus some. We need all different kinds of the stuff. I contend that more humour is exactly what we need to grapple with the big ideas that are looming and booming around the world. Humour is a critical and analytical tool that can give us the perspective we need, and also the joy we need, to make more good things from a place of generosity, rather than from a place of fear. Humour makes things easier to understand you der-brain.

Caity’s done some paintings that have very particular types of funny all in them. Caity is 1stclass honourably funny. Now she’s doing a PHD on failure, humour, absurdity, everyday life. She’s writing the book. (It could be more complicated than that! (I understand Jean-Paul Sartre is involved (Jean-Paul people! (Camus too?))) Whole paragraphs are written about Seinfeld and The Simpsons too, and the internet, and memes, and it’s brilliant. An ethnographic study of how smart people, our millennial smart clever and educated people deal with all the things.

Often our intellectual types of funny can be bitter and sardonic; a bit sarky. That’s okay for a bit, sure it is. What marks Caity’s work is its generosity and its personality. It is personal, for her, and for those it resonates with. Caity exposes herself to us, and invites us to share in a feeling. And not just in a group hug, awe and wonder, joy to the world, kind of way. Caity’s work is so self-deprecating that it hurts a bit. Can she really think that badly of herself? Sure, we all do. Spending time with these hurty thoughts can be something we don’t enjoy doing for any length of time. I reckon that’s a shame. Making self-doubt into brilliant, and witty, and wordy art, is a worthwhile practice everyone should try. We can tend to deny our feelings and twisty thoughts, because they don’t fit a narrative that we think is palatable.

We all have our inside thoughts whirling around in a fever. Caity is doing a lot to rip that fevery twistee out into the air and wave it around to cool it down a bit, wave it in front of other people and say hello fellow human! That yellowy powdery stuff on the art twistee is laughing dust and its tasty and nutritious for you. I think it’s all a bit inspirational really. And motivational too. Such personal exposures motivate us to expose ourselves to other people in real ways, and do it with a sense of play and with a sense of safety. It’s good to know someone else is flailing and failing away at the world, and cares about whether they’re seeing things in a light of their own choosing. Private spaces for public crying is a thing that is good and you might like it too, you der-brain.

Essay by Lachlan Groves

 

From the exhibition by Caity Reynolds: Private Places for Public Crying.

Courtesy of The Laundry Artspace

Erin Groenenboom: Leave (Get Out)

But now there’s nowhere to hide

Since you pushed my love aside

I’m out of my head

Hopelessly devoted to you

Hopelessly devoted to you

Hopelessly devoted to you [1]

Performing is a natural and familiar form of expression for the artist, Erin Groenenboom. The artist’s performances are not for entertainment, nor ‘an act’ executed with an audience in mind. Her performances and installations are intimate expressions of her everyday experiences, through which the artist seeks to achieve solace and self-awareness. Her practice centres on the examination of introspective process and ritual in contemporary visual art. Erin aims to create spaces that evoke opportunity for stillness and contemplation, and though deeply personal, she encourages audience to both view and interact with her works.

The work in this exhibition, Leave (Get Out), explores the freeing of the mind, body and spirit from the residues of past relationships and associated emotions including longing and pain. The three works in this exhibition comprise of audio-visual installations and performance. The exhibition title, Leave (Get Out) is one of many references to music and popular culture in this exhibition. The song of the same name, by JoJo, is a youthful angry and angst filled R&B pop song – reflective of a popular response to break ups. It sits in stark contrast to the sentiment of Erin’s work, which express a reflective approach and communication of the suffering associated with heartbreak.

n her audio work, I should have listened to Marina, Erin uses audio from footage captured during a talk by the artist Marina Abramovic, in which Marina states, “An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist”. Can one choose not to fall in love? What are the particular perils associated with two artists falling in love? The artist’s repetition of Marina’s statement in this work turns her words into a chant like hum. This allusion to the benefit of hindsight and shared experiences of heartbreak forms a connection between the artists, and in turn, the audience, who will form their own interpretation of Marina’s advice.

