Conceptual Tension viewed through a Cracked Macro Lens: A Structuralist Essay on the ‘Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis’ Exhibition by James Aksman-Glosz

Photo+Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis, a group photographic exhibition, took place at Interlude Gallery, Shop 11 131-145 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW from 13th October to 22nd October 2016. 

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Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis, 2016, installation view. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

I have a keen interest in history: often it is the case that our past catches up with us, or previous events that occurred hundreds of years ago has a profound effect on our way of thinking. Back in 2011, I was studying at Sydney College of the Arts; I remember being alone, in a rarely used common room on campus, and with no other students around, it was strangely quiet, you could hear a pin drop. A sharp contrast to the weather outside, as there was a high pitch howling wind like a pack of wolves baying in unison however, because of the room’s thick sandstone walls this noise was relatively muted. A large desk was directly in front of me, and a collection of objects (art history textbooks, art journals, printed images of artworks) which are commonly seen together with hard-working and dedicated art students who are getting ready to prepare for a class presentation.

The subject of this class presentation was the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1799), more specifically his series of fourteen copper plate etchings Carceri d’invenzione (Capricious Inventions of Prisons, ca.1749-50). An accurate description of this series of artwork is an imaginary depiction of prisons, executed through the use of the Baroque Classical style. An absurd subject, considering I was studying at an art school well-known for it’s conceptually based arts program with a strong focus on Postmodernism. For the moment, I gritted my teeth, ignored the absurdity and began my research. Shortly after, I was suddenly startled when the door to the room violently sprung open (much like the scene in Tarantino’s revenge film Hateful Eight, and an apparent cause was the strong wind outside) and in walked artist and senior lecturer Justin Trendall. As he walked further into the room, for a brief second, his spine elongated as he distinctly peered over to see what I was doing. Little did I know beforehand, that Justin Trendall had a sustained interest in Piranesi’s work. And this sparked an engaging conversation, which led to his theory that artists are trying to overcome similar challenges that artists of past eras had to contend with, such as how there is a correlation between Piranesi and installation art in their investigation into how an aberrant spatial experience could be brought about by architectural design.

This conversation spirited me away to my earliest experiences studying art history, in particular, the Industrial Revolution period (1760-1840). Published on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, was Edmund Burke’s influential philosophy A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). Relegating literature and poetry as being more capable of interpreting and expressing the sublime than painting, stripping painting of its hierarchical position in art history, forcing it to survive in unfamiliar territory. Moving forward to the present day, a similar conundrum of the past exists within the medium of photography (in relation to painting), and for it to develop a unique model of semantics, and intellectual awareness it needs to create conceptual tension viewed through a cracked macro lens.

Signalling the investigation of a new topography of Photography is Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis (2016), a group photography exhibition. Being held at Interlude Gallery, which features a diverse range of artists that include Benjamin Chadbond, Jordanne Chant, Adrian De Georgio, Max Goodman, Baki Kocaballi, Gabriella Lo Presti, Patrick Mason, Elizabeth McCrystal, Sara Oscar, Isabel R, and Talia Smith.

To establish a rationale for this exhibition, co-director of Interlude Gallery, Misael M. has written a short essay. His philosophical argument contains diverse subject matter ranging from the photographic technique of ‘bracketing,’ the German philosopher Edmund Gustav Husserl, in particular, his writings on the phenomenological concepts: epoché and scepticism. Also there is a story about a girl named Alice taking a photo of a chicken lemon sandwich, which briefly alludes to Baudrillard’s philosophical discourse Simulacra and Simulation (1981), and a couple of quotes from Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy (1951), that promotes absurdity and nothingness. Additionally, there aren’t any contextual signifiers representing any of these things; it’s akin to all the clocks in the world have smashed so that chaos can reign.

Leading me to the opinion, that Misael M’s essay may not, in fact, be an essay, but rather a deceptive (and clever) method of flipping back and forth between conceptual ideas about connection and severance, disrupting the formal language of photography for the participating artists in this exhibition. For example, at the beginning of the essay, there is a quote from Beckett’s novel Molloy (1951) “to restore silence is the role of objects,” however, in its proper context, this quote was never meant to be a literal interpretation. Instead, it’s about the idea that assigning a metaphor to an object (connection), makes that object mean something, yet as soon as that linguistic exchange takes place, you forever dispense with the opportunity (severance) for that object to be meaningful to someone else.

Disrupting the visual exchange between viewer and artwork can be seen throughout Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis (2016). However, because Misael M.’s curatorial essay is ambitious, consequently, raising the bar in what I expect from contemporary art, a few of the artworks in this exhibition have failed due to their lack of conceptual rigour. Not surprising, since, in more recent years, I rarely witness contemporary art, which expresses the counter struggle against our desensitisation to images and simple narrative. Without resorting to the use of sensationalism or controversy.

Baki Kocaballi, #hamburger 4:28pm 01/10/2016, #cat 3.13pm 02/10/2016, #flower 2.11pm 01/10/2016, #selfie 3.01pm 01/10/2016, digital inkjet print on photographic paper, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Baki Kocaballi, #hamburger 4:28pm 01/10/2016, #cat 3.13pm 02/10/2016, #flower 2.11pm 01/10/2016, #selfie 3.01pm 01/10/2016, digital inkjet print on photographic paper, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Nevertheless, ‘desensitisation’ makes a welcome return, as a common theme in this exhibition. Oxygenising the medium of photography, through how it generates conceptual tension within the individual works. There is often misleading hypotheses about conceptual tension and how fusing concepts in an artwork, gained from multiple sources, can produce it. The old modernist idea of ‘making something old new again.’ Preferably, it’s achieved through exploring the binary opposition of protagonist versus antagonist, opposing what is necessary or expected — the type of art that challenges convention and consequently aiding in bolstering Weltanschauung, an outlook of the world seen through the artist’s perspective. With a pertinent example being Baki Kocaballi’s remarkable series of work that creates a contradiction within the medium of digital print and investigates the culture of photography, which exists in social media. It’s best to describe Kocaballi’s digital prints as blurred imagery to the point of complete abstraction. Dominating the abstract qualities of these prints is a colour scheme consisting of muddy browns, fiery orange, and muted pink. A particular colour combination: provoking direful feelings, and is reminiscent of the calamitous imagery in J.M.W Turner’s famous painting Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and DyingTyphoon Coming OnSlave Ship’ (1840). Sentiments that are better suited to describing past events, than the present, and marks a dissension from the conceptual discourse that Kocaballi has interwoven in his digital works, which functions on multiple levels. Through how he has dismantled (through abstraction) a defining trait of digital imagery, namely its high resolution while avoiding methods, which are frequently used such as blurred photographic distortion and pronounced pixelated graphics. With much contradiction, installed in the gallery space with mechanical sequencing, and making it visible to the viewer that they are witnessing a digital reproduction of a set of images.

In Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), he proposes that authenticity in art diminishes through the process of reproduction. Despite the fact that, in the context of the visual arts, ‘authenticity’ is identical to first-hand experience, and first-hand experience isn’t any more authentic than a second-hand account of an event. For instance, the Australian painter George Gittoes expresses the horrors of war in his paintings by illustrating events he has personally experienced, in Afghanistan, Mogadishu, and Rwanda. However, are his paintings any more authentic than that of the 18th-century painter, Francisco Goya (1746-1828), specifically, his famous painting The Third of May, 1808, or The Executions on Príncipe Pío Hill (1814)? Taking into consideration, that Goya didn’t experience this massacre first hand but conjured it up with the authority of artistic license. An artistic direction expertly analysed by the art critic Robert Hughes (1938-2012) who states “The truth offered by previous paintings of war is not raw but manifestly cooked; while Goya’s extraordinary image is not raw either, but cooked in a different and startling unprecedented way, so it looks raw.”

