Play your cards right (or how we never talk about money)

In the Melbourne art world, that ‘homeless’ look of a few years ago has seemingly been replaced by the gym-going-drunk-Mum and the Lumberjacktivist (part lumberjack, part Occupy bystander). I think the living-out-of-a-cardboard-box style was a bit more reflective of where artists are at – not homeless, but just surviving. Perhaps I’m wrong to look to fashion for clues of an attitudinal shift, but I’m reminded of that old adage: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Unlike any other corporatised system, you never want to look too coiffed or too tailored or expensively branded, and there is a curious silence about how to live. And by ‘how to live’, I mean how to pay for how you live.

Lots of volunteering or working for beer; lots of awkward ‘swaps’ for artwork you still aren’t sure about; lots of writing for ‘experience’, documenting shows for a pat on the back, or editing grant applications for an emoji. We are all good at not talking about money all the time. And there is a funny parity of excess – big ideas, big projects, big openings, big names, big font on big posters. We are play-acting at high-flying party mode a lot. And so when artists and curators come to visit, or when we make the move overseas, is it jealousy or plain old curiosity that makes us ask “How do you live over there?” Perhaps it’s both.

In a little known podcast well known writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote this much read Atlantic piece is interviewed by his oldest (and not at all famous) friend Neil Drumming. They talk about the difference between being a snob and being boushie. Touchingly they also discuss how Coates’ money has changed the way he experiences the world, but not necessarily how he relates to it.

Mark Hilton, Half Flush, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 14 November – 12 December 2015.

Mark Hilton, website.

Jerry Saltz, ‘Reject the Market. Embrace the Market. How I’ve found new magic amid all that money‘, New Yorker, 22 April 2012, 42.

Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards double-sided, Edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5cm
Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm

Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, Edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm
Mark Hilton, ‘Half Flush’, 2015, uncut printed playing cards, double-sided, edition of 10, 54.5 x 64.5 cm


Orange around

Diaphanous fellow, marked by time, screening what I know so well.  Heavy head, overhead, spare and barely touching as we pass. I can see your seams and your seams see me. I could also hear you, what were you thinking? I was thinking about touching you, but your guard was nearby. I used to know every corner, and now bathed in orange light, I can’t recognise you at all. Always humming you, a reminder that you are not empty, or closed. But perhaps you are closed to me.

I was in my early twenties…and at the time, of course, being a young intellectual, I wanted desperately to get away, see something different, throw myself into something practical….One day, I was on a small boat with a few people from a family of fishermen….as we were waiting for the moment to pull in the nets, an individual known as Petit-Jean…pointed out to me something floating on the surface of the waves. It was a small can, a sardine can…It glittered in the sun. And Petit-Jean said to me – You see that can? Do you see it? Well it doesn’t see you.

(Lacan 1981,The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Jacques-Alain Miller (ed), Alan Sheridan (trans), New York: Norton)

Kate Newby, Always humming, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, 17 July – 29 August 2015.

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015

Kate Newby, 'Always humming' (installation view), 2015
Kate Newby, ‘Always humming’, (installation view), 2015


What is read and what is real?

The joke is that you can’t find a television in Fitzroy. The joke is that the arts scene doesn’t know what Delta wore on The Voice last week, or who won the Masterchef finale. So it seems most amusing that we have Transmission, Ryan Trecartin and Tracey Moffat’s Art Calls showing at the moment, and that you can’t get through your pale ale without someone recounting the latest Amy Schumer interview or sketch they’ve seen. We are all watching films on our laptops, and there are laws against it.

In Olivier Assayas’ 2015 film, Clouds of Sils Maria, Juliette Binoche plays an ageing actress, and the narrative begins to fold in on itself when she is asked to play a corporate boss who has a disastrous affair with a manipulative young woman working for her. The crisis for Binoche’s character Maria is that, as a younger woman, she played the ingenue. Several stories are nested within the film, and the snakey clouds of the Maloja serve as a suffocating metaphor.

There are a series of scenes where Binoche’s character Maria reads lines with her assistant Valentine. Rehearsing  scenes of seduction force a stranglehold, and the result is that Binoche is either amazing or terrible. I can’t be sure.

“I am big; it’s the pictures that got small”. In Billie Wilder’s 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, silent film star Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson, herself a former Queen of the Screen) is an actress whose celebrity faded with the advent of talkies.  Joe Gillis, a washed-up screenwriter, rouses Desmond from reclusivity, and for a time lives in her gigantic LA mansion, becoming absorbed in her delusional comeback through their ‘young’ romance. The film is a collage of fact and fiction, and Swanson’s ability to play a self-knowing caricature feels incredibly contemporary. These types of mise-en-abyme ricochet around women and film, perhaps because it makes for the perfect tragedy.

Art calls is made for the smallest silver screen of all – the computer screen. Originally made for the ABC website, the black and white work plays well on the wall at CCP. Moffat is warm, witty and knowingly ‘fabulous’. Billed as her ‘homecoming’, the work has her skyping with established artist Destiny Deacon, emerging artist Adul Abdullah, filmmaker Janina Harding, and designer Jenny Kee to name a few. A tone is set with the opening Dadaist sequence, these too are nested narratives and faux-intimate interplay. The interview mimics the studio visit, but we are aware both interviewer and interviewee are playing to the gallery.

Tracey Moffatt, Art calls, CCP, Melbourne, 3 July – 6 September 2015.

artcalls 15 tracey talks Deborah Kass
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 15, Tracey calls Deborah Kass

Tracey Moffatt, 'Artcalls', chapter 19, Tracey calls Jenny Kee
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 19, Tracey calls Jenny Kee

artcalls 22 tracey talks with Abdul Abdullah
Tracey Moffatt, ‘Artcalls’, chapter 22, Tracey calls Abdul Abdullah

Ryan Gander looks like Karl Pilkington and they are both misanthropic northerners

“What move?” “Which restaurant?” “Whose bunion?”

Perhaps it is inadvertent rudeness via inattention until the conversation hits a note I want to hear. Or maybe I’m undertaking less than expert multi-tasking (trolling and hand-washing or sauteeing and waxing). But lately, I’m in the habit of asking the wrong questions at the wrong time.

Picking up the thread mid-conversation when the chat is in full swing, and where those in the circle are with heads thrown back, all pre-big-laugh laughs. The storyteller is stalking attention and why would they stop to answer me?

Like his 2011 site-specific Artangel commission, Locked Room Scenario, (a ‘para-possible’ group show of invented artists the visitor was denied access to), Read Only lets you in, but only a little bit. No emotional shapes but apparent connective tissue, like a father who finds it difficult to say he loves you Gander doesn’t do feelings.  Soooo needy, but I’m left wanting. Conceptualism doesn’t deal in hugs though, never has.

I’m not convinced it’s compelling storytelling, is it? Reaching towards so many Modernist signifiers in his work, we are denied the transformative. But this is prankstraction, and I can’t help thinking about the video interview I saw where it’s possible to see him working on hundreds of groups of index cards, containing images, jokes, scenarios, propositions, patterns, all lined up, just so, ready to be executed with a virtuosic command of materiality.

