The Absence of Painting: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Joe Wilson Painting etc’ at STACKS PROJECTS

Joe Wilson Painting etc. catalogue essay. An exhibition at STACKS Projects artist run gallery and project space, 191 Victoria Rd, Potts Point, NSW runs from 21 September to 8 October, 2017.

So, what has happened when you go to an exhibition of paintings only to find that Painting has turned its back and left the room? This is a room you may find yourself in at one of Joe Wilson’s exhibitions and it is a provocative quandary when encountering his work. Left inside the room are a collection of objects, that point to the absence of Painting, much as a recent departure from the stage of a Big Personality. There is a sense of having just missed the main act, tempered by a little uncertainty about the objects left scattered on stage. The end-of concert announcement ‘Elvis has left the building’ comes to mind.

In this room, the works tell of painting through its absence. They do this by adopting its familiar form, referencing formalism, and by utilising a pseudo-materiality that is filled with insight and humour. Carefully assembled is a collection of objects that are associated with and which indubitably point to painting. They point to the imprimatur of painting and not, as one might expect, the well-mined arenas of painting activity as inspired spiritual process, its medium as skill-based, its output as an aesthetically valued product for lengthy gazing upon. The material elements of painting are not present but are recognisable in their absence, through references, substitution and word play. For Joe Wilson lays bare, as if on a stage the entire set of conventions that surround an exhibition of paintings. A Wilson exhibition is a work site and the works are exhibited as moveable and transitory artefacts of the exhibition apparatus – the making, staging, crating, transport and installation of painting.

Joe Wilson, ‘Half Arsed’, 2017. Acrylic and timber, 42 x 42 x 7 cm
(Image courtesy the artist)

As a mere viewer you will be caught up in this staging, as your role in the gallery is assessed. Within the exhibition space of Painting etc, you may find that your entry is facilitated but your spectating can be confounded by the transitory narrative conveyed by the works. The shop-like window of the gallery displays a blue painting bespoke-packed in an orange suitcase. On entry, The Hand, 2017 a hand-rail painted in safety yellow seems to escort, support and guide you in your viewing journey. Then you see paintings in various stages of installation – wrapped for travel, leaning on a wall, hung. Usually white monochromes, they resist being seen again whenever, they remain resolutely crated and unpacked. Occasionally mounted plinth-like on white pallets these works take on a monumental, if slightly absurdist quality. The packing pallet, with its irresistible homophonic reference to a painter’s palette is a recurring Wilson motif, and a gently satirical dig at the paraphernalia, the etcetera of painting, that is the subject of the exhibition.

Clearly at home in the gallery, and fluent in the non-objective vernacular, the works are clean-lined, restrained, well-crafted objects presented in an elegant and reductive vocabulary. You see timber frames, flat colours, monochromatic surfaces, geometric compositions, ready-mades and rectilinearity. It is familiar, and almost too well -done. There is a tension in the room, and it’s a tension created from flawless execution undercut by absence. In a strange inversion of their objecthood, the works resemble – maybe even mimic – images, functioning as reflections, understudies and surrogates of painting. In doing so, the works take on the appearance, semblance, expectation, the simulacra of art, as if what we know and have come to expect of painting has been held up to a mirror, and reproduced.

Situating himself as a painter, Joe Wilson, who also works as an art installer and art school studio technician, is broadly concerned with “elements, situational and compositional, beyond the confines of the painter’s canvas”. Indeed his recent research for his Masters of Fine Art posited painting as Dislocated Object and examined Mobility and Transfer in the Presentation of Painting. And when painting is transient, on the move, or just passing through, then its absence becomes very much a concept explored within each exhibition. Absence is instigated, and then perpetuated by the works’ consideration of the marginalia of roles and agencies that take place behind and beyond the surface of painting. In talking to Joe, he elaborates on a theory he has about the object-image dichotomy, (a central tenet dating from the birth of non-objective painting), seeing it rather as an object-image collusion. This is a co-dependant relationship specific to our contemporary age of ubiquitous media, where the image can not only extend the reach of the object, but also become a work in its own right.