From this point of view, the majority of visual arts are contrived, no matter what medium it’s created in, and it boils down to the situation if the artist was able to persuade the viewer in believing their artwork is authentic. With Kocaballi’s digital prints, he gets four attempts at it (there are four prints). The first print provides the viewer with their first impression; the second print projects a surreal experience when the viewer notices subtle changes within the images, through repetition the third print becomes more persuasive, and the fourth and last print become the precipice where authenticity might be acknowledged. Coupled with titles (and accompanied by representational images displayed on a tablet device) such as #hamburger 4:28pm 01/10/2016 and #cat 3.13pm 02/10/2016 adds an extra layer of meaning to these prints. Providing a motif, social commentary on mobile phone photography viewed in social media, repeated photos of what most of us eat for breakfast or lunch, and cat memes, both characterised by their increased frequency into our social consciousness and their banality. Placed in close vicinity with abstract imagery, this motif is carried to a new destination, forming a narrative on photography within social media and the nihilistic effects it has on the human spirit. Consequently, spawning a reversed mirror image of the teleological motivation behind modernist abstract art. Let me explain, firstly, abstract art has had many influences, one of them being the writings of the German philosopher G.W.F Hegel (1770-1831). For Hegel, the visual world was full of symbolism charged with concrete connotations, corroding subjectivity in art, and to solve this problem, art needed to become an unmitigated artifice. Put more simply, abstract art that is not about anything, although philosophically it holds the objective to advance the human spirit. Placing Kocaballi’s digital prints in a framework marked by contradiction, both advancing the human spirit and denying its existence, at the same time. Therefore, forcing the perimeter that separates historical fact (Hegel’s advancing of the human spirit) with the present day (social media’s nihilistic effect on the human spirit) to become blurred, to the point, of complete abstraction.

Talia Smith, Seven Times over Seven Days (Time, Distance, Me and You), inkjet print on matte paper from a 120mm photograph, bricks, plywood, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Talia Smith, Seven Times over Seven Days (Time, Distance, Me and You), inkjet print on matte paper from a 120mm photograph, bricks, plywood, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

One of the most visually appealing artworks in this exhibition is Talia Smith’s high contrast photographic work Seven Times over Seven DaysTime, Distance, Me and You’ (2016). Embracing the theme of ‘desensitisation’ that marks this exhibition, Talia Smith’s photograph is installed by having the work gently tilting against the gallery wall, comfortably resting on two small pillars of ordinary house bricks. This photographic work captures an empty backyard complete with a weathered wooden pail fence, and with a lowered horizon line, it gives the illusion that the viewer is seeing this yard from a child’s perspective. There is also a subtle light that is pushing its way through the narrow cracks of the fence, reminding me of the same kind of light that flickers through the dense curtain backdrop of a theatre production. And the more time I spend looking at this artwork, I become more and more convinced that the fence doesn’t prompt me to acknowledge it as a suburban wooden wall, but a thick curtain, the type of curtain, which you would find as a backdrop on a theatre stage. Conforming to the process of making (deciding on the subject matter of the photo) and remaking (modifying the contextual elements of the image). Further evident in how put on display to the viewer through a shallow depth of field, is the asphalt ground in front of the fence, much the same perspective, which an audience would view a theatre stage. And the asphalt ground is clearly illuminated, a spotlight, to gesture it’s time to take on the role you were born to play, be it Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Wagner’s Isolde, or maybe you just want to play a different version of yourself no one has ever seen to an imaginary audience. And to believe in such things, to embrace the imagination of your youth and express theatricality with few restraints, you have to perceive the world through the mind’s eye of a child.

The Theatre of the Absurd (c. 1950-1960), which included Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, held the philosophical stance that human existence no longer can be defined in any set terms. Interpreted through Beckett’s plays such as Waiting for Godot (1953) and Endgame (1957) by exploring the theme of ‘nothingness.’ Be that as it may, on account of how Beckett was directly influenced by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922) the idea of ‘nothingness’ is frankly not a surface quality. Specifically, Proust’s theory that experiencing anguish in the void of ‘nothingness’ assists in determining the essential nature of an individual. Following with reckless abandon down this spiralling road to nowhere can be clearly seen in Isabel R’s installation work TobogánSlide’ (2016). This installation work consists of a mid contrast, mid-key, printed image of a metaphor for existential loneliness; a waterslide in an amusement park, except that it’s completely devoid of people. Printed on a suspended piece of lycra, with the lycra pegged on a piece of synthetic rope, comparable to an article of clothing, which one would see hanging on a washing line.

Isabel R, Tobogán (Slide), digital print on lycra, synthetic rope, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Isabel R, Tobogán (Slide), digital print on lycra, synthetic rope, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Now imagine a washing line, where a family, couple or group of friends has just returned from an overseas holiday. What would you expect to see? In Australia, many people, regardless, on where they grew up, or what their interests are, end up at the same destination. Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. So probability dictates, that you would most likely see Lady and the Tramp graphic tops, Captain Mickey Mouse tie-dye t-shirts, and since Disney owns the rights to Lucasfilm Ltd., maybe a black t-shirt with Kylo Ren’s lightsaber emblazoned on the front. What you wouldn’t expect to see is an image of a waterslide in an abandoned amusement park.

Knowing this, is Isabel R’s TobogánSlide,’ just an inquiry into the strict dichotomy between absence and presence, a simple visual game of playing opposites? People who embark on an overseas trip, advertise how much better their lives when compared to others by having Disney merchandise hanging on their washing line (for all their envious neighbours to see). And rather antithetically Isabel R’s installation artwork is candidly stating that in this world, there are no more rewarding fun activities to pursue, let alone advertise.

Although on closer examination, I realise the corner of the gallery is where her artwork was installed, which makes me fondly recall some poignant phenomenological concepts about architectural space in Gaston Bachelard’s treatise La Poétique de l’EspaceThe Poetics of Space’ (1957). In particular, the chapter in his book titled Corners; according to Bachelard the corner in a room is a psychological space, impregnable to our adult sensibilities, the last refuge for the imagination. Although sharp angles pretty much characterise ‘corners,’ an awkward space to enter, and much like being caught in a spider’s web, harder still to leave at the first sign of trouble. This memory brings to mind, other thoughts, especially, Romanian-French playwright Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994) and his address to a gathering of German and French writers in 1960. In his speech, he discusses the failure of the architect to design structures that can maintain artefacts, belief systems, and memories of its former inhabitants. Ultimately, it’s a philosophical argument about how among the ruins of dead legacies was the foundation for art to flourish. A pattern evident throughout history, the Renaissance was built upon the broken remains of Greek and Roman art, assembled from the failure of the Royal Academies of England and France to progress side-by-side with an ever-changing modern society is the long-lasting literary and art movement Modernism. And Isabel R’s TobogánSlide’ is constructed out of the dying legacy of consumerism, and its failure to provide comfort from existential loneliness.

Deeply embedded in Sara Oscar’s diptych photographic work Formalist Arrangement ‘with Clay Cup’, and An Allegorical Arrangement ‘the Cave’ (2016) is a dark conversation that oscillates between the limitations of perception and deconstructing historicism. Both of these artworks are in a landscape format, and their scale is identical, the first work is a still life photograph, in the mid-ground of the picture is a disassembled cube, a flat circle made from golden coloured paper and a pair of sharp, jagged metal objects. In the background, there is an identical golden circle, which closely resembles a sphere — glowing with sublime terror generated by its artificiality — through the use of distinct lighting. Along with a black ribbed cylinder (I would presume, refers to the clay cup in the artwork’s title), a pair of horizontally placed circles made from black coloured paper, and an ominous shadow, which appears to be the silhouette, produced by an ancient monolith.