Most reviewers, critics and curators refute the title of ‘Conceptual artist’. Gander jokes about it, and all prefer ‘ideas artist’ or ‘inspiration-from-everything artist’. I prefer Ideas Man-boy. He comes from a long art historical genealogy of Ideas Men, each following the leader. And here in Melbourne, where public lectures, visiting artists and touring exhibitions can set off flurries of investigations into spirituality, choreography, the economy etc,  will this set us off back into the bad old days of tricksy sk8er Unmonumental-ism? And while I’m asking, why is everyone wearing these? Are they really that comfortable?

Ryan Gander, Read Only, ACCA, Melbourne, 4 June – 2 August 2015.

Nike Flex Run
Nike Flex Run

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Ryan Gander, installation view, ACCA
Ryan Gander, ACCA

Right thurr

In the corner of the exhibition Unsettled sculpture is the larger of Carolyn Eskdale’s two untitled works and it has been on my mind.

The exhibition provides tactility at a distance and relief from the expectation of audience performance. ‘Tis the season of the more didactic and the make-your-own about town, but to paraphrase Chingy, sometimes, I love it when you just put it right thurr.

Eskdale has worked one of the Sarah Scout gallery walls into a lather. An off-white, fingerprinted and hand-pressed patina of plasticine with squared-off edges has been squidged into and over the cornice. The largest work in the show is almost imperceptible upon entering the space … which is a kind of a writing-lie. Not much is beyond or beneath seeing in the gallery space, since the specifics of context set eyes to alert, so scratch that. Rather the work ghosts and apes the fabric of the gallery space, its woolly quality toying with focus.

Eskdale has worked ash into the centre-ish of the plasticine so the domestic gallery space is forced to carry a grubby schmear, like sex on sheets. Eskdale’s work unsettles best where wonk has an important and appealing place in this show. Off-white and grey/black make it appear like the room couldn’t handle the heat or handle the pressure and works around the jostling patrons and the abrasion of white walls, with inattention and excuse-mes.

I recently heard Stuart Geddes speak about ‘desire lines’ as part of a CCP lecture series—reminding us of British artist Ryan Gander’s project which takes the form of a lecture. Desire lines concern little acts of rebellion in urban spaces, in the form of man-made pathways, that Gander describes ‘have been worn away by people who cut across the middle. They’re always the most direct route people want to take, which is why they are called desire lines’. The equal opposite paths are trauma lines, which he has also documented, of well-worn pathways through hospital emergency rooms. A related examination of artistic practices where alchemy and unruliness combine with a kind of necessity or desire were at play in this thoughtful and complex exhibition (noted objectively and without bias). There is an unbounded and don’t-fence-me-in character at play in both projects, which is common to Eskdale’s installation, appearing timely and comforting.

Unsettled sculpture, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, 14 November to 14 December 2013.

Carolyn Eskdale at Sarah Scoutt Presents, December 2013. Photo courtesy Phebe Schmidt.
Carolyn Eskdale. Photo: Phoebe Schmidt

Back and forth

Do you like this quote or not?

I love the Plath quote.

‘If a neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.’ Sylvia Plath, The bell jar.

Tell me why it’s on topic?

OK maybe it’s not on topic I just liked it because I was thinking about us writing this and the voices and the perceived judgment and the ‘tone’ of the writing that has its own little neurotic struggle going on within it as part of its own trauma … just thought it was a funny tangle of crisis. OK I understand. Perceived judgment and perceived objectivity. Words can’t be, should never be, props for work—they are as structurally unsound as any other mark, object. Words can seem like such contained concrete markers but I reject that! In that case, here are some words. They’re just words.

Soft eyes huh? Are these uncritical eyes or are these intoxicated eyes?

I was thinking that I hope it’s both, maybe uncritical is too loaded a term … ‘loose eyes’? Loose eyes so one doesn’t edit everything out and open enough to offer things up. They’re open eyes, sure. In season 4 episode 4 of The wire one investigator tells the other, you need ‘soft eyes’ on a crime scene. This is something Sarah Crowest talks about. I think it’s a willingness or ability to see with openness what is previously unseen. You make a decision to see with soft eyes. It’s not about a default—it’s more concerned with working against the default. Determinedly going towards an unknown. Making as looking, seeking.

I know I sound like a sap (how could you sound like a sap in comparison to the romance I just spewed up?) but it’s the same way you love or befriend another person—so you are searching for more things to love, you’re kind of hungry for that and then at the same time you’re trying to block out the bad bits: weird noisy eating, bad performance in the sack … etc.

Hungry eyes.

This made me think about soft ears, which is getting off topic too … soft ears for sound art … ? Ha. Isn’t that what any practice is doing? Art-making is a research. Editing has a place here definitely, but I’m more interested in the speculative process which precedes it. We have talked a lot about the importance of editing but then we’re both pretty neurotic—editing is a form of neurosis right? right?!—and maybe that’s why I’m interested in the more investigative—it could be a propositional squint ahead as opposed to the editor’s assessing squint. (Maybe this metaphor isn’t working very hard.) Then again, these happen together rather than sequentially. Tomma Abts said in an interview that ‘it’s just decision after decision—an ongoing process of editing … The making itself leads the way.’ (1)
And maybe this is my question—if the process is so accumulative and kinetic then it seems frustrating for reception to be reductive and static—a dead end. By frustrating I mean stingy.

But then going way too far with this—we squint to make not only the edges fuzzy but to squeeze everything together—to Vaseline our lenses and allow ourselves the fantasy of the indeterminate better something-or-other …


My Mother used to say if you squint when driving down the main street of Seymour at night you can pretend you’re in New York. The wishful squint. But to go back, I’m not willing to let go of the value of proceeding without a predetermined outcome—the hungry eyes. If we’re not looking for something new what are we doing—confirming, affirming. My thinking about this way of working—process-based practice if we want to call it that—came from a conversation you and I kept returning to because of a healthy distrust maybe. Is trust a problem, are we at the old knowledge vs. faith crossroads?

OK here is an ugly question to avoid answering your ugly question: where does intuition sit? And how much value are we ascribing it? And how does training and how does theory hold hands with intuition? Oh so yukky.

OK this is good, look the ugly right in the face. I’ve been thinking about this idea of training and intuition holding hands a lot. To go back to Sarah Crowest, she writes about a very focused and determined way of using intuition as a method, a tool, to avoid affirming already-knowns. Perhaps, because maybe what we’re dancing around here is laziness (bad word? Flippancy?), it’s worth distinguishing intuition used in this way, from intuition used as a prop for style (am I going too deep into yuk here?).

To talk about this in relation to training—in Sarah’s great interview with Lizzy Newman, Lizzy talks about artists needing to address (I think she calls it an ethical requirement actually) the zone of unknown knowledge which she pitches against an overly prescriptive, didactic training at art school. Is this the right time to talk about the unconscious (gasp)? Which I’ve been wanting to bring up given your recent studies … Hmmm maybe I really like the idea of the subconscious doing the work.

This is a necessary part of psychoanalytic practice, everyone is taking mental notes in those sessions and the mark is made way down deep. I guess what I’m wondering is, when that ‘deep-down’ surfaces. And how much therapy/scrutiny is too much? And is this the question you are asking in the show?

I think process practices, or intuitive practices, are sometimes perceived as, and sometimes are stylistic, but I wanted to distinguish those that make a very contentious push for new logics, for research—which you can only push for by proceeding with undetermined outcomes. I wanted to think about abstraction as a means posing structural questions about our thinking and making. That is the first proposition, the first part. The second part is about intuitive practice, not through material investigation, but through associative thinking. But that is another conversation …

(1) Tomma Abts interviewed by Christopher Bedford, ‘Dear painter … ’, Frieze, no. 145, 2012.