A suburban backyard with a water filled plastic blue tub and candles is presented to us in hopeless – a video installation in which the artist sings an excerpt of Olivia Newton John’s Hopelessly devoted to you while kneeling in the water. There is an honesty and rawness in the artist’s execution and intensity in her voice and poise. Erin talks about her interest in how we form associations with songs (and other items), appropriating them for our own purposes to mean something very personal, which may bear no relationship to the songwriter’s own intentions: “Why do I indulge in listening to certain songs for days on end, eternally embedding them with a certain person, time, place, or emotion?”[2]. We understand that this song has come to take on a new meaning, and the setting suggests something sacred or ritualistic is taking place. There is also a stillness and understated nature to this work, in which the artist has sought to achieve a meditative space.

The meditative quality connects to the artist’s interest in Eastern mysticism, particularly Buddhism. In Buddhism, meditation practise is paramount as a means to achieve balance and awareness, with the Buddha reaching enlightenment (complete state of self-realisation) through meditation [3]. Erin is interested in how the body is able to process emotions in a way that the mind and heart cannot achieve. Through drawing on meditation practice in her performance work.the artist speaks of the emotional and spiritual release experienced as well as a sense of being present in the moment [4]. Marina draws attention to how meditation traditions across cultures all share the aim of being present, which she also aspires to in her work, “how to get into that moment of now that is always escaping us”[5]. . The Buddhist understanding that life is suffering also has particular resonance [6]. This suffering arises from desire, with any fulfilment being temporary due to the impermanent nature of all things [7]. The beliefs of Eastern mysticism are highly influential in Erin’s work, as are artists inspired by these beliefs including Bill Viola, along with Marina Abramovic [8].

The live performance, reject reflex, is a piece where the artist will cut off all of her hair while singing the song These days by Nico. The artist states: “Why do I get the urge to cut my hair or get a tattoo after a break up? Am I trying to reclaim the body that someone else is finished with?” [9]. Many relationship sites and blogs raise this phenomenon – the idea of making a physical change to the body to symbolise a fresh start – with the hope that the mind and soul will follow suit.

These artworks are each deeply personal and communicate experiences unique to the artist. In this way, they may appear alienating or uncomfortable to witness, as though we are privy to something deeply private and personal. Yet the sentiments expressed are very human, honest and relatable, with the pain of heartbreak unavoidable for many! Laurie Anderson raises the idea of a Buddhist aesthetic, where the work demonstrates “there is an understanding – or illumination of – impermanence, emptiness, suffering (…)” [10], and Erin’s body of work encapsulate these ideas and others that connect strongly with Eastern mysticism based influences more broadly. Her intimate audio-visual installations and performance create a space for stillness, and an opportunity for audiences to view or participate in her heartfelt explorations of the longing and pain associated with heartbreak.

– Sarah Barron 2015

REFERENCES

[1] AZLyrics. Olivia Newton John lyrics: Hopelessly devoted to you. [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2015 Sept 20]. Available from: hKp://www.azlyrics.com/.

[2] ArNst’s exhibiNon submission 2015.

[3] Keown D. Buddhism: a very short introducNon. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press: Oxford; 2000. P. 44.

[4] In conversaNon with the arNst 27 August 2015.

[5] De Johgh K. Gold S. Lodermeyer P. Rietmeyer R. The arNst is present: A conversaNon with Marina Abramovic. Art Monthly Australia. 2010 June; 230. P. 33 – 36.

[6] Keown D. P. 49.

[7] Keown D. P. 46 – 51.

[8] Email correspondence with the arNst 11 September 2015.

[9] ArNst’s exhibiNon submission 2015.

[10] Anderson L. Time and beauty. In: Baas J, Jacob MJ. editors. Buddha mind in contemporary art. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA; 2004. P. 113 – 121.

 

A Synthesis of Abstract Constructs

With an opening on 10 September 2015 at POP Gallery Woolloongabba, Indirect Response is a selection of new works by Simon Degroot PhD candidate at the Queensland College of Art. This exhibition is a chance for Degroot to display new painting and sculptural work that has emerged from his doctoral research thus far.