The second artwork, An Allegorical Arrangementthe Cave,’ is a low contrast, photograph, capturing a winding deserted road — comparable to the compressed rhythm of an art nouveau whiplash curve — that leads to a cavernous tunnel inside the escarpment of a mountain. Without any doubt, the mountain significantly reduces the depth of field in how it devours the background. Ravaging the peripheral vision of the viewer, at which point, a sense of psychological trauma, close to claustrophobia begins to wash over the image.

In my opinion, these artworks are conceived — through their reaction — within a framework of a set of presuppositions discussed in Yve-Alain Bois’s essay “Painting: The Task of Mourning,” in Painting as Model (1990). With claims, such as the negation of the symbolic order, the game of modernist language has ended, and appropriation art solely exists to grieve the death of history. Leaving Sara Oscar’s Formalist Arrangementwith Clay Cup’ out in the cold, as the narrative it evokes is viewed through its historical position, and as the title suggests relates to formalism, a critical inquiry focusing on the visual elements within an artwork.

At a time of social change, in 1914, British art critics Roger Fry and Clive Bell through their writing initially defined formalism (within the visual arts). Later it was revised by American art critic Clement Greenberg in his well-known essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939). In a pattern not too dissimilar to the various iterations of formalism, Sara Oscar has frequently used history to create a dialogue within her extensive body of work. That includes Talbot’s Pencil of Nature (1844), the first published book of photographic images in her photographic work Law of the Series #1 (2012), and 1950’s American cinema in From Here to Eternity (2013). Making it evident that she has decided to go against the grain by sparking a discourse within the flames of history, with the exception that she has continually stoked this fire; history begins every morning.

Within the chronicles of contemporary art, brought to my attention through Gregor Schneider’s Totes Haus UrArchetypal Dead House’ (2001) is the cognitive fissure between the familiar and the strange. A set of labyrinthine rooms, eerie yet recognisable, a dystopian view of domestic bliss. Cramped spaces, best described as an amalgamation of a DIY home renovation with a World War II bomb shelter. There is also a room full of rubbish and a deflated sex doll, and in close vicinity is an antique wooden staircase, completely divergent, in past things seen concerning its level of palatableness. A visual recipe of the trivial combined with the unexpected, which assists Schneider in boosting up the levels of anticipation perceived in his work to a high degree, a familiar technique, employed to great effect by the director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) in the manner he created suspense in a moment of crisis.

Sara Oscar, Formal Arrangement (with Clay Cup), An Allegorical Arrangement (The Cave), inkjet print on hahnemuehle paper, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

Sara Oscar, Formal Arrangement (with Clay Cup), An Allegorical Arrangement (The Cave), inkjet print on hahnemuehle paper, 2016. Picture courtesy of Interlude Gallery

This method is also used to great effect in Sara Oscar’s latest work An Allegorical Arrangementthe Cave,’ a photograph, which can easily pass for a film still, and bears an unmistakable likeness to well-known imagery from David Lynch’s psychological crime drama Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Sara Oscar in a similar vein to Hitchcock and Schneider (or Lynch) captures and constructs imagery marked by their feelings of anticipation and suspense. Executed through cross dialogue between subject matter and content, and how they are incorrectly aligned. For example, the title of one of her photographic works “An Allegorical Arrangement, the Cave” makes reference to The Allegory of the Cave, a conversation between Plato’s older brother Glaucon and Socrates about the limitations of perception, documented in Plato’s epistemological dialogue Republic (c. 380 BCE). Excluding the fact that mirrored in her other work is content, which I would be counting on to see in this photograph.

In her other work, Formalist Arrangementwith Clay Cup’, laid bare for all to see is the displaced topic of The Allegory of the Cave. Visually, this photograph is equivalent to bringing together the act of browsing through the pages of Thomas S. Kuhn’s, history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, with the hypothetical situation of Galileo making modernist collages in his spare time. There is the image of an ancient monolith only visible through its silhouette, and much higher on the other side of the picture is a black circle, possibly representing an eclipse, a darkening of perception. It accurately brings to mind The Allegory of the Cave in how Socrates convinces Glaucon that freedom is a myth, which can only lead to an early death. In the centre of the picture, with the notion of slow dancing through time stands a disassembled cube, perhaps a symbol for geometry, specifically Charles Hinton’s Tesseract. And with a complete lack of unity, a cylinder, which reminds me of a ceramic barrel, the living quarters of the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412–312 BCE). Who would frequently eat lunch during Plato’s lectures, and whose presence falls in line with the artist’s quirky sense of humour. Consequently, summoning some of the same methods employed by T.S Eliot in his modernist poetry The Waste Land (1922), as a result of not having a unifying narrative. Also in the role of the outsider and how Sara Oscar’s redemption as an artist has been buried within an extreme action, beyond convention, creating displaced content that the viewer stumbles upon by accident. Being similar to the experience of reading an interesting article in a magazine. Then discovering the full-page advertisement for TAG Heuer watches — featuring a serious looking Leonardo DiCaprio, wearing an expensive watch overflowing with aesthetic appeal, with the marketing line “History begins every morning” — dominating the opposite page is strangely more fascinating.

Over the past year, I have had intermittent conversations with Misael M. about art history, in particular, the lack of artworks, which signify the transition from one framework of ideas, style or genre to another. The modernist painter Piet Mondrian didn’t begin with the grid, he discovered it through painting trees, its limbs, twisting, bending, and stretching towards the border of the canvas. Successfully, splintering abstract art to the point that only balance, democracy, and a sense of spirituality remained. He viewed progressiveness through a cracked macro lens, in the initial stages fixed on the past, and through experimentation ended up influencing the future of art, not just for his generation, but also for future generations. Although, photography is not painting, and for the artists participating in Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis a priority for them is flattening time within history, creating displacement without the motivation for shifting context (parallel to how an abstract painter flattens an image). Also during the creative process, the beginning and end of an artwork holds little consequence, it’s the journey (or back-and-forth method) that matters, taking their first steps into, what might be, an undiscovered country.

 – James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Curatorial information on Photo + Graphy II: An Ontological Prosthesis can be found at http://www.interludegallery.com/13.10.16.html

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Featured Artist Nicci Pratten Biographical Note – Curated by James Aksman-Glosz

Nicci Pratten, Dogmat, pencil and watercolour, 2014: Photograph courtesy of the artist

Nicci Pratten, Dogmat, pencil and watercolour, 2014: Photograph courtesy of the artist

History has a tendency to celebrate artists who make a significant detour from having a predictable, and at the time a seemingly successful, career path. A history that is at odds with the fast-paced, brand-driven marketplace that our consumer society has become accustomed to, with social media’s continuous advertising feed, which psychologically rewards people who make decisions, that are fashionable and crowd-pleasing. It then becomes an easily forgotten fact that the most culturally significant artworks in our museums failed to exceed the creative ambitions that inspired them, or were simply not created with commercial success in mind.

The emerging Australian painter Nicci Pratten, by trusting in her ambitions has shifted her creative vision away from the predictable nature of the brand-driven art market. This change is made evident by her recent experimentation with both style and content within the medium of painting and drawing. For the majority of artists —who work within the framework of painting— genuine artistic development without relying on a visual precedent is a rare occurrence, and when it does appear, it often manifests itself as a crutch for the artist’s lack of technical skill. Or is substituted for a self-defence mechanism, guarding the artist’s finished work against possibly being critiqued, as you might have guessed, as a finished work.