Ryoji Ikeda

I was reading about Ryoji Ikeda’s test pattern (No 5) as being perfect for iPhone documentation. How depressing. But it’s true, see my snapshots below.

Described as ‘a system that converts any type of data (text, sounds, photos and movies) into barcode patterns and binary patterns of 0s and 1s. Through its application, the project aims to examine the relationship between critical points of device performance and the threshold of human perception’. I’m not one for maths, but I am one for geometric abstraction. And critical points are, well, critical. But with such an undelineated and expansive data set, maybe the mesmeric power of this installation isn’t easily remembered now that I’m trying to do the work. And I’m reminded it’s important to do the work. Perhaps where the description above is actually ‘felt’ is in the midst of this installation where this giant barcode has a velocity beneath you; further encoding as well as encompassing your body within it.

I wonder about transmission of unspecified data being a valid or, worse, compelling starting point. Deconstructing of the ever apparent. (The experience and the press release needn’t correspond of course, but I went to thinking around Ikeda and suspect it’s important to put music brain on this rather than art brain. And I wonder if the difference between the two brains is an allowance for abstraction. Perhaps the experience of music is a more pure unfettered enjoyment in pattern-making, hinged more directly to its own form, rather than a historical world beyond the form. Of course so much has been written on this. But it did make me think how listening can be quick and repetitive, and looking can be a slower unfurling.

Sometimes a blog link is as good a gift as you can get. I’m enjoying Love dog, even when it’s a bit maudlin:

The internet is so nerve-racking for me. I’m still not used to it. It’s like looking at an X-ray all day long—of yourself, of others, of a culture. Nothing feels safe. In an email, I ask my mother why even success (reblogs, retweets, viral attention) feels shitty on the internet. How I always feel sullied afterwards for some reason. How even when the response is good, it feels bad, and makes me want to hide even more than I already do. She writes: ‘But this is the disadvantage of publishing on line. With it comes instant gratification and instant humiliation’. The internet doesn’t require you to have thicker skin. It requires you to have no skin. Which makes everything feel painful unless you learn to feel no pain at all.

…There is a (crowd-sourced) project called Printing Out the Entire Internet. MOMA’s first poet laureate, Kenneth Goldsmith has rented a 500 square metre gallery space in Mexico City, with 6 metre high ceilings to be filled with sheets of A4 paper. An homage to Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit. Of course the project is being slammed by organisations such as as a maximalist monument to unnecessary waste. But that’s Goldsmith’s argument, unnecessary waste to somehow quantify and monumentalise unnecessary waste.

Ryoji Ikeda, test pattern (No 5), 8 June – 1 July 2013, Carriageworks, Sydney.

Ryoji Ikeda, ‘test pattern (No 5)’

Ryoji Ikeda, ‘test pattern (No 5)’

Ryoji Ikeda, ‘test pattern (No 5)’

Grievous bodily collage

On Saturday 1 June Victoria Police removed parts of a larger installation by Paul Yore titled EVERYTHING IS FUCKED exhibited in the Like Mike exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts. The action followed a complaint made to police. Paul was questioned by Victoria Police on Monday 3 June and subsequently released without charge on summons. The exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts remains closed; a decision made by the Linden board of directors.

We sought the following comments:

Tamara Winikoff, executive director, National Association for the Visual Arts:
As a long-standing defender of artists’ freedom of expression, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has been vociferous in its condemnation of the latest raid by police, who seized the work of young artist Paul Yore from his exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in Melbourne. NAVA asserts that within the law, Australian citizens have the democratic right to make judgements about what they want to see and respond to according to their own understandings and value systems.

In my forthcoming artsHub article I comment that, ‘Art pyromaniacs are people who ignite a cultural controversy and hide on the margins watching it burn. Pillorying artists is an irresistible sport for people with political motives or who are seeking the opportunity to stamp their brand on public morality. But human imagination is the fluid that leaks through the cracks in tired rules and outmoded ideas. It is not easy to quell the subversive power of parody and interrogative probing’.

In a series of forums around the country in 2013, NAVA will be asserting that Australian cultural expression must be protected against the personal ideological crusades and political point-scoring exercises of particular interest groups.

Mikala Dwyer, artist:
The work Paul has created is from images and objects readily available everywhere.
They are complex two-dimensional and three-dimensional collages that are made from many many hours, days and years of thoughtful intelligent speculation on the nature of the world we live in. They are in no way pornographic any more than the world is.

It is sad that the Linden Gallery shows so little faith in what it exhibits but even sadder and more perplexing that the police are called in to waste their time following bogus complaints and were even compelled to vandalise these extraordinary and beautiful artworks. Police time could be much better used following real dangers to the community.

But perhaps even more unbelievable is the extent this farce has travelled. It’s time it just simply stopped.

Robert Nelson, Monash University and The Age:
Antiscandal. At first, I was angry. The persecution of Paul Yore is another regrettable episode that confirms the widespread backwardness of recent cultural history. The police may be obliged to investigate allegations but seizing artworks from an exhibition—which is clearly trying to hide nothing—is an absurdity that could only be justified on the basis that the exhibition puts somebody at risk. With what evidence did they make that judgement?

But have we as an art community done everything that we can to dispel the misconceptions held by the authorities and so many members of the public who abhor our liberality. When these perturbations arise, they are messy and invite unsympathetic and undesirable reactions. We prefer not to attract attention and hope for it all to blow over. We communicate poorly and take few steps to prevent another episode.

My own efforts on the topic propose a checklist of necessary criteria for invoking censorship. Further, I have made a submission (CI 235) to the Australian Law Reform Commission, where I detail the basis on which scholars and artists may legitimately consult material that might otherwise be incriminating.

Geoff Newton, director, Neon Parc, and curator, Like Mike:
Galleries work in collaboration with artists not unilaterally. The conduct of Linden reflects poorly on that organisation as an artistic institution and in my view it will ultimately affect their ability to attract the sort of artist necessary to sustain a vibrant audience base.

Until this time we have trusted and been patient with the board but its continued lack of support and non-communication leave us no alternative but to take the following action. We will stage a peaceful protest tomorrow, Saturday 8 June at 10 am, at Linden Gallery against censorship in the arts.

Alexie Glass-Kantor, director, Gertrude Contemporary:
Paul Yore is an early career artist dealing with images that emerge from a media environment that daily produces a deluge of mixed messages. The work is about the artist’s own identity and the work is intensely personal, it is not about pornography nor is it pornography. Often an image circulates but it can easily be taken out of context. Yore’s images have been circulating now for a few years, they are sexual and political but not about exploitation or pornography. They instead rely on the amplification of sexuality, chaos, and neuroses, underscored by complicated personal boundaries and trespass.

Historically the work can be read or perceived in relation to the contemporary practices of artists such as Juan Davila, Richard Larter, Del Kathryn Barton, Jean Michel Basquiat and Paul McCarthy. Exhibited in dialogue with the early works of Mike Brown it is important to acknowledge that that generation of artists was hugely influential locally. The sub/pop/cultural images that were key in Brown’s work are absolutely present in Yore’s works.