Degroot’s research interest is in the translation of formal elements in contemporary abstraction, tracing how and when shapes become reused, and from where they are sourced. To be able to investigate this he must speak many of the so-called ‘languages of art’; he must understand the logic of past aesthetics in order to apply his process of translation into contemporary abstraction. These recent works articulate the fluency with which he speaks these aesthetic languages.

A single black monochrome painting carries the exhibition’s title. Indirect Response recalls the modernist history of black monochromatic painting, such as the work of Kazimir Malevich or Ad Reinhardt. The idea of the black monochrome was presented in their art as a culmination and termination of the representational capability of art. Pictorial depth and verisimilitude of colour in painting were reduced to the two-dimensional surface of the canvas, signaling the end of the medium’s primacy as a representational art.

Of course, the self-professed dead end in the history of painting was nothing of the sort, and is better considered as more of a riddling hypothesis on the nature of the art. As a work, Indirect Response provides a useful gateway between the colourful works and monochromatic green paintings in the exhibition. Its shades of black make it evocative of a photocopy of one or a combination of other exhibited works, which Degroot notes was a conscious decision throughout the artistic process. In effect Degroot is trying to mirror the way that photocopies are always at once originals and copies of something that exists outside of themselves. (1)

The understanding of how to make paintings that are both original and reiterative of something else is present throughout the exhibition. As a PhD candidate, the depth of his research means his work must knowingly take onboard the impossibility of undoing the Modernist monochrome. He must work ‘in direct response’ to the black monochrome, photocopying and displaying these problems in order to keep them present. And yet Degroot must also translate these problems into new and contemporary terms – define the parameters – to propel them forward.

This exhibition is an exciting achievement in Degroot’s practice. Essentially he has used his own language, created a personal lexicon in taking on the inveterate painterly, abstract conundrums of the 20th century. The voice that Degroot embodies in paint on canvas is one attenuated by a dauntless personally private tone – refreshingly revealing for an abstract artist. The works throughout this exhibition are aesthetically bold and determined, without the detached and impersonal veneer commonly found in abstraction.

All the works in Indirect Response display large, simple, bold, and emphatic shapes, applied in veiling layers of drastically thinned oil paint, which behaves and appears ink-like in its transparency. The sharp edges around his shapes are vocal and purposeful, visually emphasizing their curves and angles.

Composite Orders, the collective title of the green monochromes, is a term originating in the study of architecture to describe a method of hybridising elements from distinct precepts of design, called orders. A composite order is an amalgam of elements; a synthetic combination of aesthetic characteristics from distinct places organised in a manner which allows those elements to build atop each other while keeping their origins visible.

As noted, the order of ‘abstraction in Western art’ is evidenced through Degroot’s direct reiterations of constructed environments. However, this language is translated through orders emanating from the artist’s lived experience. One, unlikely, example, is the built environment in Road Runner cartoons. The especially cartoony nature of the man-made products and environments – such as the extreme curvatures of bridges, or the exaggerated shapes of the prototypical Acme anvil – are familiar as a result of their unusualness. Degroot cites commercial logos as another example.

These orders also influence ways of seeing and understanding the world. Looking upon the world in the order of ‘cartoony representation’, he flattens the depth of the horizon into distinct layers. As a consequence, the environment is filled with negative spaces, like the 2D shape created between buildings that may be a kilometer apart. Scrutinising and decontextualising these shapes probes their importance to the built environment. Looking this way creates a familiar double of the world. This order of ‘shape motifs’ appear frequently throughout this body of work.

Colour is used by Degroot to highlight an amalgam of orders and sets in motion a distinct resonance between the works. The multi-coloured works echo the pastels of the Road Runner animations, whilst the black monochrome recalls traditions of western abstraction. By contrast, Degroot aligns the shade of green found in Composite Orders, to that found in early computer and supermarket checkout screens. By leaving the white canvas visible around the border of the works, these green monochromes seem to be backlit like the computer screens they are inspired by. They have a luminous quality that pushes the veiled layers of paint forward from the canvas, the opposite of the photographic depths of the black monochrome.