Joe Wilson, ‘Digital collage 3 (thinker)’, 2017. Image courtesy the artist

Another, instance of painting turning its back on a room was Wilson’s earlier exhibition Verso (February 2017, Rayner Hoff Space, National Art School). A verso is a technical term for the reverse side of a painting and in considering painting’s verso we are looking at its back. In that show, the physical site had been renovated to preserve multiple layers of the building’s prosaically utilitarian use, and this facilitated the presentation of painting’s absence in utilitarian disguise. A dolly, a ramp, crates, ladders and flights of steps were interwoven with the presentation of paintings on the walls, suggesting movement, transition and production. In several works, with disarming conceptual perspicacity, Wilson uses chroma-key paint as well as textiles as canvas. A chroma- key is not only a ready-made colour monochrome but is blue / green colour keyed to ‘disappear’ digitally,

The use of a disappearing colour for an exhibition of absent paintings recalls a tale from early painting mythology. The ancient Greek myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasios had two renowned painters in a contest. While Zeuxis produced a painting superior in illusion (birds flew down to taste the painted grapes) it was Parrrhasios who won, for his painting of a curtain which had deceived everyone. The point of the story was not that the curtain was particularly well painted, but that the viewers didn’t see it as painting because they didn’t expect to see it. Instead, the viewers placed all their hope and anticipation in painting that was not there, but was absent.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Painting has left the building. Thank you and goodnight.

 – Lisa Sharp

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Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and blogs at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com 

Details of the exhibition can be found at http://www.stacksprojects.com/

Featured Artist: Julie Manning Biographical Details

Julie Manning ‘Boundary fence New England’ 2016 – oil, charcoal on canvas

Julie Manning; is an Australian painter currently living and working in Victoria. She was born in Sydney and grew up in northern NSW, and the landscape of New England and the Northern Rivers coastline of NSW has inspired much of her work to date. She studied painting at the National Art School, and Fine Arts at the University of Queensland, as well as having degrees, and working in, both Science and Law.

Prior to moving to Melbourne early this year, she held successful exhibitions at galleries in Brisbane in both solo and group shows up to 2007. After a break from art she resumed painting, drawing and printmaking three years ago. She has a studio in Brunswick, Melbourne and is compiling a number of works for a major showing in 2018.

Julie is also vitally interested in reading and writing poetry, and her work is beginning to appear in Australian literary journals.

Her art draws inspiration from the Australian landscape and its birds and animals. She is particularly influenced by Australian painters from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, and the American abstract expressionists of the same period. More works can be found at her website www.visualartist.info/juliemanning.

Julie Manning ‘Gorge Country’ 2016 charcoal oil wash on paper

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Nests in Everyday Things: Lisa Sharp Reviews ‘Found & Made’ a Group Exhibition including Annelies Jahn

The exhibition FOUND and MADE, including Annelies Jahn, Pollyxenia Joannou, Joe Wilson and Michael Bennett and curated by Amber Hearn, is on at Stacks Projects, 191 Victoria St. Potts Point until Sunday 12 March 2017.

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“ The mind sees and continues to see objects,
while the spirit finds the nest of immensity in an object.”

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), 190

With a discerning sensitivity, artist Annelies Jahn seeks out the potential for moments of poetry embedded within, even disguised as, the everyday. These may consist of seemingly mundane objects, apparently discarded things, the measured and drawn space occupied by her works, her studio or her body. Carefully selected (found), then made (or re-made) and presented as art works these objects or sites are re-presented, and in this re-enactment an unanticipated encounter presents itself. The familiar, the known and the disposable become unfamiliar, unknown and fixed in the mind; a poetic space.

In her consistent exploration and evocation of space as a finite container of infinite possibility, Jahn evokes the idea, so well described by Bachelard, of space as having a quality of intimate immensity. We look and with our minds we see the work and it is a familiar object. As we look longer, we begin to perceive more; prompted by a whisper of memory or a moment of deeper recognition. Jahn’s work, this art object, whether a made, found or a repurposed thing, is often small, deceptively simple, frequently provisional, yet it has been made visible by selection, vulnerable by display, and the encounter invites a falling into a reverie of meditation. This is the nest of immensity; the warmth of contemplative discovery which Bachelard described as a species of daydreaming.