It is important that artwork is seen in context and I do not believe that the artist’s intention is to vilify or exploit children. There are situations where children have to be protected and as institutions we have an ethical imperative to do due diligence and act responsibility. I think that sensationalism, vilification and kneejerk reactions are counter-productive to intelligent discussion and create the kind of distraction where the artist and artwork become fodder for another agenda.

Charles Nodrum, director, Charles Nodrum Gallery:
Quote: ‘the work contained collages such as a cardboard cut-out of a child with Justin Bieber’s head stuck on, urinating from a dildo into a sink’ 
(Pia Akerman, The Australian, 4 June 2013).

Questions: For the sexologist: 1) Since when has urination been classified as sexual? 2) How can anyone urinate from a dildo?(!)

For the judiciary, the legislators (and by extension, all of us citizens): a collage as described above can get the artist up to 10 years, yet paedophiles found guilty of multiple rape get less than that. Have we gone mad? And as for the above constituting child pornography, even the most pedantic logic-chopper would surely balk at that?

For the board of Linden: out of a large group show, small parts of one work were deemed to have possibly infringed the law—and were removed.  Why close the whole exhibition? Why instruct staff to make no statements? Since when has locking up the venue and locking down debate ever resolved any issue?  Since the offending material has gone, why not open the doors and let the public in?

Natalie Thomas, artist:
We don’t want any trouble mate, but they started it! These bloody artists! I don’t know who they think they are and that pile of rubbish is taxpayer funded too! The bloody nerve of them! It’s not even a painting!

Are Australian artists allowed to comment on celebrity these days? Treating Pop stars like Justin Bieber or Sports stars like Thorpie satirically, irreverently or with contempt, will get big media backlash and inflame Public Opinion. You can have ‘Your Say’ and write in that artists are a bunch of freeloading wankers. Few make the link that most Industries are Government subsidized in one form or another.

Paul Yore recently had his work confiscated, taken by Police from Linden Gallery (in sleazy St Kilda). His work is not pornographic. I think ‘playfully visceral’ is a more fitting description. The work makes a statement and with the artworks’ removal, I reckon Paul has had his Human Rights violated.

After talking to a friend about the unfolding drama, we discussed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Australia signed up to it in 1948:

Article 27
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Jon banged on about Article 27: how it’s not ideal, but how it says just enough to dam this tide of reactionary hysterical censorship. This is Australian 21st Century Censorship. And the election will deliver what we expect. A Conservative, fiscally fixated landscape of church-goers with which to play.

Game on mole.

Like MikeLinden Centre for Contemporary ArtsSarah Scout PresentsUtopian SlumpsNeon Parc and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, various dates between 18 May and 7 July 2013.

Paul Yore, ‘Everything is fucked’, 2011, tapestry. Photo: Devon Ackerman

Obiter dickta

The camera transforms its operator into a creep. The eye not pressed to the viewfinder holds a wrinkly squint. So the camera operator always appears as if she or he is semi-disgusted with what has been found in or orchestrated especially for the viewfinder. Long hours, for some, are spent like this. The squinting eye is only partially idle, guiding … seeing and not seeing … idling. And so it’s with this eye that we also witness Lane Cormick’s performance, within a busy exhibition opening, via which we are party to many other acts of observation, there is so much looking.

Nina Simone begins her performance at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival by adopting a graceful deep bend in a long black dress, her hands held in supplication for a few moments, while the audience applauds. Once upright she distractedly begins singing to herself or perhaps just mouthing the first phrase before she takes the microphone to begin performing. Be my husband and I’ll be your wife. There aren’t many shots of the crowd, most of the footage is a close-up of Simone’s face and there is one lingering shot of a cameraman hovering in the background, behind her grand piano. Be my husband and I’ll be your wife. Cormick holds a projector, displaying this footage of Simone now rendered orangey black, and he aims it at a woman I’ve never seen before. The woman wears a black singlet tucked up into her bra, so that her stomach and her lower back are bare, and available for projection, sorry the projection. Simone singing. Love and honor you the rest of your life. If you’ll promise me you’ll be my man. Simone’s eyes are wide open and wild. The woman holding and not holding this footage on her body as she moves across the space, she looks somewhere, but not at us, and not around the gallery and not at Cormick. If you’ll promise me you’ll be my man/I’m gonna love you the best I can.

The exhibition space, during the performance, compressed the viewing experience, more so than usual: in addition to the audience of bodies who lined the walls and occasionally shuffled past Cormick and his performer, the repeated xeroxed portrait of ‘lost’ soul musician Lee Moses served as a kind of compacted, coded and symbolic scenography. The floor was also recovered in a collage of cut-up Adidas tracksuits, black with white triple stripes, perhaps a reference to Jesse Owens, or perhaps not. Repetition and doubling served to draw the sculptural and the performative elements together in a loose twirl.

Cormick’s projection was a careful and relentless shuffle, to his subject’s eurhythmy or, even, whim. Over the 40 or so minutes’ duration, a twisting and turning to the comparative stillness of our spectatorship didn’t serve to fully communicate the connections between all these portraits: Cormick’s self-portrait as projectionist, the woman as dancer and as projection screen, Nina Simone, Lee Moses and even we, the audience, caught in the viewfinder of the guy documenting the performance.

Last month many of us experienced Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Trio A’ ‘transmission’ sessions in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as Kaldor’s 13 Rooms, where the celebration, reinterpretation and recontextualisation of 1960s performance practices and aesthetics (rather than politics) have been given an overwhelming cross-institutional tick. By contrast, Cormick’s performance is a refreshing turn about the room because there is sex in here, even if it’s not good sex. The performer is hunted down each time, while successfully falsifying relaxed and languid movement, playfully and seductively enacting pose and repose. But maybe that’s just your writer inferring seduction, based on at least one instance of slow motion tousling of her own hair, her exposed midriff and her disinterested gaze loosely focussed on the middle distance, that even regular opening-goers are never easily able to fake.

Lane Cormick, Janis, TCB, Melbourne, 27 March – 13 April 2013.

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Period piece

I am afraid of silence

I am afraid of the dark

I am afraid to fall down 

I am afraid of insomnia

I am afraid of emptiness

Is something missing?

Yes, something is missing and always will be missing

The experience of emptiness

To miss 

What are you missing?


I am imperfect but I’m lacking nothing

Maybe something is missing but I do not know and therefore do not suffer

Empty stomach empty house empty bottle

The falling into a vacuum signals the abandonment of the mother

This text is faint, it’s also behind glass—so it’s glary—and despite its oversized type face it requires pause. Occupying the same room is a collection of blunt, padded bodies suspended from a wire frame. Bourgeois’s overstuffed fabric forms are the opposite of the gallery’s hard architecture.

This confessional mode, in its restraint and control, and its sporadic, embarrassing release, acts like a kind of Butoh. Simultaneous channelling and restraint demands either great concentration or great drunkenness.

In an interview recently, Lena Dunham summed up the flawed character she has written for herself in the television series, Girls, as ‘a few years younger’ than herself. What exists in the lag between day one and the time when we start to form words in order to communicate haunts our speech and writing, to our advantage and disadvantage. Unfortunately, we can’t control who looks on. Fortunately, this gap gives us a mode of truth and freedom.