Even in the early stages of Pratten’s art practise, there were indisputable signs of her technical aptitude for painting. In 2012-13, she pursued the strict and rigorous training of academic drawing and watercolour painting, at the Julian Ashton Art School, by attending two ten-week terms. Watercolour painting is a difficult craft to master, much more unforgiving than oil painting. Its method involves starting with a light pencil sketch, and blocking in positive shape and often masking negative space, gradually building up tones, from light to dark. This type of painting adheres to a very meticulous process, quite difficult to grasp, although Pratten’s natural instinct for proportion and well-developed hand-and-eye coordination, permitted her to learn this technique at an accelerated rate.

An exemplary way of showcasing Pratten’s expert treatment of the academic painting aesthetic is through her watercolour painting ‘Dogmat’ (2014). This figurative painting reveals the active use of a low-key palette with a warm-cool contrast. It depicts a male figure, in casual attire, ordinary subject matter, except for the surrealistic approach of the figure, which absurdly has the head of an Australian cattle dog. The image is surrealistic, despite the fact, that the human-dog figure is not visually unsettling, a frequently used theme evident in other surrealist paintings such as Leonora Carrington’s ‘Recital of Dreams’ (c. 1930) and Max Ernst’s ‘Attirement of the Bride’ (1940). Replacing the disconcerting narrative of the Surrealists is a feeling of consonance, a visual harmony as a result of Pratten’s decision to include a typographical ordering in her painting’s composition.

Nicci Pratten, Lennon Roo, mixed media on paper, 2016. Photograph courtesy of the artist

Nicci Pratten, Lennon Roo, mixed media on paper, 2016. Photograph courtesy of the artist

Typographical order in visual arts is a natural visual sequencing of tonal values, which obeys much the same rules as typography in printed text. Instead of a bold heading at the top of the page, there are darker tones in the upper part of the painting (such as the darker shade used in rendering the ear and forehead of the human-dog figure). In place of out-of-focus text in the lower part of a page, there is a less detail and a gradation of tone that becomes lighter towards the lower section of the painting. Supporting typographical order in Pratten’s picture is the light red to light grey-pink wash that forms the background, as the light pink hue is a discord of red, an artificial tone that prevents the viewer’s eye from moving to any location wherever it’s present. In the case of this painting, it keeps the audience centred on the figure, and in turn helps produce a coherent ensemble of the six elements of design (colour, line, size, shape, space, texture and value). Essentially it provides an intense visual experience of painting without any distractions.

Any object depicted in painting, it doesn’t matter what it is; an oak veneer dining table in an Ikea furniture store, a stranger passing by on a near-deserted street (in the context of painting, a person is an object), or a dirty sock crumpled in a corner of a bedroom. None of these objects project empathy by themselves. Now, imagine a painting that depicts a scene and sitting around that same oak veneer dining table are your closest friends and all the people who inspired you to take risks in your life, risks that paid off, the context of the dining room table automatically shifts, it becomes a witness to an empathic event. For the audience to have empathy for what the artist is feeling, the scene in the painting needs to legible and clear, just like the discerned clarity of a close friend’s anguish affects the weight of empathy to that distress. And this is where the importance of typographical order comes into play, as it provides legibility and clarity by allowing the audience to converse effectively with the image (in the painting).

The clarity of Nicci Pratten’s paintings would not go unnoticed. She has won numerous awards for her paintings, in 2008, she was awarded first place for her painting ‘Portrait of an Elderly Man in Murrurundi’ (2008) at the Inter-College Art Show, University of New England (UNE), Armidale. And in 2013, she received commercial gallery representation through Michael Reid Galleries (Sydney, Murrurundi, Berlin). This series of successes created momentum in her art career that was followed by study abroad, which would continue for the next few years. Starting in 2014, Pratten braved the cold and windy weather of Wales, to study at the Cardiff School of Art and Design, where she further developed her practical and theoretical fine art skills. Without rest, she then travelled to the birthplace of the painter Francis Bacon, and the playwright Samuel Beckett, The Republic of Ireland, to study at the Burren College of Art, and in 2015, enrolled in a Post Graduate Diploma (Visual Arts) course.

Burren Scenery, HDR composite from multiple exposures, 2011. http://freestock.ca/landscapes_nature_g41-burren_scenery__hdr_p2079.html Photograph: courtesy of Nicolas Raymond

Burren Scenery, HDR composite from multiple exposures, 2011. http://freestock.ca/landscapes_nature_g41-burren_scenery __hdr_p2079.html Photograph: courtesy of Nicolas Raymond

While Pratten was studying at the Burren College of Art, her direction in art began to make a sharp detour from previous work. Perhaps, such a dramatic change is due to the remoteness of Clare County (the location of the Burren College of Art), with its massive carboniferous limestone pavements, and open landscape, a hard country that coerces artists to make scabrous decisions on the direction of their art practise. Alternatively, it could be the long distance from Pratten’s upbringing in Australia. The art politics within Australia, with its servitude to contemporaneous ideas in visual arts, and intellectual discourse that willingly sacrifices beauty and emotional gesture in visual arts; political strategies, once viewed as overpowering, and through distance, appear to be less pertinent.

Regardless, of what spurred Pratten’s motivation, a deviation away from the exacting nature of academic painting started to infiltrate her artistic sensibilities. The most noticeable variation being the influence of The New York School, in particular, the action painting of Willem de Kooning. For an artist such as Pratten, acquiring such adeptness in the technical aspects of painting at a relatively young age, and then to temporarily abandon it, for the psychological drama that characterises ‘action painting,’ reveals that she is no longer satisfied with the division of art and life. For Pratten, they are one and the same, and a singular style cannot express both, so two methods are necessary, academic painting for documenting the surface qualities of the visible world. While action painting does much the same, except its field of interest is the inner world, the inner world of emotional transcendence, irreverent humour and self-identity.

Willem de Kooning, Composition, oil, enamel and charcoal on canvas, 1955. Phtograph courtesy of Guggenheim Collection Online

Willem de Kooning, Composition, oil, enamel and charcoal on canvas, 1955. Photograph courtesy of Guggenheim Collection Online

A primary example of the exploration of external-internal worlds is evident in Nicci Pratten’s painting ‘Lennon Roo’ (2016). A portrait painting of an anthropomorphic kangaroo wearing round red-coloured glasses, an apparent reference to the late musician and peace activist John Lennon (1940-1980). Painted in an expressionist style, and on the surface, is reminiscent of the portrait paintings produced by the well-known Australian painters Ben Quilty and Guy Maestri. With the exception, of the broad-brush strokes of thick paint (a chief characteristic of Quilty and Maestri’s paintings) is not present in Pratten’s artwork. The technique of plastering thick paint across a canvas in a quick and helter-skelter manner is the most straightforward route the general public can access the emotional content in painting. It’s a tried-and-tested method and a gamble for Pratten to exclude it from this artwork, a risk, which has opened up new inroads into the vocabulary of painting. Pratten is experimenting with a more psychological tone in her painting. Attempting to trap the rhythm and flow of time in the paint, much like a method actor in how they try to ensnare mannerisms different to their own. And following the trailblazing efforts of other female contemporary painters — the American artist Dana Schutz comes to mind — where quoting other art movements is no longer the status quo, instead a new-found interest in a narrative that echoes the possibilities that the inner performance of painting can evoke.

Dana Schutz, Death Comes To Us All, oil on canvas, 2003. Photograph courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery

Dana Schutz, Death Comes To Us All, oil on canvas, 2003. Photograph courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery

– James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Nicci Pratten can be found at http://niccipratten.com

 

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A New Milestone in Artistic Freedom: James Aksman-Glosz reviews Matthys Gerber at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Matthys Gerber 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney from 22 September to 6 December 2015.