Compressed Measure, Silver foil wash tape housed in found acrylic box, 17.5 x 6.5 x 3 cm

The group exhibition Found and Made includes three pieces, found and made by Jahn. There is ‘Flatpack’, a cardboard piece of disarming humility. There, the usual container for space, a box, is flattened, excluding physical space from its planar form. Then there are two related works; ‘A resting Measure’ and ‘Compressed Measure’. The first is a clear, manufactured rectangular acrylic prism, placed horizontally on the floor. The second is a carefully coiled bundle of silver wash tape, housed within an open, clear acrylic box. One shape is formed and derived from the artist’s body measurements, the other from a de-installation of a wall drawing, yet both are sealed, finite containers of physical space – whereas the space they evoke is not. The Bachelardian idea of a nest within the object perfectly captures that daydream of space as an unseen presence that expands and contracts, like breathing.

Flatpack and A resting measure, Cardboard 130 x 92 x 20 cm and Clear acrylic 25 x 162.5 x 25 cm

While dream-like, these encounters arise out of rational systems of visual-spatial representation that always underlie Jahn’s work. Attention is drawn to the geometry of forms, composition, balance and location in space. There is an absence of gesture, drama, scale and permanence. Instead there is stillness, exact placement, intense observation, nuance, care and ephemerality. We are left to ponder how, (yes how) such rectlinearity so welcomes human complexity.(Stilgoe, John R. Foreword to Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958)

And so we see and we ponder … could the slivers of a modulated conversation be wound tight and contained in a roll of used tape? Is a crumpled relationship mapped by the soft sagging of flattened cardboard? And can an artist’s footprint cascade into a crisp-edged clarity of light, precise planes and right angles …

 – Lisa Sharp

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(All images courtesy of the artist, Annelies Jahn)

Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

Exhibition details are available at http://www.stacksprojects.com/

Quoting the Art: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Time After Time’ an exhibition by Ken Weathersby

Time After Time by Ken Weathersby at Minus Space, 16 Main Street, Suite A, Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA

This is a review of an exhibition I haven’t seen. Well I haven’t seen it in person – there is a bit of an art world adage that you have to stand before great paintings to absorb them fully. To inhale the whiff of paint, to behold the smear of a precise shade of colour, decipher some infinitesimal mark, a slavish detail of the surface, to read the insights into the mystique of making only told by close observation of a dripping or crafted edge.

Ken Weathersby: Time After Time at Minus Space, installation view (Image courtesy Minus Space)

Ken Weathersby: Time After Time at Minus Space, installation view
(Image courtesy Minus Space)

Well I’ve seen this exhibition of Ken Weathersby’s recent paintings through the glassy gaze of my computer screen. It’s been a portal to the show currently showing at Minus Space, a gallery in Brooklyn New York specializing in international reductive art. So, no whiff, nor revelatory oily brushstroke here. It’s a wondrous portal this rectangle of glass – a sometime window, sometime screen, through which I can view images of paintings hanging on New York walls. To those who would argue a loss of sentience in the perceptual experience, there is perhaps a corresponding heightened lucidity. The effect, while bereft of aroma and human interaction, reduces picture after picture to pictorial trope, or sign, in an experience that seems infinitely repeatable (bookmarkable). The exhibition and its works are instantly accessible, making for a democratic, flattened version of a gallery visit. Beyond medium-specificity, my virtual visit is post-media and post-gallery as I gaze through and at successive images on the flat, even, blue-lit screen.

This brings up another art world maxim, this one from the origins of modernist abstraction – and that is the measure of success in creating push and pull; that tension between surface and window on a planar surface. Intriguingly, this tense little action is enacted not only in the experience of viewing-by-screen but is also a feature of Weathersby’s work. Using the same mode of display and with a similar sense of detachment, Ken Weathersby takes images from art history books, crops and frames them through cut-out windows within his paintings. The images are of ancient sculptures – familiar to art students of Western European-derived art history – so already have an iconic quality as purveyors of noble truths – and this facilitates their interpretation as tropes or signs for ‘art’. Embedded neatly in rectangular format within the linen canvas we see a bent marble neck, a little figure bristling with fertility, a serpentine contrapposto, a tousled head of gilded curls – with all the heft and weight of the tradition of ancient sculpture. Yet their significance within the works are not as representations of things in the world, but of lineage, the passing of time, the narrative of art history and its influence now.