So let’s just say we’re making artworks that are barely disguised objects or tools for self-analysis. Let’s say we’re curating our biographies and hang-ups in an attempt to work them out a little. Let’s say that as writers we’re struggling not just to describe the material we are commissioned to, but rather struggling to describe ourselves. I guess this is all more compelling via a knotty, unresolved, self-questioning.

Louise Bourgeois: late works, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 24 November 2012 – 11 March 2013.

Louise Bourgeois, ‘Blue days’, 1996, cloth, steel, glass

Traumatic acts and therapeutic structures: A few ideas in, around and associated with Stamm

by Jonathan Nichols & Amita Kirpalani


The idea of a ‘traumatic object’ is around and can be found lurking in conversations about dOCUMENTA (13). Between us this year, the language of trauma is closer to being caught up with what happens with art making and art writing. Which is slightly different.

As I read it, because I didn’t see it, dOCUMENTA (13) used broader associative ways to identify traumatic objects: stories etc. (For instance, I suppose Lee Miller didn’t pinch Hitler’s toothbrush.) Association is key. Early on we introduced in Stamm Jan Verwoert’s take on trauma and art making as to do with a mechanics of empathy, which is closer to the way I understand it.

The idea of place is important here. The traumatized object is something which suffers the pressure(s) of place. Outward as well as inward pressure. Stamm was established to apply the pressure of regular writing against exhibitions which occur largely within a few city blocks. Supporting this set-up is a collection of voices that clash, jar and don’t quite align. Not to represent a cross-section, but rather to associate, since most of us are looking not only within but, crucially, beyond a particular local ‘scene’.


Hal Foster suggested recently that we are fatigued with a rhetoric of avant-garde ruptures, breakings, tipping points and are now preoccupied with stories of survival and persistence. I’m seeing the vogue of ‘old and new art’ together as to do with seeking a clearer sense of temporality in art making (time and space). This is also though a retreat in part from contemporary practice. Hal Foster says the times are for changing, and ‘radical new’—in the sense that he holds to modernist values—is not being looked to so much post-2008.


We’ve been talking about process as trauma and regularity as therapy. The same way an exhibition space offers a regularity of event and venue. I like the idea of the exhibition space operating as the office, rather than the studio operating as the office. Labour within the studio is trauma but the presentation of an object that has been produced in this context compounds the issue.

Heightened, compounded and, perhaps worst of all, very known: an exhibition space is mutable and contains a show, but as well it can impose its character, it’s a mutable enterprise or can, on occasion, background a work in ambivalence. In the way that a gallery is a kind of stave for the art, the idea of the text is a stave too. It too can hold up an artwork and offer its own rescue. It can also shut it out and down of course and play the games of hierarchy: a counter-discourse of ‘destruction’ and destructive acts. A therapeutic structure, be it writing (as in Stamm) or an exhibition or gallery, can rescue the traumatic object.


If writing more generally is proposed as a therapeutic structure, we might look at art and artists that further interrogate this idea of collaboration and direct reference to therapeutic, cathartic structures. Some favourite examples:

The Telepathy Project
A Constructed World
Nat & Ali’s therapy session screen at Hells
Sophie Calle
Marina Ambramovic
Stuart Ringholt
Anastasia Klose
Chiara Fumai
The greatest tragedy of President Clinton’s Administration, Mike Kelley
Otto Muehl
Mike Parr
Dani Marti
Rose Nolan


Cairns. Little stacks of rocks, a kind of tourist graffiti that populates historical monuments and natural wonders. These are temporary markers of an individual experience. But there is deceit at play too. Technically this individual act is a collective experience and the residue, the cairn, undoes the ‘naturalness’ of the vista.

This style of publishing—a collective, monthly posts, 300-word count (rarely adhered to), with few other ‘rules’—is its own little stack of different-sized pebbles. Perhaps to be knocked over soon after its construction, imminently dismantled. Marking the viewing, the experience. Sometimes contributing to it, sometimes littering. Balanced and not.

Kate Smith, Sutton Gallery, 12 October – 10 November 2012

invisiblevisible (with Emily Cormack)

OK, the document you sent to me had seven lines in it. And about twenty-six words. Is that enough? As I said it was just a start. Is this part of our writing together? The initial bickering? Anyway, it seems when talking about works like these, you and I want to talk about them as props that hold the story, the frameworks of an idea.

[Assertion] The content seems not really that important.

[Discension] I’m not so sure I agree, are you suggesting that structure can never also be content?

[Clarification] You know I am a big believer in form following function. Form parallelling content. It’s just when the two get out of balance and I am suspicious. Perhaps now, the great framework, the language of sculpture has become enough. Like substitutes or summaries for research and feeling.

[Give me some examples] Powder-coated steel frames with small incidental-seeming objects flung casually here and there. Screen-like props, anthropomorphically scaled, and draped with fabric that flutters, leather chain, plastic chain, a designer chair here and a banana there.

[Assertion] It’s kind of frustrating to feel like you are seeing the same work over and over again, but maybe it is also training to look harder, to acknowledge the intricacies of the visual language that is being developed. [Question] What do you think about that?

[Answer] It makes me feel like I am driving down a cul de sac in a new housing estate trying to differentiate the different styles of Delfin homes on offer. Wow, check it out this one’s got eaves!!!

[Opinion] But you can hardly blame the sculptor. Just like the Delfin homes. They build them because people love them. Need them. Want rooms similar to their neighbours’ because everyone’s got the same stuff to put in them anyway, with just enough space or shelving for some kind of individual flair.

But then, perhaps, this is what they’re about. A kind of self-reflexive critique of ourselves and the land of structures and frameworks, with very little flow through, that we dwell in. The world of form being well over content. [Assertion] Maybe we are all talking about the same thing?

Here I think this is about your desire/our desire (compulsion/mental illness) to find narrative but of course this is about the sculptural, the essential, the stripped back.[Interruption/over-talking even] sculpture isn’t always about the essential do you think? But that’s off topic …

[Response to over-talking] I half agree. But when it becomes about the elements of the work—the ‘base’ materials—isn’t that essential?

[Sneeze] Maybe this is about the non-verbal. I know you are going to say art is about the non-verbal (of course!).

[Assertion] But maybe this work takes us back to a tangible/literal association with this. And these works create their own network, which looks like a big ol’ net. Cross-pollinating one another with content.

[Ascension] You mean like these sculptural frameworks are the hand gestures or leg crosses of the sculptural nomenclature (that’s not a question).

[Concession] Interesting idea.

[You always say ‘interesting’, when other people might say ‘great’—you don’t mean ‘interesting’, you’re fobbing me off.]

How to be

The point is, don’t become an asshole. As art-world participants we should be mindful of this, particularly at a moment when the current logics and cults of interaction, participation, production and performance feel especially social. Most of us are over-institutionalized and yet only partially professionalized. ‘Don’t become an asshole’, is demanded of Pecker, the emerging artist depicted in the 1998 John Waters film Pecker. Making this petition is Pecker’s girlfriend and muse, who reluctantly remains supportive when, unwittingly, the photographer is discovered by a New York commercial gallery (and, as the film progresses, is also picked up by its gallerina). Pecker never does become an asshole, but he inadvertently flirts with the idea, as the gravitational pull of success, celebrity and unbridled adoration draws him away from his hometown Baltimore and into the New York scene. The girlfriend’s threat comes into focus again when Cindy Sherman, playing herself, toasts Pecker with a drunkenly exuberant ‘death to irony’ at his post-opening dinner. Waters’s directorial solution to asshole-ism materializes as a celebration of earnestness.

