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


Love and the machine

Last Sunday I attended a private function held in celebration of the showing of Russell Gray Goodman’s Daytona dreamer as part of the Gertrude Street Projection Festival. Russell Goodman was a Melbourne artist whose untimely death in 1988 cut his life and emerging artistic practice tragically short. Daytona dreamer, a kinetic sculpture of complex construction and presence, has been methodically restored and refurnished by Russell’s brother, Chris Goodman, over the last four years. It was exhibited for the first time in twenty-two years in the front window of Industria for the festival.

Russell Goodman started out as a painter but a mind for design and construction, and an interest in the constructivists and the Bauhaus soon led him to make intricate kinetic sculptures that explored themes of creation and destruction. Like many artists of the 1980s he was concerned with the fragility of humanity in light of nuclear armament, the AIDS epidemic and dominant right-wing politics. Goodman hung out in St Kilda and was part of the growing local scene that was frequented by artists and musicians and typified by venues such as the Crystal Ballroom and The Espy. It was in St Kilda that he died after being violently attacked by a local grifter.

Goodman spent two years making Daytona dreamer and it was first exhibited at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 1988 as part of a series of solo exhibitions by young artists. Later that same year Goodman drove the disassembled work up to Sydney to be shown at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery as part of the exhibition New artists: Melbourne. This was his last exhibition.

Chris Goodman is a systems architect who spoke admiringly of his brother to a gathered audience of family and friends last Sunday. The four years spent refurbishing Daytona dreamer for exhibition no doubt lent him a unique opportunity to reconnect with his brother, and the work’s restaging brought obvious joy to those who knew Russell.

As I walked home that night I passed by Daytona Dreamer lit up and in action in the Industria window. Its messages about creation and destruction—the spinning wheel, the pumping hammers, the pulsing lights—and how closely these reflected the short life of Russell Gray Goodman reminded me again how powerfully aligned art and life can be.

Russell Gray Goodman, Daytona dreamer, Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Melbourne, 20–29 July 2012.

Russell Gray Goodman, ‘Daytona dreamer’, 1988

Do ya thang Wang!

I’m staying in Bang Pu Mai at the moment, just outside Bangkok, visiting a loved one. There’s not a lot of art out here as it’s a big industrial area. We drive along Sukhumvit Road each day and pass billboards with big photos of the King’s daughter taking photos of seagulls. We pass a few massage places and people eating and working out on the street, and we are passed by huge buses spray-painted with anime designs transporting factory workers to and fro. We go for a jog in the evenings down at the mangrove waterfront about a kilometre from Nok’s (the loved one) house where there are some nice oversized seagull sculptures. But every day I’ve been thrilled to watch Nok’s neighbour, Wang, sculpting these bright tree trunk functional things in his driveway. Nok thinks he has a commission for a local temple because he’s really gone into overdrive making tree trunk tables and chairs. I was so thrilled that I bought one for Nok’s mum, just before being told the guy’s brother had a fling with Nok’s mum’s sister that went sour, so neighbourly chit chat has been avoided for a while. Anyway, I paid 400 baht ($12 Aussie) and lugged it home and tropical Persian cat quickly became fond of it so the air cleared. It now sits in the front yard filled with some lovely orchids. Wang sculpts the shape in chicken wire, mixes up cement in the wheelbarrow and moulds it with his hands into the shape of a cartoony tree trunk. He then waits a week for it to dry before whipping out the weather-shield house paint and giving it very bright outlandish colours. I can’t tell you how great they look out the front of houses in the surrounding streets, as other neighbours have purchased them to jazz up the ‘burb a little.

(Mis)communication rules

Wikipedia tells us that Creole is a language ‘developed from the mixing of parent languages’. Like Pidgin—a necessary precursor to Creole—it is brought about through the coming together of previously incomprehensible differences. Europe’s colonial expansion brought many creoles into being by way of trade routes, colonial domination and the traumatic displacements of the slave trade. Here, old languages were bastardised to become new. The spread of cultures across the Pacific also necessitated languages of exchange. In northern Australia, the cattle industry, hot on the heels of European invasion, prompted a ‘Kriol’—a mix of Aboriginal languages, English and Chinese—which is still spoken today. At one level the development of such languages displays the need for a common ground on which social, cultural or economic transactions might be negotiated.

It’s worth considering what this space is. For example, in creating a way by which relative values can be brought into play, are cultural differences transcended? Or, in carefully plotting a space of exchange by the limitations of language, are differences beyond this space consciously maintained? In the works of Sydney-based visual artist Newell Harry we might observe that layers of difference do not necessarily settle into a coherent whole. This disjuncture points towards miscommunication. It echoes the space between languages, a gap where the necessity to communicate prompts new forms which may or may not be adequate for the task.

Newell Harry, Blue pango: musings & other anecdotes, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 26 July – 18 August 2012.

Newell Harry, ‘Untitled (Griot)’, 2012, monoprint, pastel, cowrie shells, marker on ironed Fabriano paper

Newell Harry, ‘Untitled (Wole Soyinka … is still alive)’, 2012, monoprint, pastel, cowrie shells, marker on ironed Fabriano paper

Newell Harry, ‘Untitled (More mumbo jumbo: crackpots ‘n’ poems for Ishmael Reed)’, 2010–12, 8 unique screenprints on hand-beaten Tongan ngatu (bark cloth), ink

Newell Harry, ‘Untitled (Bearded black virgin with ancestral pig)’, 2011–12, Trobriand Island women’s dance skirt, etched spade, boot polish, Japanese yen, ceramic matka (Madhya Pradeshi water vessel), glass beads, twine

Newell Harry, ‘Untitled (Bearded black virgin with ancestral pig)’ (detail), 2011–12

‘The ark of catastrophe’: Guido van der Werve and Lyndal Jones in the 18th Biennale of Sydney

Two of the works that are most memorable for me in this year’s Biennale of Sydney are Guido van der Werve’s film work Nummer acht: everything is going to be alright, and Lyndal Jones’s performance and installation at Cockatoo Island, Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney. In the spirit of the biennale’s linked-in themes of establishing relations between works, peoples and things and the necessity of taking on board an ecological way of thinking, these works do for art what Slavoj Žižek has done for weighing up the state of mind of ‘living in the end times’. ‘Art and catastrophe’ can seem like a glib catchphrase exploiting the spectacle of disaster, but these two works are richer than that in harnessing the dilemmas of the relentless path towards progress bound up with the loss of frontier.