Matthys Gerber, 2015, installation view Picture: courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

Matthys Gerber, Matthys Gerber, 2015, installation view. Picture: courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

For decades, in the contemporary art world, painting has been under siege. Art theorists have attacked painting for the myth that surrounds it, bombarded painting with claims that it has lost its seductive qualities and the ability to persuade. And even its illustrious history has been under fire with predictions that it’s no longer relevant. Nevertheless, painting has endured through its many iterations. With many of those versions explored in virtuoso painter Matthys Gerber’s thirty-five-year career, on show in the survey exhibition Matthys Gerber (2015) at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

MCA senior curator Natasha Bullock has marked this exhibition’s design with her distinct curatorial layout and planning. Through her design concepts that incorporate cinematic film techniques with contemporary survey methodologies. Following a similar direction evident in Bullock’s past curatorial projects such as Parallel Collisions: 2012 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (co-curated with Alexie Glass-Kantor). Where they utilised the concept of the tracking shot filmmaking technique, which is made clear in how they created a complex dialogue between artworks, while still maintaining a visual rhythm that accelerates at a steady pace. This concept is reminiscent of the long tracking shot in Orson Welles’s classic noir film Touch of Evil (1958). A three-minute excursion through a town in Mexico, and at the same time weaving together the added complexities of a newly married couple walking towards the country’s border and an impending car bomb explosion. The visual tension of the scene is unnerving and was created through the use of multiple perspectives and the extended duration of the tracking shot. Both of these things (multiple perspectives and duration or time) became valuable curatorial tools in making Parallel Collisions (2012) a success. It also proved to be a fertile testing ground for Bullock in meeting the perplexing demands of planning a survey show of Matthys Gerber’s historically dense and stylistically complex oeuvre.

When I think back to other contemporary painting exhibitions I have seen, it conjures up an image of an austere presentation. Possibly a hangover from the aesthetics of minimalism and post-minimalism, and is a strong contrast to Bullock’s risky venture of visual overload in the survey exhibition Matthys Gerber (2015). There are twenty-five medium and large-scale paintings in this exhibition, with an equal mix of landscape and portraiture formats. Matthys Gerber’s paintings have been presented in a capacious exhibition space — and the ‘tracking shot’ concept makes a welcome return — with the viewer’s eyes acting as a steadicam, panning across large abstract paintings. Visually moving in and out of monochromatic space, and snaking across abstract lyrical lines of saturated colour in the painting Jetmaster (2008). And then abruptly panning up above eye level to view the figurative paintings Figure 1 (1990) and Black Painting: Evander Holyfield (1992) with their penetrating male gaze a safe distance away. The exhibition area has been divided by the insertion of a square plywood partition, with the straight grains of the wood redolent of pine stretcher frames — the framework support of a painting. The ‘pine stretcher’ reference is an obvious indicator that Bullock is merging the characteristics of painting with the curatorial design. Further supported by the fact that this large collection of paintings is not presented in any chronological order or arranged by theme or genre. Instead, it’s simulating Gerber’s broad combination of historical visual cues in his paintings, which doesn’t conform to the rules of a progressive timeline.

MCA senior curator Natasha Bullock and virtuoso painter Matthys Gerber Picture: courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

MCA senior curator Natasha Bullock and virtuoso painter Matthys Gerber
Picture: courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

Particularly evident in Gerber’s oil painting L ’Origine du Monde #1 (1992), a generic European landscape scene, depicting a twin waterfall and faded alpine mountains in the background, painted in a mid-key, cool dominant colour scheme, and structured using a vanishing-point perspective. At first glance, this painting appears to reflect the style of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting, except that the dramatic cloud formations (a trademark signature of that style) are replaced by a flat azure blue sky. More strongly related to the effects of photography than En Plein Air painting, and has a mismatched title that references Courbet’s modern art icon and alludes to Magritte’s inquiry into linguistic signs. These factors serve as an anchor for L ’Origine du Monde #1 (1992) securing it to four separate events in art history: Dutch Golden Age painting (1665), Early Modernism (1866), Surrealism (1929), and Photorealism (1969), making it resistant to the older generation of artists and their pursuit of a singular style such as Pop art, Op art, Conceptual art and Minimalism.

Looking back at Australian art history — there was a schism with the past — that occurred alongside the literary work of the Australian writer, curator and publisher Paul Taylor (1957-1992) who was promoting a dramatic shift away from singular styles. He also championed ‘new wave and the second degree’ a practice of quoting artistic styles of the past, which signified a decline in historical significance for more contemporary meaning. There were artists who aligned themselves with Taylor’s cultural and artistic vision, yet Gerber wasn’t so much interested in quoting other artistic styles, instead displayed the ambition to challenge traditional conventions of painting. Consequently, affiliating his actions more closely with modernists like Marcel Duchamp, who had little reverence for the sacred, and treated all art as a promissory note. For Duchamp, the visual arts can be broken down to living ideas indebted to dead cultural objects that are waiting patiently to be challenged.

Painting within the framework of modernist abstraction presents its own unique set of challenges. One such challenge is when artists reinvent artistic styles of the past, and continually reinvent it, as far as the principle design of the artistic style begins to erode or fragment, until nothing is left. As a way of bypassing this problem, Gerber focuses on modifying the flaws or limitations of a particular artistic style. In his large-scale oil painting Mother Tongue (2013), a hybrid geometric and gestural abstract work, Gerber has been informed by French lyrical abstraction, more precisely the calligraphic style of the German born painter Hans Hartung (1904-1989). An accurate way of describing Hartung’s calligraphic gestural style would be to label it as something visceral, visually loud, although it’s static, a frozen crescendo in time. With Gerber’s version it’s agile and rapid, holding a high visual pitch and often appears out of place. Reminiscent of the heavy vibrato guitar riffs and odd time signatures produced by the guitarist Buzz Osborne from the hard-core punk/drone metal band The Melvins.

Matthys Gerber, Black Painting (Evander Holyfield), 1992, acrylic on canvas. Picture courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

Matthys Gerber, Black Painting (Evander Holyfield), 1992, acrylic on canvas. Picture courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

The influence of music is a constant influence in Matthys Gerber’s paintings. His oil painting Holy War II (1994) depicts a generic wide-angle seascape with strong visual cues quoting Baroque Classicism, German Expressionism (and its emphasis on colour and shape), and the biblical reference Crossing of the Red Sea. Even with the cross-sectional visual prompts, there is still conventional use of colour in this painting. However, the execution of the colour combinations is discordant and strange, suggestive of virtuosity in music, possibly a visual interpretation of guitarist Steve Vai’s work with post-punk band Public Image Ltd. It’s made apparent by Vai’s intense arpeggio rhythm and circular vibrato guitar riffs, which crosses over through Gerber’s extended tint of chromatic yellow and isolation of colour (facilitated through circular sequencing). Its difficult for me not be moved by the striking use of colour, yet the mirror imaging effect overshadows it in this work. Inspired by the Rorschach inkblot test, and resolves the long-held dispute between painting and the decorative arts, by pushing imagery towards something much more psychological.

Matthys Gerber’s self-titled survey exhibition declares —in a rather subtle manner— that he has reached a new milestone in artistic freedom. By his paintings, in how they acknowledge the historical significance of art, through multiple perspectives, not ever connecting to a specific era, which provides his imagery with a degree of timelessness. Paintings created twenty years ago seem that Gerber could have produced them yesterday. And the freedom gained by not being chained down to a specific genre or type, representational or abstract, has its charm. It’s the reason Jackson Pollock’s action painting was so significant, as it expressed more freedom than what came before it. And it explains the popularity of the Underbelly television series, the characters in the show do whatever they like without fear of the consequences; lawless actions that are part wish fulfilment to the people viewing the show. And Matthys Gerber has given painting a much-needed sense of purpose, something few have achieved, although many have dreamt about doing it.