Ken Weathersby, 258, 2016, acrylic on linen over panel, over panelcollage, 38 x 36 inches. (Image courtesy Minus Space)

Ken Weathersby, 258, 2016, acrylic on linen over panel, over panelcollage, 38 x 36 inches. (Image courtesy Minus Space)

The placement of these collaged historical images within the picture plane, often slightly to one side, occasionally tilted, but always small, is almost deferential or humble as against the rest of the pictorial activity. Weathersby seems to use the images as vague references for his precisely drawn gridded and geometrical abstractions. These abstract patternings often pick up on a colour, aspect of form or muted palette from the image, then repeating and elaborating upon it, like a melodic variation acting as counterpoint to the image.

On the walls, the scale and format of the works seem to allude to the authority of the form of the Book, as rectangular, portable repository of knowledge. On closer inspection (zooming in) this effect is only accentuated by occasional fragments of text, Weathersby’s use of pencil lines and other visible notations of his hand. These recall the well-thumbed familiarity of a text book much in use as a reference.

Ken Weathersby, 260, 2016, acrylic and graphite on linen, Collage, 40 x 30 inches. (Image courtesy Minus Space)

Ken Weathersby, 260, 2016, acrylic and graphite on linen, Collage, 40 x 30 inches. (Image courtesy Minus Space)

An artist and reviewer, Sharon Butler (fortunate enough to visit the exhibition in person) observes that the yellowing and aged papers of the art history texts are apparent in the paintings. She notes that the effect is to convey a collapsing of three different eras; the time of the sculpture, the time of the art text and the time of Weathersby’s inclusion in his paintings. This is a really valuable insight, as many artists in their studios conduct these sorts of temporal dialogues in their heads, and Weathersby manages to so eloquently communicate that familiar referential (and reverential) process within these concise, elegant and self-contained pictures.

What is surprising, and refreshing, is the ease of juxtaposition of the figurative with the abstract. There is in the history of abstract painting as it pulled away from representation, a certain cool posture of detachment from the world. It is a posture that has resulted in art variously labelled as the non-objective, the concrete, the formalist, the minimal and the reductive. However, art history through the ages is simply intrinsic to art and artists today. So the posture is also human, reflected in the desire for solitude – whether as a reader, artist in the studio, time traveller or internet browser, and and there is much recognition, and warmth in that aspect of Ken Weathersby’s recent paintings.

 – Lisa Sharp


Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

February 2017

(All images courtesy of Minus Space)

Ken Weathersby: Time After Time is on exhibition at Minus Space January 7 – February 25  http://www.minusspace.com/2016/11/ken-weathersby-time-after-time/

MINUS SPACE 16 Main Street, Suite A, Brooklyn, NY 11201 http://www.minusspace.com

 

Defiant gaze: Linda Adair reviews ‘Not an animal or a plant’ an exhibition by Vernon Ah Kee

NOT AN ANIMAL OR A PLANT an exhibition of work by Vernon Ah Kee at the National Art School Gallery, Forbes Street, Darlinghurst, from 7 January to 11 March 2017

Vernon Ah Kee: not an animal or a plant , installation view at NAS Gallery, L to R George Sibley 2008 acrylic, charcoal and crayon on canvas 180 x 240 cm Collection Catherine Elms and Richard Williamson, Bris bane; not an animal or a plant 2006/2016 vinyl text on wall 180 x 201.5 cm; Eddie Ah Kee 2008 acrylic, charcoal and crayon on canvas 180 x 240 cm, co urtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Photo: Peter Morgan

  Vernon Ah Kee: not an animal or a plant, installation view at NAS Gallery, L to R George Sibley 2008 acrylic, charcoal and crayon on canvas 180 x 240 cm Collection Catherine Elms and Richard Williamson, Brisbane; not an animal or a plant 2006/2016 vinyl text on wall 180 x 201.5 cm; Eddie Ah Kee 2008 acrylic, charcoal and crayon on canvas 180 x 240 cm, courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Photo: Peter Morgan

Rochford Street Review attended the media preview of Not an animal or a plant, conceptual artist Vernon Ah Kee’s solo exhibition that includes more than a decades’ work in various mediums, and which opened as part of the Sydney Festival on 7 January. Ah Kee’s first solo project in Sydney since 2008, the title declares the artist’s uncompromising critique of the often covert, or blatantly casual yet nonetheless caustic, racism that is part of the day-to-day lived experience for Aboriginal people in 21st century Australia.