Van der Werve’s short-film piece, which already has a global cult following, shows the artist striding ahead of an ice-breaker like the twenty-first century version of Caspar David Friedrich’s intrepid explorer negotiating Das Eismeer. Seemingly just steps ahead of the vessel carving its path of destruction (due to the clever confusion of distance in a featureless landscape), the artist in a state of magnificent momentum channels a rather heroic last symphony as he strides through the landscape about to disappear. Like the somewhat over-employed metaphor of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, propelled into the future as it looks back at the ruins of the past, our man at the front (the artist himself) is a paradoxical figure of fearlessness.

In a work that is, in contrast, remarkable for its tentative steps in harnessing the very ordinary, everyday world of preparation for departure, Lyndal Jones’s Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney creates a different kind of event space. This work, which has a Victorian origin in its first manifestation for the Avoca Project in 2010, is here cleverly restaged on Cockatoo Island, a place linked to former histories of maritime services and settlement. Rising to the occasion of this mythical space of embarkation, a motley crew of characters assembles in the courtyard by the wooden hull of the ark wedged into the wall of the ship-building precinct. Masquerading as animals, kitted out in simple handmade masks, they line up in pairs with suitcases in hand like postwar refugees to the new world. Intrepid, nervous, they look at us as we look at them before realising that (for today at least) nothing is going to happen.

18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations, Sydney, 27 June – 16 September 2012.

Guido van der Werve, ‘Nummer Acht, everything is going to be alright’, 16 mm film transferred to digital video, 2007

Lyndal Jones, ‘Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney’, installation and performance, 2012. Photo: Bronia Iwanczak

Lyndal Jones, ‘Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney’, installation and performance, 2012. Photo: Bronia Iwanczak

Lyndal Jones, ‘Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney’, installation and performance, 2012. Photo: Bronia Iwanczak

Lyndal Jones, ‘Rehearsing catastrophe: the ark in Sydney’, installation and performance, 2012. Photo: Bronia Iwanczak


Same, same but different or three I liked best

I passed through the sliding doors of MUMA at Monash’s Caulfield campus. How things have changed since I was a student here. We weren’t lucky enough to have this in 1992. Well anyway, as I passed through, the first thing that met my knees, and then my eyes, was a long flat arrangement of objects, mostly tinged with a curio and vintage flavor.

I couldn’t help think of the book I had recently begun reading: AA Gill’s The golden door, a book which describes migration from Europe to America, and more specifically opens with the author describing a museum in Bagshaw, England, and the ‘Edwardian way of things, collected indiscriminately and rigorously, with the global kleptomania of Empire and the desire to calibrate, measure and stuff everything possible’.

Back at MUMA, Patrick Pound had put together a collection of things to do with wind (a.k.a. The museum of air). Why wind? Wind is elementally transient, yet it is always around. It is an invisible force that animates all things through which it passes. It’s actually quite amazing to think of wind that way, as a sort of ineffable force, yet here I was looking at a whole lot of stuff that made wind seem corny and kitsch, like a ’70s pop song or band. I think there was just such a single among the display. It made me smile to see the commonality in the disparity and I smirked at the ‘wind’ jokes and then I thought about themes and the desire to fetishize, to maintain themes in collections. That’s often what people call a hobby. Context is everything, or not?

Context was the thing so purposefully missing from Kit Wise’s recording and transcript of the Hindenburg disaster in the form of a hypnotic and disturbing video text piece missing the almost vital clue of visual footage. A long-gone journalist bears witness to the unexpected and horrific explosion and fire of something, but we know not what. The anachronism of his expression did not dull my empathy for what he had seen and what I could only, at that moment, imagine.

The work I liked most was contained in a dimly lit room. I’ve been to too many What Is Music?-type performances not to love this! Inside were four dot matrix printers, like robots, a quartet! Unwavering and hermetically sealed in glass, programmed to print sound only. Of another decade, old enough to be redundant for their intended purpose but here recontextualized as instruments.

AA Gill suggests that the rarefied and ratified Western European museums of yesteryear are out of fashion. That the purpose of installing a culture of condescension from an Imperialist society imposing its values upon all others it patronisingly considers exotic is redundant and politically incorrect. I’m pretty sure he’s right. Like major international curated exhibitions, Liquid archive gave space for a contemporary collation, contemplation and re-imagining of memory and artefacts of times passed. That seems to be in right now.

Liquid archive, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 19 July – 22 September 2012.

Patrick Pound, ‘The museum of air’ (detail), 2012, selected items from the artist’s collection presented as a site-specific installation

Kit Wise, ‘I cannot see it’, 2011–12, video installation, 1:29 minutes

[The User], ‘Quartet for dot matrix printers’, 2004, four dot matrix printers and personal computers, ASCII text compositions, network server, microphones, sound system, office furniture. [The User] is a Canadian art collective comprised of architect and installation artist Thomas McIntosh, and composer and sound artist Emmanuel Madan