Combined, the familiar but slightly obscure body of work creates a clear and expressive invitation to see the world in terms of orders. Degroot’s intelligent and attractive paintings illustrate how a range of influences and research interests can be translated and expressed in direct response to one’s environment and experiences.

Indirect Response translates and repeats the world into a synthesis of inventive painterly language. Degroot retains the dense history of abstraction in these works, however the transparency of these paintings allows the viewer to visually pass in and out (and eventually through) the static, impenetrable idea of the monochrome.

Written by Cameron Hope

(1) Simon Degroot, interview with S. Marsh and C. Hope (Brisbane, 7 August 2015).

 

From the exhibition ‘Indirect Response’ by Simon Degroot @ POP Gallery

Image: Simon Degroot Indirect Response 2015, oil on canvas, 120 x 137cm

Direction Now

The ten artists in this exhibition have come together in a spirit of a mutual exploration of abstraction. Mostyn Bramley-Moore, Terri Brooks, Michael Cusack, Miles Hall, Anton Hart, Anthony T O’Carroll, Claire Primrose, Amanda Ryan, Peter Sharp and Ann Thompson represent a cross-generational group of Australian artists who have pursued the emotional tenor of abstract forms, lines, colours and textures. Their work ranges from the robust and vigorous to the lyrical and minimal. Some images are sombre, others euphoric, while several works engage with a palpable sense of the familiar urban environment. There are incisions, rubbings and accumulations of matter. Each work is committed to the iteration and reiteration of the mark.

The artists have chosen the exhibition title, Direction Now, intentionally echoing an earlier exhibition that presented a similar spirit of camaraderie. In December 1956 Direction 1 was held at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. The commercial gallery presented the work of Robert Klippel, John Olsen, John Passmore, Eric Smith and William Rose. Bound by both friendship and an interest in abstraction, the artists had been particularly struck by the important 1953 exhibition French Painting Today which toured capital cities in Australia and included the work of Picasso and Braque alongside the contemporary artists André Marchand and Pierre Soulages.

Despite positive reviews, this exhibition (which was only on for one week) caused much hostility in the Australian art world. It was not the first time that abstract painting had been exhibited in Sydney, (the Contemporary Art Society exhibitions had regular exhibitors) but it was the first time that an exhibition was dedicated to it. Direction 1 encapsulated a symbolic moment. It was a turning point for abstraction in Australia.

In his review of Direction 1, the artist and critic James Gleeson wrote: “To say that they are invigorating is to do them scant justice. It is as though a fresh wind had blown away the cobwebs. Here is a group of artists who are wholly committed to the elucidation of some of the most difficult problems that artists have ever had to face”.[1] John Olsen has recalled, “Direction 1 came at a time when Australia wanted to participate more in the outside world. It was the time of large-scale, promoted immigration, of the dismantling of the White Australia policy, of greater cosmopolitanism…of a general opening up, a loosening up.”[2] The art critic Paul Haefliger had labelled the artists “leaders of abstract expressionism”[3], although in hindsight it was not the most accurate term to use.

My late father, Elwyn Lynn (texture painter, art critic and curator) had become the editor of the Contemporary Art Society Broadsheet in 1955 where he established a forum for the understanding and appreciation of international art. This was a period when criticism was imbued with a sharp sense of persuasion and passion. There was an atmosphere of relief that the charm of post-war romanticism had given way. He was likely the first person to publish a text about ‘abstract expressionism’ in Australia in 1956.[4] In 1961 he wrote about the “new conviction, a new sense of mission in the approach of abstract painters”.[5] He identified several streams of abstraction: linear expressionism (Peter Upward, Leonard Hessing, Henry Salkauskas, Stan Rapotec, John Olsen, Carl Plate), cubistic articulation (Godfrey Miller, John Passmore, Judy Cassab, Nancy Borlase), texture painters (Sheila McDonald, Oscar Edwards), kaleidoscopic fragmentation and finally, organic growth.