Co-presented by the Nation Art School (NAS) in association with the Sydney Festival, and displayed in what was the former cell block of the infamous Darlinghurst Gaol, it is a stunning and provocative exhibition. At the time of the artist’s birth — just under 50 years ago — his parents were not counted as Australian citizens, hence the defiant text-based installation ‘not an animal or a plant’ in the ground floor gallery which showcases fine charcoal portraits on paper of members of his family who lived under that regime.  In an out-of-the-way alcove on the ground floor, one can also find the provocative ‘Born in the skin’, the found graffiti on doors from a Cockatoo Island toilet block that caused a stir around the Biennale of 2008; presumably because by presenting them, Ah Kee held up a mirror that mainstream Australia would prefer not to face  — articulated in ugly, racist, sexist, homophobic and functionally illiterate language.

Vernon Ah Kee: not an animal or a plant, installation view at NAS Gallery, L to R Lynching II 2015 charcoal and crayon on linen 300 x 200 cm; Authors of Devastation 2016 digital prints on custom-made surfboards (6 parts) 180 x 40 cm; Lynching I 2015 charcoal and crayon on linen 300 x 200 cm. Photo: Peter Morgan

Vernon Ah Kee: not an animal or a plant, installation view at NAS Gallery, L to R Lynching II 2015 charcoal and crayon on linen 300 x 200 cm; Authors of Devastation 2016 digital prints on custom-made surfboards (6 parts) 180 x 40 cm; Lynching I 2015 charcoal and crayon on linen 300 x 200 cm. Photo: Peter Morgan

The vast upper gallery of the former cell block has allowed NAS Gallery curator Judith Blackall and team to work with Ah Kee to present his recent large-scale works. These include paintings, portraits and text-based works inspired by the Palm Island Riot and the stunning 3D installation of competition surfboards, adorned with traditional combat shield designs from North Cairns on the face and excerpts from a James Baldwin’s article (‘Unnameable Objects, Unspeakable Crimes’, 1966 ) on the obverse,  through to two extraordinary and enormous drawings ‘Lynching I’ and ‘Lynching II’ which, placed either side of the large picture window, eloquently emphasise the dark side of Sydney’s pre-eminence as the starting point of colonisation in this country.

The view over the school’s grounds summons other layers of meaning over time, as this ridge-top site would have provided the Cadigal people, the traditional owners, a place to survey the harbour and the wetlands and witness ‘a world changing around them’ to quote Wesley Enoch who spoke at the launch as the first indigenous director of the Sydney Festival. Now the view also references the fact that, as it approaches its centenary on the site, NAS is struggling against forces which would resume the land for other purposes.

Leading up to the 50th anniversary in May of the 1967 referendum, this exhibition contributes to contemporary debate — among those willing to participate — about contemporary racism, our problematic history and the need for a way forward for rapprochement to occur.  Politically, it gives the lie to the mainstream pretense that Australia is not really a racist society whilst providing a masterful portrayal of individual Aboriginal subjects who gaze with defiance at the viewer, resilient in the face of a litany of structural oppression that has included, but is not limited to, the stolen generations, skyrocketing rates of incarceration and continuing paternalistic policies of successive governments. Aesthetically, the works provides a master-class in drawing and shift paradigms via exquisitely executed three-dimensional works that communicate at many levels. This is quite simply, a must-see exhibition.

 – Linda Adair

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Linda Adair is a Sydney based writer and critic and a founding editor of Rochford Street Review.

Not an Animal or a Plant runs from 7 January to 11 March 2017 at the NAS Gallery  https://www.nas.edu.au/place/gallery/current-exhibition/

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Featured Artist: Issue 21 Luciano Prisco – Biographical Note

Luciano Prisco ‘Buio’, 2016, oil on canvas

Luciano Prisco ‘Buio’, 2016, oil on canvas

Luciano Prisco was born in Melbourne in 1955 where he has mostly lived and worked. He gained a Diploma in Fine Art from Phillip Institute of Technology in 1982 studying under Dale Hickey and Peter Booth.