The cursory frequently passes as stylized, full-flavored criticality. It is a nonchalant shrug of sorts: all reaction, no reflection. The cursory regularly infiltrates art criticism, art writing, curation and art-making. I guess I’m doing it right now. A reliance on this formula for engagement and commentary equates to being an asshole. And yet there is a constant call for dialogue and discussion: like a dog chasing its own tail. Ruff! Is ‘the riff’ a kind of work, or labour? Riffing is a key indicator of this shruggery. We seem to talk about it a lot. Riffing on subject matter, on raw material, riffing on different kinds or modes of action and gestures. And we make it lazy in art, unlike it is in music, where it is less ecstatic, less a result of being mesmerized and rapturous; a kind of productive reverence. In art, we also fear overstating this term ‘riff’, because it teeters on the edge of cliché. It suggests a solution to inactivity, to uneasy ‘juxtapositions’ (cliché) and speaks of bridging these things that intuitively relate, but don’t easily match. What we are saying when we use this term is that we needn’t understand or analyse our own or surrounding creative impulses, that engaging in a rigorous way is earnest, and earnestness is to be avoided. When I speak in this way and write in this way, I am being an asshole.

The fields of artistic production and curation appear increasingly narrow. Not necessarily through inactivity, but as a result of their structure. As these roles and what they then offer taper, the space for labour dwindles. And beyond this we are also deskilling as viewers. Some evidence of this is perhaps the architectural over-writing of the gallery space. Inextricable from the history of curating, we need to question why architectural collaboration and intervention continues to be relevant, or broadcast as relevant. More often than not the result is a de-emphasis of the artwork that the circumferent architecture is purportedly in support of and in service to, particularly in gallery spaces which, over time, become laden with their own history. A moralistic tool of post and lintel meaning-making which shrinks us as viewers, making architecture an asshole.

‘Fuckin’ lousy art galleries are ruining this whole neighborhood. Stupid blank paintings and out of focus pictures and those ugly-ass sculptures.’ This observation, made by a homeless New Yorker in Pecker, suggests that whole areas of the city can become an asshole too.

The increased socialization of art has enhanced the lie of casual. Looming large in this arena are the not-so-young YBAs—full of their own art gods of course—serving as a guide for the careerist-casual. From slap-dash to cash. As artists, writers and curators, and as a result of these kinds of influences, does this mean that we have allowed ourselves to de-skill? Because we are certainly getting paid like assholes. Government-funded organizations regularly request invoices for artist fees that equate to less than one week’s worth of studio rent. Getting paid and paying rent are also the blur of once distinct, now competing ideologies of commercial, project and independent gallery spaces. I wonder when the slow-cooking revolution will seep into curatorial and artistic practice, where working from show to show rather than project to project divests practices of rigorous engagement with research and necessary failure (and, hence, editing).

The public interpretation (and performance) of art is often a forum for assholes. I recently attended a series of talks by relatively inexperienced emerging artists and, while each participant displayed his and her inexperience, which is no crime, it was in fact the institution who was the asshole. The artists speaking about their work needed prompting and challenging. This should have been the supportive role of the in-house curators, but it was not, since nervousness hid behind reticence. The role of the curator in this situation is not to be a nervous asshole, but rather the generous (and yes perhaps nervous) host. Language itself can also be an asshole as we are regularly hemmed in by its various applications, rules and rationales in relation to art, not only during times of public performance. The secret code of exhibition applications and grant writing should be available as a course by correspondence. Within this code a whole section regarding artist statements should be detailed. This particular language function frequently trips-up even experienced practitioners and can even work to restrain the production of new work or at least the form it takes.

To play the gentleman’s game, cricketers must wear all white. All white attire being a sign of neatly pressed respect and etiquette pre the scuff marks and grass stains of competitive play. So where does this position us in the arts, in our uniforms of black? Etiquette is strangely out of focus in an industry where the professional and the personal must play nice so frequently. The equivalent of inviting a stranger to watch you undress describes the complex choreography of the studio visit. Its unwritten codes of conduct require articulation and interrogation since it is fertile ground for assholes. Asshole-like behavior can emerge even from experienced artists and curators. What should we expect when expecting a studio visit? I have experienced being called into a studio to take a look at a harried, over-traveled biennale curator (guess who don’t sue) curled up on a artist’s couch. After yawning through the first 15 minutes of the visit, the artist suggested that the curator apply one of her home-knitted knee-rugs, while he caught some Zs before his taxi arrived to ferry him back to the airport.

So when exhibiting asshole-like behavior, the antidote should be to stop work, but not to nap. In the film Pecker, Waters’s solution is to have his protagonist switch professions, declaring he would retire as a photographer to take up filmmaking. But we needn’t go that far. We should, however, reflect on the means of our investment, not only by analysing our ‘product’ (the artwork, the exhibition, the writing), but by scrutinizing the way we communicate and participate. We must reflect and assess our own personal strategy (be it engineered or intuited), in order to engage with empathy, with generosity, or with rigor. And if you aren’t reflecting, then you’re probably being an asshole.

First published as part of the Artspace 25th anniversary publication, Every cloud has a silver lining: Artspace 25, Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand, 2012.

Good behaviour

In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 4 million households in Beijing received etiquette guides which focused on things like how to queue correctly, that when standing in public one’s feet should be in the shape of a ‘V’ or ‘Y’ and, my favourite, that there should be more than three colours represented in any one outfit. While in Beijing last month as part of an ICI Curatorial Intensive I also learned that, post-Olympics, less specific behavioural guidelines linger in the city. The word kequi, for example, features on street signs and noticeboards mainly around tourist attractions. It was explained to me that this word roughly translates as ‘good or ideal behaviour for a guest’.

We were warned moments before meeting him that what Ai Wei Wei hates more than Communism are pretentious academic discussions about art. We were also warned that there was every chance he would be less than chatty due to the fact that police had, days before, confiscated his passport once again. We were encouraged to ask questions instead of hanging back for a lecture. Rather than a bad mood however, it was the large white arc of a scar etched across the back of his head that I first noticed about him as we followed him through the courtyard, and into the studio itself. Ai Wei Wei designed the complex, a modernist concrete bunker of sorts, in which we sat. Twelve (intimidated and more quiet than usual) curators to one artist (and two cats) didn’t feel like an honestly productive or a productively honest ratio.

And what eventually and surprisingly emerged from the initially lack-lustre Q and A, was a lengthy conversation about long-term collaborations between artists and curators. Mori Art Museum curator Mami Kataoka spoke of the pressures of being the artist’s eyes and ears at sites where Wei Wei’s travel was (and continues to be) restricted. It’s totally personal. Beyond constraints such as gaol time, which ignites a project with a specific urgency, was the sense that simultaneous development, and in-depth understanding (theoretical, practical and methodological) sit in sustained communication, if not collaboration, over time.

This studio visit was conducted with Philip Tinari, director of Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and Kate Fowle, director of Independent Curators International, New York, co-hosts of the ICI Curatorial Intensive with 12 participants, and 2 of 12 guest speakers, Rodrigo Moura, curator, Inhotim, Brazil, and Mami Kataoka, senior curator, Mori Art Museum.