Matthys Gerber, Matthys Gerber, 2015, installation view. Picture courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

Matthys Gerber, Matthys Gerber, 2015, installation view. Picture courtesy of Liam Kesteven Photography

 – James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Exhibition website http://www.mca.com.au/exhibition/matthys-gerber/

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Stephen Hall: Featured Artist Issue 16 – Curated by James Aksman-Glosz

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Stephen Hall, Merry-Andrew Through Water, Through Storm, 2014, mixed media on paper. Picture: courtesy of the artist

There are common traits that are identifiable in artists who push past the boundary of arts many genres and types: be it portraiture, still life, landscape, and abstraction or realism. A few examples of these common traits are the demonstration of a high degree of technical skill at a young age, or a childhood event that acts as a catalyst. This catalyst often manifests as an internal calling to seriously pursue an education and career in the visual arts.

In the case of the Sydney-based artist Stephen Hall, it happened during his childhood (1967-1974). While living in the isolated rural area of Broken Hill, his mother, a practising artist introduced him to art through a diverse collection of art reproductions, stored in an old suitcase. For Stephen, as a child, these reproductions, with their creased corners and faded colour, were like strange ancient artefacts. They acted as a magical gateway to a lost civilisation, and he felt a deep connection with this lost world. This diverse collection of art reproductions, both in artistic style and from different time periods, ranged from the flat imagery and distorted scale of animals in the Lascaux Cave Paintings– Hall of Bulls (c. 15-18,000 B.C), minimalist colour and subtle light used in Honoré Daumier’s painting Don Quixote (1868). As well as the influence of atonal musical compositions in Wassily Kandinsky’s geometric abstract painting series Composition I–Composition X (1909-1939). And there were images closer to home with the integration of Australian history and experience in the early paintings produced by Russell Drysdale (1953-1960).

Many young aspiring artists would regard this collection of imagery as nothing more than a brief snapshot of art history. In spite of this Stephen Hall viewed these images quite differently, by realising that these different visual concepts functioned in a more interesting way together than as separate artworks. Years later, he would find assurance and common purpose with the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). Through the way, he juxtaposed an elegiac tone with polystylistic satire, abruptly combining contrasting musical genres, and breaking every rule in classical symphony arrangement as fast as he could.

Music has always had a strong relationship with the visual arts. Evident in how they both share technical terms such as composition, discord, harmony, scale and tone. Another rarely discussed fact is that music is often the only form of companionship, which an artist has during their cloistered stint in the artist studio, lasting days, weeks, sometimes even months. Such isolated activity is often the sign of a broken person — comparable to prolific readers of literature — except that stitching together the fragments of meaning in the world is projected outwards not inwards.

It is a matter of producing art not consuming it. Producing the type of art that has genuine emotional and social content (often straying far away from social trends). Artworks with a social conscience that walked in a stride of independence such as Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos series (1796-97), and Edward Keinholz’s State Hospital (1964-66). They acted as a signal for Hall in what his art could aspire to be like. These influences would end up having a profound effect on Hall’s art practice and would provide the impetus for him to seek out his artistic independence.

Stephen Hall’s art practice focuses mainly on drawing and mixed media painting but occasionally expands his practice to include printmaking, ceramics and sculpture. From an early age, he displayed a high aptitude for drawing, sidestepping reliance on drawing from life or the use of photography. Instead, he placed emphasis on memory, feelings, impulse and amalgamating different artistic styles into his artwork that developed into the visual grammar and vocabulary of his idiosyncratic drawing style. These factors contributed to Hall joining the stable of artists at the well-known Coventry Gallery in Paddington. He exhibited at the Coventry Gallery for four years (1986-1990), which included a successful solo exhibition and participating in the group show Colour II (with Matthys Gerber and Mike Nicholls). Although he soon became disenchanted with the commercial aspect of visual arts, taking an extended hiatus, and not before long, became occupied with a seventy-hour work schedule and raising a young family.

Despite the long break, Hall’s creative impulse was always lurking beneath the surface exterior of domestic life. As a way of reacquainting himself with the visual arts, its histories and practice, he studied Fine Arts (Diploma level) at Meadowbank TAFE (1996-97) and continued his studies as a Master of Art candidate and a Master of Fine Art (Research) candidate at the College of Fine Arts (COFA), University of New South Wales (2001-04). While studying at the College of Fine Arts, he became increasingly frustrated, partly because he was constructing and deconstructing imagery through expressive line and mark-making with such ease. And for such an extended period, that his drawings began to take a progressive detour from what was expected within the boundary that frames contemporary drawing.

Visual art is considered a visual language and the drawing medium is one of its oldest dialects. And through the space of time, drawing has constantly adapted to new environments from our ancient past with cave drawings to modern science evident by diagrammatic illustrations. However, drawing has always been characterised by its sense of immediacy and its physicality, emanating from the deltoid and trapezius muscles in the shoulder and back, streaming down to the flexor digitorium muscles near the wrist. The physicality of drawing can portray narrative without the need for other visual references (contrary to Greenberg’s formalist position and Krauss’s post-medium theory). On the other hand, visual references plays an important role in academic study of the visual arts and often art institutions (like the College of Fine Arts) can be tightly confined within their academic dogma and may lack the intellectual reach to see an alternative point of view. Fortunately, Hall found the flexible attitude he needed in Professor Peter Pinson, who urged him to start entering his artwork in the Blake Prize for Religious Art. For five consecutive years, Hall was a finalist for the Blake Prize (2002-2006). During this time he reached a new tier of artistic maturity evident in three solo exhibitions unified by theme: Madness, Violence, and Absurdity (Part 1-3), held at the Beatty Gallery, Sydney and the Wall Gallery, Melbourne (2003-2006). Quickly followed an invitation by his former art theory teacher Dr Carol Elvin to accept a casual teaching position (art theory and drawing) at the Nepean Arts and Design Centre (N.A.D.C).

In 2009, a tempestuous storm of success and tragedy thundered into Hall’s life. His monumental drawing Mumbai or Merry-Andrew Always Plays a Straight Bat & Sheds a Tear in Passing (2009) became a finalist work in the Dobell Prize for Drawing (2009) held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This mixed-media drawing referenced the Lashkar-e-Taiba shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai in 2008 and incorporated the philosophical theme about a joyful moment that quickly shifts to a grave catastrophe. Its narrative about global events and the serious subject matter were a stark contrast to the timid landscape drawings and cookie-cutter expressive portraits that would frequently appear in this drawing prize year after year. More success would follow, this time personal work with darker themes: the apocalyptic drawing The Limner and his Steed Rest (2010) and the epic drawing The Limner passes through the Eternal Battle (2011) both finalist works at the Dobell Prize for Drawing (2010-11). His latest exhibition Merry-Andrew the Limner: Through Water (2014) was held at the Sheffer Gallery, Sydney. A collection of drawings, mixed-media paintings and ceramic pieces that explored the theme of water, through metaphor, visual poetics and myth and how it relates to social and environmental issues.

 – James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is the Featured Artist curator for Issue 16. James is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Stephen Halls website can be found at http://www.stephen-hall.com.au/

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The Psychological Effect of Real Experience: James Aksman-Glosz reviews ‘Video One Painting’ by Suzy Faiz

Video One Painting by Suzy Faiz Airspace Projects, 10 Junction Street Marrickville, 7th August to 23 August 2015

Suzy Faiz, Divider, oil on canvas, 2015, installation view. Photograph courtesy of the artist

Suzy Faiz, Divider, oil on canvas, 2015, installation view. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

In Sydney, during the 1980’s, the contemporary art scene was dramatically changing primarily through Paul Taylor’s Art and Text magazine and the artists that followed it. Art and Text, successfully turned the tide of cultural estrangement and introduced an intellectual discourse about art to Australian readers, it got people talking about art again. It also paved the way for the next generation of artists, in particular the artist group Various Artists Ltd (that included artists A.D.S Donaldson, Janet Burchill, and Lindy Lee) and the Netherland born painter Matthys Gerber who was exhibiting at the Yuill/Crowley gallery. This group of artists differed from their contemporaries, as they were producing cutting edge art, which challenged the role of authorship, disregarded Hegel’s version of abstraction for more contemporary ideas, and embraced the genre of Appropriation Art. They are significant ideas about art that has been lost to the latest generation of artists.