In the early 1980s he exhibited at Roar Studios, Christine Abrahams Gallery and Young Originals. He later exhibited works at Goya Gallery and Maroondah Gallery and from 2002 to 2013 he exhibited works in both solo and group exhibitions at Jackman Gallery and Tilt Contemporary Space. Works have also been included in Mornington Peninsula Works on Paper exhibition. He has also taught drawing for Arts Project Australia.

Luciano has spent considerable time drawing and painting in remote areas of Australia and he now lives on Phillip Island where he has both the physical, environmental and emotional peace and space to devote to his work.”

His latest exhibition, Luciano Prisco – New Works, Poems from Christopher Barnett, was a collaboration with the writer Christopher Barnett and ran from 10 September to 9 October 2016 at the Langford 120 Gallery in Melbourne (http://www.langford120.com.au/16-luciano-prisco-new-works-poems-from-christopher-barnett.html).

Luiano Prisco’Gates the New Jerusalem’, 2016 oil on canvas

Luiano Prisco’Gates the New Jerusalem’, 2016 oil on canvas

Punctuated Into an Exclamation Mark: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Play’, an exhibition by Michelle Le Dain

Michelle Le Dain – PLAY at Factory 49 , 49 Shepherd St, Marrickville. until 3rd December 2016

“Play becomes joy, joy becomes work, work becomes play.”
………………………………………………………..Johannes Itten

Michelle Le Dain, Upside down inside out, 2016 (detail). Image: Annelies Jahn

Michelle Le Dain, Upside down inside out, 2016 (detail). Image: Annelies Jahn

To play is to enter a realm of wonder and spontaneous activity, of open-ended
thinking, of chance and of discovery. It is to question, to turn upside-down, to
surprise – and it is uninhibitedly joyous. Yet to play is also to engage with the objects
in play, to work within a structure and to bounce against the rules – as in playing a
game or improvising musically. For visual artist Michelle Le Dain to play as an artist is
a mode of practice by which her installations enter, engage with and yes, absolutely
have fun with architectonic space.

For some time Le Dain has been working with and developing a signature vocabulary
of elemental geometric forms, bright colours, taped lines and placement of other
assemblages. These arise out of her research interest in theories of play (as
advanced by Froebel and the kindergarten movement) and their considerable
influence on the genesis of abstract art in the early 20th century. When these formal
elements enter a space as raw materials for installation, they seem to skip along the
floor, walls, ceiling, seeking out hidden nooks and cavorting with expected notions of
form and function. Playfully probing, discovering and exclaiming, Play raises some
very interesting questions about our expectations and perceptions of built spaces,
and in particular white spaces for the display of art.

As an installation within this factory-turned-gallery space Play picks up on its many
narratives as a functional interior space. Tripping along a seam in the concrete floor,
small wooden blocks tap out a rhythm of alternating colour and form. Picking up the
melody, a striped line ascends the white wall, almost but not quite to the top, before
meandering via a deviation in blue to an arrow-signalled descent, only to ascend
again. A faded yellow parking line is punctuated into an exclamation mark. Over to
the side, another up / down movement is articulated by horizontal and vertical notes
of colour placed on a stairway. These lead in to the percussive cadence of a work,
appropriately named “Xylophone”. On closer inspection, these ‘notes’ are actually
painted stretcher bars, suggesting a painting undone, dismantled and capable of
being fitted together again, like any tower of blocks.

Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details). Installation at Factory 49 Images: Annelies Jahn

Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details).  Installation at Factory 49
Images: Annelies Jahn

From factory space to gallery space, the play is now with gallery conventions of
display and sale. Giant red dots sit beside works, humorously playing with the
tradition of announcing a sale. In this context, plinths become oversized toy blocks.
Paintings, stacked, stripped and deconstructed, are everywhere except hanging on
the walls as pictures to look at. Framing, like pointing, is used to focus on often
quirky details of wall or floor. Used as expressive punctuation within a piece of
music, other features of the Factory 49 space are accented. Here, in hot pink: a door,
over there in green: a gallery wall ends. In a corner, big buttons seem to be climbing
up and over the white wall, looking over the boundary between the site’s industrial
past and its almost-white-cube present.

The effect of Play is akin to recalling the strains of a rhyme you knew as a child, a
ditty you chanted, a haunting refrain, parts of a song. You might go to see art, but
you are nudged to think quite a bit more about how and why. It’s a little unsettling.
Play has transformed the known space and the expected conventions into a joyous,
whimsical interlude with an underlying seriousness of purpose in showing the work
that art is.