Mikala Dwyer—agent orange

Last time we were here together we kissed inside the circular Olafur Eliasson installation on the second floor. Orange and you all around me. Tongues inside each other’s mouths, laughing out loud at our lust. Despite this version of elementalism requiring supplicant bodies to complete or form the work’s whole, we heckled these neat edges.

Here again but this time down the road, I’m squinting to make fuzzy edges around clear sight and bright day.

Dwyer’s oversized earring offers relief in a smirking. Glinty golden buckles hold the polyvalent mobile up high. Squint again. Squigy vessels hardened with golden abrasions crowd the window ledge. Balance. Weight and light-weight swinging together around a corner and shifting configurations make for looking and looking again. Geometric jewels formed from hard-edged Perspex planes. One droopy cast bronze plasmic handle is looped to the mobile via a noose. Curvaceous and constricted all at once. Contours and pertness in parts, resembling plasticine scrunched by a giant clenched fist.

Mikala Dwyer, Divinations for the real things, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 23 June – 21 July 2012.

Mikala Dwyer, ‘Diviner’ (detail), 2012, acrylic, steel, rope, bronze, glazed ceramic, dirt, polyester, mandarin seeds

Mikala Dwyer, ‘Diviner’ (detail), 2012, acrylic, steel, rope, bronze, glazed ceramic, dirt, polyester, mandarin seeds

Mikala Dwyer, ‘The things in things’, 2012, found objects, ceramic, glaze, epoxy filler



Tony Schwensen’s exhibition at Kalimanrawlins is based on a YouTube meme: a chimp, in the Honolulu Zoo, fucking a live frog that had hopped into his enclosure. Over five million hits. The YouTube video is an unshockingly blurry depiction of its title: Video what the hell another freaky monkey rapes frog orally!. One of the works in Monkey business I is a video of Schwensen sitting on a stool, po-faced and dressed in the hands and feet of a guerrilla costume and a frog hat/mask, repeating the words, ‘I’m a human being, I’m a real human being’. Monkey business I employs meme as motif, where Schwensen has submitted the chimp clip to graphic reinterpretation, to slowing down, to further repetition, and moreover he has trussed it to art history.

The meme works like an evanescent Venn diagram that locks into a cross-section of pop cultural, social and/or political situationism and holds attention for a tiny blip of time. Part of the ‘value’ of the meme is an account of exactly how much attention it holds—which is trackable on the YouTube ‘views’ counter or its visibility more broadly (as a catch-phrase or as an image printed on T-shirts). So any humanity and perhaps possible resonance in the meme subject becomes squeezed out in deference to the numbers who have ‘viewed’. A meme is an ultimate one-time-only one-liner.

In a statement (downloadable on the Kalimanrawlins website), Schwensen writes about his ‘intrigue’ in relation to the video and the further research it inspired him to undertake. This way of looking appears plainly antithetical to the meme’s function in our (collective) psyche. Schwensen also declares that he has watched the video almost daily for the past two years.

Walking through Michelle Ussher’s dense, narratively embedded and symbolically encoded psychological portraits in the larger front gallery, with Schwensen’s soundtrack undermining its logic, made for an absurd and funny reading of the obfuscatory. In some ways, where Ussher’s and Schwensen’s approaches meet is where we, as viewers, end up holding information we shouldn’t. Because we are inadvertently drawn into an information chain, where ‘intrigue’ is a congealing of the repellant and the compulsive.

I went to see a band play recently; two accompanying cage dancers moved constantly and rhythmically throughout their two-hour set. Two sets of almost identical hips, waggling centrifugally and compelling us, the audience, into hypnotic, less well-practised mirrored action. A friend I was with vaguely knew one of the dancers, and, interrupting my transfixed state, told me not the dancer’s name, but that she was in psychoanalysis. At the time I tried to calculate how many hours of dancing might equate to the cost of one session.

Tony Schwensen, Monkey business I, Kalimanrawlins, Melbourne, 2–30 June 2012.

Tony Schwensen, ‘Monkey business I’, 2012

Tony Schwensen, ‘Monkey business I’, 2012

Tony Schwensen, ‘Monkey business I’, 2012

‘I’m not even supposed to be here today’, Clerks (1994)

When I was a pre-teen, it was the fully-fledged teenagers I knew who were able—as perhaps only teenagers are—to recount swathes of dialogue from the 1994 film Clerks, directed by Kevin Smith.

I can’t help but quote critic Brad Laidman (surely not his real name?) at length, since Laidman’s review/lament encapsulates both the film’s plot and the empathetic/envious fandom surrounding it since, well, Smith ‘made it’:

Clerks for me was kind of like the Beatles on Ed Sullivan were for so many nascent Rock stars. You’re stuck in a dead end town. You’re stuck in the purgatory of a job you hate. You love comic books, but you can’t draw. You love movies, but you barely know which end of a camera the lens is on. You squirrel away time writing a semi-autobiographical justification of your life, praying that somehow your quick wit and pop culture spewing point of reference will someday free you from the shackles of your own private hell. I was in the same spot. I had this novel that I referred to as an existential cartoon. I even titled its word processing file “God”, because it represented what I thought was my last prayer of a chance at living a happy life. Clerks … [depicts a] great love for twisted dialogue … and linguistic attitude are certainly abundantly present and ring out like gunfire, but when Tarantino made Reservoir dogs, he had Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Michæl Madsen to work with. Kevin Smith had a couple of buddies, a convenience store, and some black and white film.’

And I think this parallelism is appropriate because this is the stuff of Greatest Hits—which is immediately visible to us in their ironic collaborative title, but is also apparent in the quotation, outsourcing, editing and collaging in the construction of new work. Pinned down by their own art gods, has this work De facto standard become the footnote that out-played the text? Or the title that jumped the artwork?

For De facto standard, at Westspace, Greatest Hits gained prolific and—to state the obvious—unheard-of media coverage for an exhibition in an artist-run space. Here is the bibliography from their online CV: LA Times, LA Times BusinessTIME, Fox News, Fox BusinessYahoo! News, Herald Sun, Desktop Magazine, NBC New York, NBC LA, USA Today, The Washington PostDaily StyleGizmodoDaily Mail, The Age, CNET, Macworld, Art Info, ABC, ABC News, ABC World News Now, The Roast, The Project, Sydney Morning Herald, SBS World News, MX, the ConversationDon’t Panic, ExaminerThe Guardian.

Read all about it: ‘Art grabs headlines for depiction of prosaic uncertainty in terms of the contemporary existential’.

Greatest Hits’ De facto standard appealed media-wise because of its hipster tech-fetish factor. The main player being the perfume, which was made (to order) to smell like a newly opened MacBook, and pumped into the gallery space by a faux stainless steel contraption about the height of a CD rack. It’s funny, it’s wry. The supporting parts within the one-room exhibition included three identical copies of the film Avatar. The three Blu-ray Disc covers on the floor were leant up against the gallery wall, as well as a photographic transfer of a very realistic-looking slice of pickle stuck to the gallery wall. Angsty commentary on futurism, advertising, and machismo are the key components of this work. It’s all about quotation, careful selection, editing and complicated professionalism. (Read, like Clerks.) And employing a very different tone, compared with Dane Mitchell’s use of perfume to breach gallery, viewing and conceptual space.