It is almost 60 years since this watershed period in Australian painting, so the question is, why have the artists in this exhibition, Direction Now, chosen to pay homage to this moment in 1956? First and foremost, the exhibition has come together through the artists’ own initiative and developed from a position of mutual respect. Just as the artists in Direction 1 exhibited quite diverse positions, so too this group of artists represents individual voices within the broader field of abstraction. Furthermore, in their joint statement the artists comment that “abstraction is perhaps the least recognized and understood painting form”, suggesting that the exhibition is an entreaty for an expanded dialogue on the topic. The Direction Now artists have persevered with a form of painting/assemblage that has its roots in a modernist period. It was argued in the last decades of the 20th century that abstract painting reached an end point, a limit, in the 1960s with the work of American artist Robert Ryman, and that abstract painting today can only repeat what has gone before. Despite this, abstract painting continues to abound. What if we stepped outside of this debate about the similarities and differences between early and recent abstract painting?

The critic Jan Verwoert has discussed the importance of rhyme and rhythm in contemporary art: when one element corresponds with another without actually being the same thing. While he does not address abstract painting, he contends that “art is about relations rather than representations, about qualities and states, rather than status”.[6] The artists in this exhibition seek to create such qualities and states. They do this through their connection to a sense of place manifested through the material substance of the work. Whether it be the use of contemporary colour, a response to the gritty urbanism of a concrete wall, or the lush Australian coastal foliage, these works relate to the world around them, without seeking to be equivalent to that world, represent it, or take a stance on it. Rather, these objects are of the world they inhabit. The works imbue that world, by drawing on the substances, colours and sensibilities within.

Hence, rather than limiting our consideration to the ‘status’ of abstraction, we can focus on the works themselves, and consider their use of rhyme and rhythm – the relation of parts to the whole. The fragment preoccupies several art forms today: photographic images of ruins, installations with found items, or the trace of an event on video. In the works in this exhibition, the fragment is realised as a single linear gesture, a torn piece of collage, a robust or muted colour or a bulbous form. These fragments are not at ease; rather they are restless. The fragment is always relating to other components in the picture or other works in the group; constantly becoming and dissolving. In the presence of this restless energy of the fragment we, the audience, embark on a process of willing together. We work with the composition – as our eyes dart this way and that, the work remains at the level of ‘relation’. Forms are left floating, unburdened by representation, narrative or illustration. They offer a respite from the images that accumulate around us daily; a breathing space. These artists disclose a respect for process, and for this process to be visible in the layers of paint, or the folding of forms.

Mostyn Bramley-Moore’s luscious circular lines, punctuated by light blue background suggest the turbulence and density of a stormy landscape. The accumulation of circular lines in the work evoke a sense of unexpected movement, changes in light and mood. Peter Sharp’s wide lines meander, like rivers and ridges, through the painting. The imagery is inspired by desert landscapes, and the forms collaborate like a collection of found objects within each work. Ann Thomson’s robust colourful compositions are simultaneously fluid and abrupt. Intense areas of saturated colour are combined with the formless and lyrical addition of dripping paint.  Amanda Ryan’s constructed assemblages, by contrast, are quietly folded fabric compositions that explore geometric possibilities. Michael Cusak’s overlapping abstract forms float like clouds, unhinged, in the open and flat space of the canvas. Similarly Miles Hall’s minimal objects hover on the wall in relation to one another, as if torn from a greater whole. Anton Hart’s work uses various media to address our everyday environment. Often using photographic source material, and language, Hart displays an expressionist yet conceptual vigour.  Terri Brooks, Anthony O’Carroll and Claire Primrose variously use incised lines, cracked surfaces and rubbed layers to reflect upon an urban, worn and weathered environment. Their works operate at the level of texture, where planes of colour and matter hover and meld into one another. They invoke a sense of place, without describing it, using subdued, and intense colouration.