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Michelle Le Dain, Play, 2016, (details). Installation at Factory 49 Images: Annelies Jahn

 – Lisa Sharp
(all images by Annelies Jahn)

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Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and
working in Sydney. Following an earlier career as a lawyer, she holds a Bachelor of Fine
Arts (Honours) from the National Art School. Lisa likes to write about art and artists and
her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

More details of the exhibition Factory 49 are available at  http://factory49.blogspot.com.au/

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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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Luciano Prisco – New Works, Poems from Christopher Barnett: Mark Roberts on Christopher Barnett, Poetry and Collaboration.

Luciano Prisco – New Works, Poems from Christopher Barnett opened at the Langford 120 Gallery (120 Langford Street North Melbourne Victoria 3051) on 10 September and runs until 9 October 2016.

buio1

Luciano Prisco ‘Buio’, 2016, oil on canvas

Luciano Prisco’s latest exhibition at the Langford 120 Gallery in Melbourne is a collaboration between the Port Phillip based painter Prisco and the Nantes (France) based writer Barnett. Mark Roberts, who has followed Barnett’s writing since the mid 1980’s, provided the following introduction to his work for the exhibition.

**……….**……….**

I have been reading Christopher Barnett’s work for over 30 years now. My introduction coming through ulrike meinhof sings and, embarrassingly, I can’t recall now whether I first saw it on stage or on the page. Either way within the space of a week or so in the mid 1980s I had read the text and seen the work performed at the Performance Space in Sydney. I remember being somewhat shell shocked after the performance, but also elated. I had heard a poetry that I had never before heard in Australia – defiant, radically political, alternative and explosive. The words bounced around me, afterwards I remembered large pieces of the monologue as if it had been burned into the back of my brain:

…………………………………………/……th first robbery
was like th first fuck……i knew there would be no glory ……
in my world ……even tho my comrade andreas my lover
andreas hoped there would be…….but when you watch those
you love either shrink or explode ……… glamor becomes
something only an artist like any warhol can understand

and

…………………….we have a story about martin schleyer ……
this mass murderer turn labour expert was going to australia
……. to teach their rich ……. about industrial democracy ……
well we plucked schleyer out & we left him in the back th boot of
a car ….. we wanted to show australian workers how to teach
their rich …….

ulrike meinhof sings was collected, along with two other extraordinary works, th last days of the world and basket weaving for amateurs in a collection by the important Melbourne based publisher Rigmarole in 1984 (Last Days of th World and other texts for theatre, Rigamore Press 1984). Together with the earlier works, A Fist in th Face of Public Taste (E.A.F 1978) and Selling Oursleves for Dinner (All Out Ensemble 1982), these works represent something unique and rare in Australian theatre and writing. At the time I sensed something of the “ultimate commitment” that Michael Dransfield referred to. A commitment to words, to their meaning and power, their pace and rhythm. If Barnett’s work didn’t make you angry, didn’t make you want to take to the streets then you were obviously on the wrong side of history – or that was how I saw it 30 years ago.

Recently I have increasingly found myself drawn back to basket weaving for amateurs. This text attacks the complacency of Australian culture and cultural criticism and takes the form of a series of voices, artists Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor and a number of critics such as Lionel Lindsay, Sydney Ure Smith, Bernard Hall, Humphrey McQueen, Max Harris and Kym Bonython as well as the generic voice of the “art critic” which functions almost like a reactionary Greek Chorus holding back art and protecting the status quo.

Early in the piece the art critic announces:

i possess no artistic sense but i find i like those pictures old & new which brings th highest price and in spite of everything sd to th contrary price still remains th practical expression of appreciation th decent middle classes have faith in what we defend it may be australia’s duty & privilege to save from th wreck of civilisation th little upon which we can build again

It is difficult not to read this and not think of the way Australian culture has developed since Barnett wrote these words. The flagship companies and galleries are seen in terms of economic multipliers, grass root artists have been cut loose, made to scramble for crumbs and scraps. Revolution may not be the current aesthetic but if this country is to have a cultural future it may become an imperative.