It’s unclear though if De facto standard is also a reference to Mitchell’s work with scent in the gallery space or if the artists are aware of this work by Boris Dornbusch shown earlier in 2012 entitled Dimensions variable (described by Dornbusch as ‘The fleeting scent in the very moment between opening the lid and just before removing the display protection sheet from a MacBook Air purchased a few seconds ago’).

Perhaps the overly casual and not apparently entwined supporting objects let down the lead in De facto standard. As one meaning of the title of the work implies, De facto standard operates as a kind of manipulated shortcut, exaggerated as a result of the lite supporting objects.

Greatest Hits, De facto standard, Westspace, Melbourne, 20 April – 12 May 2012.

Greatest Hits, ‘De facto standard’, Westspace, 2012

Greatest Hits, ‘De facto standard’, Westspace, 2012

‘Clerks’, 1994, found image from the Internet

Touching the surface: Angelica Mesiti

The vivid and the beautiful operate as an amnesty from the abundance of provisionality. But is it a satisfactory reprieve, say in relation to labour-intensive craftwork as another alternative? Specifically, I’m wondering how to find a space for ineffability in Mesiti’s work, beyond its surface—something problematic, a cleft where I can apply my own undirected interpretation. Metaphorically it’s the dead pixel I’m after. But I’m not looking for a fail, I’m trying to search out a space for interpretation where I don’t feel choreographed or coerced into an emotional response—this appears to be the irresistible propulsion of the work: the worthy subjects, their candid performances and Mesiti’s (high-definition) choices in aesthetic coercion.

There is a concentration on and of surface in this work, and as viewers we are in a vice: there doesn’t appear a way to relax into this seduction or reject it based on a slight-ness or a thin-ness, since the humanity runs thick. This is compulsive portraiture. And each performance, each coded gesture, communicates that paradox at the core of portraiture: that the outward appearance reveals the inner vast.

Big in production, projection size and quality, the four-channel video installation situates the viewer within an uncomfortable panopticon—like rote learning, constant refrains and universalist humanist themes. Like each subject we are rhythmically entranced. Where this video’s staging is more forceful than is required is within the interval between vignettes where the camera engages in an abstracted panning around the screens, an overladen metaphor for universalism perhaps.

Each performance is a performance observed. All is overt here, wedging us (the audience) in an emotional corner. Mesiti does a lot of hard work to make this look effortless. There is deep compassion and what appears to be a real fascination for her subjects is communicated and calculated. Novelist AS Byatt writes of the importance of invisible things in relation to portraiture, describing how even description in visual language of a face or a body may depend on being unseen for its force. In Mesiti’s video, each performer is lost in his or her own revelry, eyes closed in sincere engagement.

Angelica Mesiti, Citizen’s band, NEW12, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 17 March – 20 May 2012.

Angelica Mesiti, ‘Citizen’s band’, 2012

Angelica Mesiti, ‘Citizen’s band’, 2012

Angelica Mesiti, ‘Citizen’s band’, 2012

Angelica Mesiti, ‘Citizen’s band’, 2012

The clock and the rock: Aesthetic of the emblematic

4:17 pm. What happens to time if we fold it in half like a piece of paper, and then unfold it? Are the wrinkles at the end or the beginning? This is a poorly recalled line from one of the 6000 films sampled in Christian Marclay’s epic video work, The clock, currently on view at the MCA, Sydney. The clock is a filmic ensemble of references to (real) time: it is a marking of time. The work is a pummelling of continuity and an unrelenting tide of the tessellated, criss-crossed—edits operating as objects?—as opposed to sequential action and event. A comparison to The clock assisted my (difficult) rethinking of Nicholas Mangan’s Some kinds of duration.

A concrete photocopier is dull-ly and appropriately lit by a fluoro light within the gallery space. Two projections, one silent, are in constant motion. One in particular is lusciously rubbly. These three works, which comprise the guts of Some kinds of duration, appear to this viewer to work together to a clean brevity. I am reminded by a friend that the work was noisy and dirty, but this isn’t how I reflect on my walk around it.

How to feel for manufacture? Like Marclay, Mangan’s recycling and imbricating of fragments speak loudly of process and construction. This comparison feels particularly useful in the search to locate Duration’s narrative charge. Writer Zadie Smith suggests that The clock is a subjective ‘factual response to the fantasies of film’. Duration’s components operate as fantastical responses to the facts of time and place. Searching for a narrative kick, Duration appears attenuated while, in comparison, The clock pivots on brevity.

Each element of Duration reflects on archaeology—the central axis on which the exhibition seems to scenically spin. Archaeology: the excavation, systematising, and the piecing together of remnants to reveal the various narratives connected with quotidian human relations. Some of these things are whole and some of these things are fragmentary. And like Marclay’s work, there is real-time and staged-time pushed hard up against each other. Some kinds of duration positions its collection of historical references adequately enough for a momentum to build. But, perhaps to the viewer’s detriment, the fantastical is slimmed-down and the work retreats in the repeat.

Nicholas Mangan, Some kinds of duration, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 10 February — 1 April 2012.

Nicholas Mangan, ‘Some kinds of duration’, 2012

Nicholas Mangan, ‘Some kinds of duration’, 2012

Nicholas Mangan, ‘Some kinds of duration’, 2012

Vogue-ing for the dictaphone: Alex Martinis Roe

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t undo a blurt or even a short rant. Perhaps because I speak to think, like most of us do … right?

On Friday February 17 from 2 to 4:30pm, formerly Melbourne, now Berlin-based artist Alex Martinis Roe facilitated a workshop she designed as part of her work for Post-planning, an upcoming group show for the Ian Potter Museum of Art, also including work by Damiano Bertoli, Julian Hooper, Andrew Hurle, Michelle Nikou.

A similar workshop had been staged by Martinis Roe in Dublin as part of her solo project at Pallas Projects and all the invited participants were briefed about this in the invitation. The workshop involved, as stated in the email invitation, ‘three main tasks, which are undertaken in pairs. Each of the tasks involves discussion of the specific relationships each participant has to the female authors that have been influential for her-him, and involves different ways of working together and listening to one another’. Upon reading this, all of a sudden can’t remember anything I’ve read … ever … total blank.

So I started to think about what a workshop was. A room or place where tools are available to repair other things. Was I going to be repaired? A place where things are produced. Was I going to take part in making someone else’s work? An activity which goes into effect in order to create or deliver something, ‘a deliverable’. Oh no.

Once inside the Ian Potter Museum, the spaces were cordoned-off, tables were set around a central node which included Martinis Roe and elaborate recording equipment. Part stage, part sound desk. The welcome by Martinis Roe was clear, faultlessly professional and friendly.

But then it became about us (not me, as I’d first agonized over) and as we filled out the first form, on which I had to write my name, it occurred to me that this workshop emulated my own paid work in many ways. These forms and instructions followed would potentially be used later or not at all.

What this workshop seemed to produce in humility, affirmation, sharing, it redacted in documentation, prop-making and chronicling, but I reflect now on how we hold onto our ideas, our starting points, what we return to and our false-starts.

Alex Martinis Roe, Frameworks for Exchange Workshop, Post-planning: Damiano Bertoli, Julian Hooper, Andrew Hurle, Alex Martinis Roe, Michelle Nikou, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 31 March – 22 July 2012.

Alex Martinis Roe, Frameworks for Exchange Workshop

Image of a workshop sourced from the internet

Image of a workshop sourced from the internet