Unconcerned with being ‘new’, these artists simply exist in the moment ‘now’. This is not a radical or progressive thinking, but a subtle ‘tuning in’. They are ‘tuned in’ to the longevity of abstraction (from expressionism to minimalism) and ‘fine-tune’ their work in a contemporary environment. Linda Marie Walker has written,

Art is a world-making endeavour that can bring unlikely, ungainly, broken, and discarded matters and textures and colours and atmospheres alive… So as to make the world another world, one that is actually present in its own wild imagination, borderless, cosmic, and transitory.[7]

The artists in Direction Now present this transitory and borderless atmosphere. They explore the relational nature of the fragment, allowing it to wrestle with its companion parts. Their materials are infused with a contemporary sense of place, and their work looks at the past from the perspective of the present tense.

Written by Victoria Lynn

From the exhibition ‘Direction Now’ at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery

Victoria Lynn is Director of TarraWarra Museum of Art and has published widely on contemporary art.

 

[1] James Gleeson, ‘Colour, life in art’, The Sun, Tuesday 4 December, 1956

[2] John Olsen, Drawn from Life The Journals of John Olsen, Duffy & Snellgrove, Sydney, 1997 p.12

[3] Paul Haefleger, ‘Exhibition of Work by Five Leading artists’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 December 1956

[4] Elwyn Lynn, ‘The Motif in Painting’, Contemporary Art Society Broadsheet, March 1956.

[5] Elwyn Lynn, ‘Avant Garde Painting in Sydney’, Meanjin Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1961, p.302

[6] Jan Verwoert, ‘Why is Art Met with Disbelief?’, Nikos Papastergiadis and Victoria Lynn (ed’s), Art in the Global Present, UTSepress and CSR books, Sydney, p.204

[7] Linda Marie Walker, ‘The Tender Heart’, Nikos Papastergiadis and Victoria Lynn (ed’s), Art in the Global Present, UTSepress and CSR books, Sydney, p. 209 citing J. Hillman, The Thought Of The Heart and The Soul of the World (New York: Spring Publications, 1998), p.109.

Image: Mostyn Bramley Moore, Clinton Hill 2015, Oil on polyester canvas

Jaden Gallagher: Happy End Problem

Interview between Llewellyn Millhouse and Jaden Gallagher

L: Your work up until this project has been mostly sculptural installations, consisting of ready-made and everyday materials and relying on the physical quality or spatial experience of the work, what has directed your interest to the particularly flat and immaterial world of digital video production and motion graphics?

J: I have been making digital and internet-based work for a while now, but this is my first complete body of work that sits entirely in that medium. My practice has increasingly responded and been influenced by cultural objects produced for the screen and distributed online, and I have been looking a lot at artists who use digital rendering and motion graphics, so it has been an obvious progression. A part of my interest in these media is the precise control that they allow over screen space, how the screen and the digital object can appear and behave in an exact and particular way, and retain a seemingly infinite visual depth. I find the conflict between the depth and complexity of the digital object and its severe flatness and minimalism interesting.

L: To people unfamiliar with the process of producing digitally rendered video, could you explain how you create the objects in your work (i.e. are they drawn with a mouse, are they saved off of the web as a jpeg, etc.) and how you animate these objects (i.e. is there a preset setting to make text fly around in a storm, or do you have to set an animated path etc.)?

J: Objects in the work are incredibly varied in origin, a number are drawn by hand and others entirely generated within the composition software and the animation key framed. The process of producing one image often involves the use of a number of different programs and combination of effects. For most of the text work, a combination of techniques is used and mostly I would say the animation is path based.

L: The work ‘Happy End Problem’ seems to reference the way that motion graphics is used in commercial or popular cultural settings rather than steer the medium in a completely different direction, do you consider this work as responding to the use of motion graphics in popular culture?