Before we leave basket weaving for amateurs it worthwhile to turn briefly to the last scene of the piece. scene six consists of a single extraordinary poem which is both an elergy and a celebration:

preston

…………………th song of recognised failure

iam a…………………..iam a…………………. i am a
th larrikin daughter of your error
th dumb child at th window
th cripple who has lost his show
th painter with nowhere to go

iam a…………………. iam a…………………. i am a
th killer of a decade’s wrong story
th woman locked in sound
th man caught in the cyrstal night
th person with nothing to show

iam a…………………. iam a…………………. i am a
th city left like warsaw
th night bleached in terror
th story caught in fever
th tale left untold

iam a…………………. iam a…………………. i am a
th family album
th photograph of loss
th beginning of nothing
the failure of song

iam a…………………. iam a…………………. i am a
iam a…………………. iam a…………………. i am a

Looking back on it now this poem is at least the equal of the best work published in Australia over the last 50 years and confirms for me Barnett’s position as one of our most important poet/writers. It is possible to see basket weaving for amateurs as an farewell to Australia for in 1993 Barnett left Australia for France never to return.

The almost a quarter of century Barnett has lived and worked in France could be seen as a kind of self imposed exile but that assumes that he wants to return to Australia. I sense that Barnett has found a level of acceptance for his work in France that would be impossible in Australia and that the political and cultural changes that have taken place here since 1993 has made a return less and less likely as the years have passed.

In France Barnett established an experimental theatre company, Le Dernier Spectateur, in Nantes. Working collaboratively with the marginalized and disenfranchised, Barnett, used poetry, dance and music to help empower people and has attracted praise and support from all levels of French society.

In parallel with his work Le Dernier Spectateur Barnett has continued to write and the evolution of social media over the past decade has provided him a new platform for his work. Indeed, like many others, it was through his Facebook posts that I reconnected with Christopher a number of years ago. What I quickly realised, however, was that social media was another medium for Barnett – like the written page or the stage. It was a form of poetic pirate radio.

Among those poems that I read on Facebook were sections of what was to become when they came/for you elegies/ of resistance (Wakefield Press 2013). This extraordinary work, at once a elegy for Furkan Dogan, the young Turkish activist assassinated by the Israeli military during an attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, and a memoir of Barnett’s own engagement with his own political and personal struggles.

furkan
i am
listening
to wires
being
pulled
straight from heart
because murders
eat our sadness
so it is sung
by bodies
so broken
……….

when they came/for you elegies/ of resistance is a dense work, for most of the 316 pages the poem runs in two columns down the page and the reader is propelled forward, taken by the rhythm of the words, the patterns, a machine gun scattering of words. But this is also a work that keeps pulling you back in, where you keep discovering new meanings, new references – for me it was also an education, the text has sent me off in numerous directions over the past three years – learning, discovering.

barnett10

Luiano Prisco’Gates the New Jerusalem’, 2016 oil on canvas

And so to this exhibition. Once again many of the poems have appeared as posts on Facebook, sometimes accompanied by images of Luciano Prisco’s paintings:

………..

mourn

shadows
fall over

one
another

mourn movement
want

to
walk
off world’s
edge

wherever you desire
that to be

come
barefoot
amongst bone
& flesh

…………..

There is an immediate connection here between Barnett’s words and Prisco’s dark painting. The angular edges outlined in white, the thick browns, greys and black, the thin lines of white dripping through the painting and the surprise of maroon – are reflected back in the poem in lines such as “sound from blood….”, “streaming from skin” and “walk/off world’s/edge”.

Barnett has never conformed to the image of the solitary writer – he has always been collaborating – from his theatre texts in Australia, to his work with Le Dernier Spectateur and his poetry. Once again with this exhibition his words act as mirror for the images, reflecting and amplifying an intensity – while, at the same time the paintings are doing exactly the same with his words.

 – Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. His latest collection of poetry, Concrete Flamingos, was published by Island Press earlier this year. He is the founding editor of Rochford Street Review.

Further information on Luciano Prisco – New Works, Poems from Christopher Barnett can be found at http://www.langford120.com.au/16-luciano-prisco.html

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Issue 18. April 2016- June 2016

Pratten_Joey_Bowie1

Nicci Pratten, ‘Joey Bowie’, mixed media on paper, 2016.

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