Suzy Faiz’s latest exhibition Video One Painting, reveals she is resurrecting some of these ideas and introducing them to a new audience. In this exhibition, there are two works, a large-scale oil painting and a video work, with the gallery space thoughtfully divided, so the viewer can experience both separately. The curatorial aspects of this exhibition creates an atmosphere of self-reflection and mediation that supports the artwork’s contrasting themes about isolation, fabricated experiences, the role of authorship, and an investigation into stylistic constraints within the framework and history of painting.

Painting has an extensive history and a tradition of breaking away from stylistic constraints. Faiz continues this tradition with her large-scale oil painting ‘Divider’ (2015), by combining post-painterly abstraction with Albert Oehlen’s version of abstract art, an aversion away from recognisable forms. The painting exhibits a predominately warm-cool contrast in colour, with irregular sequencing, consequently producing a jarring visual effect. Dominating the right side of the canvas is a bright cadmium yellow circle, surrounding by blue organic lines, its strange shape possibly signifying a deadly parasite seen underneath a microscope or a massive sun with penetrating rays. On the right mid-ground of this painting there appears to be an abstract body, headless, misshapen and grotesque, reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s brutal treatment of the human body. A painting technique that bypasses the intellect, and is devoid of emotional expressiveness, coming straight from the central nervous system, it is as visually raw as it can get.

On the left side of the painting, Faiz displays artistic restraint through the placement of abstract shapes, washed out of colour underneath a prominent modernist grid.Well documented within the history of painting is the modernist grid, as an aesthetic object and as a symbol for democratic freedom, a freedom, which got consumed by the visual language of commercial design. The grid also symbolises a cage, a metaphorical prison that has engulfed a large majority of the painters from Faiz’s generation. Because the austerity and sacredness of the grid has been replaced with insincerity and cynicism, evident in the lack of artistic style to react against or any ideas worth proving to be true. Also a sense of authorship (art is a combination of other artist’s ideas) no longer exists, and her generation of artists are only left with the monetary value of painting, a quality significant enough to inspire them.

Suzy Faiz, Apartment, 6-channel video, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist

Suzy Faiz, Apartment, 6-channel video, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

Faiz’s video art debut follows a similar philosophical path to her painting. This is evident by the fact that her Cartesian sense of subjective expression or personal authorship has been replaced by a growing cynicism, through creating art by the means of a mechanical-like archiving of factual data. Following the artistic tradition of using video as a visual archiving tool; Faiz’s six-channel video work, ‘Apartment’ (2014) documents her domestic living experience while living abroad in Vienna, Austria. The video footage varies in content; there is a scene with her in a kitchen cutting up vegetables, another with her anxiously flipping through a book, most likely a sign of boredom, and her lying in bed, eyes wide open or looking out a window, patiently waiting for someone who never arrives.

Her video art presents us with the isolation and mundaneness in routine that is experienced living overseas, a more common occurrence in our global society. Conceived through video footage, with frankness, and a claustrophobic-style direction, which is both objective and impersonal. The video footage has the visual characteristics that suggest a certain degree of rawness and realism, especially when we compare it with other imagery we frequently view, such as the imagery produced from the image sharing technology Instagram. Even though Faiz’s video artwork has six different sets of footage playing at the same time, with much repetitiveness, it is easily digestible, and very much a normalised viewing experience.

Through our use of Instagram, we digest a plethora of imagery from different users, from different countries, and different time zones. A grand puzzle of visual communication with few textual footnotes, a temporal montage of images, consumed as a series of fleeting moments that are easily forgotten. Fleeting moments of disassociated images that doesn’t have anything to do with our own personal lives, a sign of voyeurism; images of a snow capped mountain taken by a friend during their last holiday or images of a street market in a foreign city, followed by a multitude of selfies of people we scarcely recognise. However, in Faiz’s video work, there is a sign of shared experiences, in the way the video footage is deconstructed through repetition, a critical discourse on the original versus fabricated, and first and second degree replicated experiences, a psychological effect of real experience, which conveys the feeling of the surreal moment.

One of the many interesting things about this exhibition is that it mirrors the repeated and cyclic nature of challenges that art faces to remain relevant. Paul Taylor and Art and Text looked to the future, through intellectual discourse, to meet these challenges, while Suzy Faiz’s Video One Painting is reflecting on the past, attempting to reinvent past successes to meet the demands of the future of art, not yet determined.

– James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School obtaining an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts (printmaking), and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre) obtaining a Diploma of Fine Arts (painting and printmaking). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Airspace Projects can be found at http://airspaceprojects.com/

Suzy Faiz can be found at http://www.suzyfaiz.com/

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An echo of how we live: James Aksman-Glosz reviews ‘The Original of Laura’ by Chelsea Lehmann

The Original of Laura by Chelsea Lehmann Interlude Gallery 11/131-145 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 13th August — 22 August 2015

Chelsea Lehmann, Sondage, oil and enamel on linen, 2015. Picture courtesy of the artist

Chelsea Lehmann, Sondage, oil and enamel on linen, 2015. Picture courtesy of the artist

Everyone understands the language of cinema, more so than they understand the language of painting, even though painting (as an art form) has been part of Western culture for over five hundred years. In recent times, cultural history has taken a back seat, overridden by technological advancements of the moving image, and the improved accessibility of cinema. Contemporary cinema, particularly the films that are coming out of Hollywood, deliver imagery of action sequences at break neck speed, often bewildering, and is accompanied by a fragmented narrative, which clearly lacks the cleverness of Tarantino’s surprise twist in Pulp Fiction. Clearly a state of atrophy in film making, although a sign of the times we are now living in.

Good contemporary art contains an echo of how we live and what is important to us. And in Chelsea Lehmann’s latest exhibition The Original of Laura (2015), she captures the shared feeling that the ‘bombardment of imagery for cheap thrills’ is sabotaging our relationship with cultural history, and devaluing pertinent social values. Presented to us in a framework of ‘the iconoclastic gesture’, a mostly forgotten era of political upheaval and image destruction, not too dissimilar from our own.

The Original of Laura is a contemporary painting exhibition, and is an extended body of work that uses the ‘iconoclastic gesture’ as its central theme. The iconoclastic gesture refers not only to image destruction, as it acts as a metaphor for the life and death of images within painting, both in its history and more recent contexts. Painting as a medium has a different process to other artistic mediums (such as photography and video art) in the manner, which the artist can trace his or her steps, and identifies the development of an idea, in small increments. And the larger the body of work, the clearer the idea becomes. To clarify this analysis; its my view that a series of paintings possesses shared characteristics with the serial narrative of contemporary television. For example the American crime drama television series Breaking Bad, is more meaningful and profound as five seasons rather than as a handful of episodes, the same goes with painting, its visual potency is strengthened through revisiting themes.