J: Yes, I am attempting to react to the language of motion graphics in popular culture and that’s largely as a form of advertising. I felt attracted to the forms presented in advertising that used motion graphics. They were all very familiar and I could understand and engage with them without much conscious thought. They moved fluidly in and out of each other and the process seemed to engage so strongly with a contemporary way of thinking about life visually. The simple forms were often also reminiscent of the kind of abstract experimental films that were made by early animators and by artists. Fluxus film focused on the formal qualities of film, and the poetic qualities of life so they were often devoid of a clear narrative, unlike how motion graphics are used today. But the connection to this aspect of film and art history reminded me that this medium and way of visually thinking through abstract forms isn’t new and has a long history within the arts. It also seemed like there was an element of erasure of this historical significance, because this kind of visual language has ended up being colonised by advertising or special effects rather than a broader field of artistic interest.

L: Can you expand on the significance of the tile “Happy End Problem” as a phrase; is this a reference to some particular problem or phenomenon?

J: I chose the title “Happy End Problem” because it had a strong poetic quality. It is a reference to the happy ending problem, a mathematical theory in geometry that asks that any among any five or more points a convex quadrilateral can be formed. The theorem is named the happy ending problem because a pair of mathematicians who worked on the problem ended up marrying. My interest wasn’t mathematical, but more to do with drawing a connection between a narrative and this historical connection to artists playing with the plane of geometry in film.

L: There has been a (vapor) wave of artists in the past five years that have used 3D modeling and digital rendering in an ironic homage of early Internet aesthetics, as well as using processes of “data-moshing” or “glitch aesthetics” to subvert or parody technological capitalism’s obsession with aesthetic progress and perfectly clean and singular images. How do you feel ‘Happy End Problem’ relates to this movement / body of work?

J: I definitely thought about this when I approached the content of the work. There’s a kind of cyber-utopian rhetoric that accompanies work that references early Internet aesthetics which emphasises the liberation of expression available for artists through technology. A similar rhetoric, I think, now informs the approach of advertisers on the Internet, particularly within social media based advertising, which often receives huge praise in the industry for finally allowing advertisers to connect their product with millennials in a meaningful way. In some instances advertisers even adopt an early Internet aesthetic in their material with hopes of connecting with another market. Often this doesn’t work for advertisers, but I feel like for artists this idea doesn’t hold true to the real experience of using technology to make art or design material. It’s a very awkward process to engage in for me.

I definitely chose to distance my work from an approach that emphasised poor image quality and focus on the formal qualities of less distorted, nostalgic or “glitchy” imagery. It is a difficult time to say something meaningful about the way that we engage with technological capitalism, but found it productive to explore what I felt was a very contemporary way of making and engaging with the visual language of the present moment to make my work.

L: It seems as if in its regular context the formal content of motion graphics goes largely unnoticed. When I think of motion graphics that I encounter in advertising or on a YouTube video it appears to perform a very utilitarian function, communicating simple and straight-forward information in an efficient manner, so that I stop seeing how the information is visually communicated, and I just see what is being signified. Is this lack of visibility significant to you?

J: The lack of conscious visibility is significant to my interest in motion graphics. Motion graphics appear at all levels of marketing, from YouTuber’s and small business start-ups to multinational corporations, they are a very cheap and effective way of marketing a product. Once I began to focus on working with them, I was surprised how often I had not consciously noticed them in my daily life and only perceived the information about the product. It was like a whole way of thinking about public images I hadn’t considered. It’s very effective at saying a lot within a short span of time but maintaining clarity. I noticed even very poorly made motion graphics could pass off undetected because most people are so familiar with thinking about things in simple visual ways.

For the narrative to be understood, the quality doesn’t need to be perfect. In producing and maintaining this low visibility, motion graphics relies on the viewer’s understanding of popular visual language and metaphor to figure out what is being shown on the screen and what meaning they are intended to perceive. This is often more effective than really filming something in advertising because it allows the viewer to fill in gaps themselves and create their own narrative around the product. I was interested in finding where this unconscious engagement with visual language and conceptual metaphor entropies and becomes perceptible in the image itself.

 

Image: Jaden Gallagher, Happy End Problem. 2015.

Courtesy of ‘Cut Thumb ARI’