In this exhibition, Chelsea Lehmann extensively revisits the theme of the iconoclastic gesture through the presentation of eight medium sized oil paintings that are in a portrait format. They are all figurative paintings (with the exception of one portrait painting) of young women, with most of them dressed in 17th-18th Century couture, rendered with an emphasis on realism, contrasted with dramatic elements of abstraction. The forces of realism and abstraction in relation to aesthetics are like competing atoms in the theories of modern physics, initially separating then fusing together sometime later. A significant aspect of aesthetics; qualities of past paintings influencing art in the future has always been an important part of painting, now more easily identified, through the increased book collections in the art sections of university libraries and more efficient search engines via the internet. When viewing Chelsea Lehmann’s paintings, an initial thought for many, would be the influence of the 16th century High Renaissance painter, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio. This is evident by the hazy backgrounds in her paintings, figures illuminated by candlelight and a reduced colour palette.

Chelsea Lehmann, Litera, oil on linen on board, 2013-2015. Picture courtesy of the artist

Chelsea Lehmann, Litera, oil on linen on board, 2013-2015. Picture courtesy of the artist

For Caravaggio, the lack of a detailed background (sacrificing a sense of location for shadows), was a form of ‘tromp l’oeil’ an illusory visual trick, which is designed to persuade the viewer of his painting to believe that a fictional scene is actually occurring right in front of them. However, in 2015, the same painting trick, has a different context, and diverges from its original function. For instance, in Chelsea Lehnmann’s painting, ‘Sondage’ (2015), there is very little doubt, that the dark hazy background is not a visual trick, rather an effort to challenge the instant gratification and gimmicks of post art (it has been previously mentioned, Martin Creed’s Turner prize winning work, an empty room in which a light is turned on and off is a prime example). Her painting challenges post art through its ambition to be eternal, devoid of time and place, something out of human reach, something intangible; it is a type of art that exists outside our commercial society, and has more to do with the darker aspects of the human psyche.

In Chelsea Lehmann’s paintings, the soft candlelight illuminating the young women who are the central focus of her work, follow a similar trajectory (in regards to challenging post art) as her inclusion of dark hazy backgrounds. In the High Renaissance and Baroque eras, the refined chiaroscuro painting technique inspired by candlelight was used to provoke an emotional merging with spiritual belief. Post analysis of the paintings in The Original of Laura confirms successful use of the chiaroscuro technique, except that its ability to evoke spiritual belief in the viewer is long gone. Yet what these painting appear to do is produce the correct ambience, an atmosphere that fractures our own desensitisation with imagery; gone is the banality of post art replaced with glimpses of beauty, obscured by abstract layering, which acts like the combination of the rapid frame rate of a Hollywood action sequence with the withered pages in an old history textbook; Chelsea Lehmann is not questioning what art is, she is asking what art means. The imagery does mean something to us; it is familiar, yet strange, allowing us to be reacquainted with our own cultural history at a safe distance, not exactly an arduous history lesson, neither is it a fleeting memory of a museum visit. It has the unpredictability of a Hollywood remake; it is not exactly what we expected to see yet this time it is better than the original.

– James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School obtaining an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts (printmaking), and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre) obtaining a Diploma of Fine Arts (painting and printmaking). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

Chelsea Lehmann can be found at http://www.chelseajlehmann.com/

For further information on gallery times visit http://www.interludegallery.com/

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A World of Stability and Chaos: James Aksman-Glosz reviews ‘The Mobility of Happiness’ by Sara Oscar

The Mobility of Happiness by Sara Oscar Mop Projects 2/39 Abercrombie St
Chippendale NSW 24th June – 19th July 2015

For most people who are interested in contemporary art, particularly photography, there are certain expectations, fashionable trends that attempts to define the era that we are living in. Of late, there has been a long-lasting trend leaning towards aesthetics, the photograph of precisely constructed beauty, often contrasted by its mundane, everyday content. To be explained more simply, it is art that looks great, yet after seeing it you walk away with the feeling that you have experienced it all before. In Sara Oscar’s latest exhibition The Mobility of Happiness (2015), she avoids fashionable trends in favour of constructing a strange undiscovered world, kind of like a version of the minecraft videogame but for adults. An exhibition that presents us with a sandbox construction of photographic works with installation art, partly an archive of her Burmese Thai cultural history, incorporated into a scientific theory about genetic inheritance, which asks the question where does our spiritual and sexual instincts come from.

Sara Oscar, The Mobility of Happiness, 2015, installation view . Photograph courtesy of the artist

Sara Oscar, The Mobility of Happiness, 2015, installation view . Photograph courtesy of the artist

There are eight black and white photographic works in this exhibition of varying sizes some are large formal prints, while others are triptych prints in an architectural format. Most of the prints are of Burmese Thai women in ritual garb taking part in a nat pwe spirit possession ceremony. The nat pwe is a dramatic performance, a physical representation of Burmese mythology, and an effort to seek spiritual guidance by remembering the stories involving the nats (spirits). Super-imposed on a few of these photographs are floating semi-transparent shapes, faded turquoise or lavender in colour, culturally significant in relation to the colour’s symbolism supporting the work’s themes of the feminine, emotional equilibrium and metaphysical ambience.

Photography cleaves reality into such subtle segments, at 1/30th of a second, creating an asymmetrical perception of the world. Furthermore, its off-balance characteristics are amplified by the idea that photography doesn’t articulate an idea in the way painting does, as there isn’t a constancy of style or expression. The medium of photography is invisible to all of us; more so in the digital age that we are now living in, and this is why Sara Oscar’s inclusion of a more painterly quality to her work (appearing in the form of semi-transparent shapes) shifts the energy and tension within her photographic prints considerably. The diamond shape in one of her prints brings to mind Piet Mondrian’s ‘lozenge’ paintings, a more modern myth of spiritual advancement, and a scraping contrast with the quiet undercurrent of content about biological research, which becomes more noticeable when you view Sara Oscar’s The Mobility of Happiness not in isolation, but as an extension of a complex and intellectually dense oeuvre.

In Sara Oscar’s earlier exhibition Law of the Series (2012), she began overlaying semi-transparent diamond and circle shapes, in varying temperatures of colour, over found images or on top of a densely patterned background. The shapes appear to float and drift aimlessly, neither going anywhere or staying perfectly still, which provides a visual cue that these shapes actually represent cells, the building blocks of life, viewed under a microscope. They coincidently appear, splinter apart into multiple versions, or migrate into a totally different shape. Visual coincidences inspired by the research of the Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer (1880-1926) whose inquiry into inheritable traits focused on coincidence rather than shared traits passed on by the parent gene.

Sara Oscar, The Mobility of Happiness, 2015, installation view . Photograph courtesy of the artist

Sara Oscar, The Mobility of Happiness, 2015, installation view . Photograph courtesy of the artist

Coincidental traits in biology are expressed through the installation art elements present in The Mobility of Happiness. In this exhibition, there is a ladder made of copper leading nowhere (or to an ephemeral state of ascendancy), easily interpreted as a straightened DNA double helix, its structure reformed, less biological, a coincidental act, which makes room for inherited spirituality in our gene code. The spatial area of the exhibition space is treated like a minecraft style of open world, a world of stability and chaos. With a firmly erect plinth displaying traditional offerings to the spirits from Burmese mythology, conflicting against a clutter of objects such as a fallen copper stand, possibly to signify the falling pillar of history and ultimately a failing inheritance, a temporary collapse of rationality, leaving enough time for a happy accidental happening, a mobility of happiness.

– James Aksman-Glosz

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James Aksman-Glosz is an arts writer and a practising artist whose work places emphasis on painting, drawing and printmedia. He holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Painting) from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Previously he studied at Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf. With further study at the Sydney Gallery School obtaining an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts (printmaking), and at the NADC (Nepean Arts and Design Centre) obtaining a Diploma of Fine Arts (painting and printmaking). More recently he was the Master Printer for Matthys Gerber with the works being exhibited in Hot Art—Cold Market (2012), Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (I.C.A.N), Sydney.

MOP Projects can be found at http://www.mop.org.au/

Sara Oscar can be found at http://saraoscar.com/

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