George Peeps a dude in a bazza down Bells Beach. A dog acknowledges George albeit insignificantly. Doggedly dog takes in terrain to the refrain:
‘Now it’s the last week of summer! Let’s focus, let’s take care of business! You know the rules, wake up, drink, eat, drink, work, drink etc. Let’s take care of business!’
Meanwhile George gets stuck into the sand brah, feels it between his fingers, between his toes. Hand as spade, here is gesture, here is form. If there is a God he is surely watching now.
It’s alchemy time: the sea, moon and paraplegic shore break are to be the only witnesses of this act. George gets down close to the wet sand and penetrates it with spaded hand. His visions are embedded in the landscape, not happy to let them die he resorts to filling the reliefs with plaster in the tip of the high tide.
Using the high tide as a medium this way ensures they will not be fully obliterated by the force of nature.
Instead of fading away peacefully, the million or so grains of sand traverse the highways of south-western Melbourne until they become grandiose and puffy under the critical gaze of Gertrude Contemporary.
George Egerton-Warburton, Dog, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, studios 11 and 12, 7 September – 28 October 2013.
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.
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.
When something new is coming through, I click my fingers. My thumb holds straight as my middle finger bends curving off and against it. Pressing to connect—straight lines and curves. The sound doesn’t really matter. It is to create tactility, to physically remind myself that the timing has changed, bringing forward a syncopated new speed (a short line translation between two creative processes). My fingers as these bodily outliers materialise the emergent asymmetry of a tipping point, where in close proximity they catch like tinder.
T consists of straight lines, Y consists of straight lines, P consists of straight lines and curves, O consists of curves, G consists of straight lines and curves, R consists of straight lines and curves, A consists of straight lines, P consists of straight lines and curves, H consists of straight lines, Y consists of straight lines.
Setting type is a reminder of the potential of a physical process to imbed and implicate the content. As a structure it has the capacity to release the other qualities so they are open to explore, to be creative. As a process the structure is explicit (you feel the raised indentation of ink sitting on a surface and distinguish that it is not digital). This support enables decisions surrounding the form to be implicit as the smaller delights waiting to unfurl over time. The font style and point size establish the scale/ambition, tone and context. The ragging establishes a horizontal and vertical aesthetic and read; a key access point. The furniture locks the text in place to print well, a stabiliser that digital printing has abstracted (almost like the disappearing editor in journalism).
Setting type is a timely (costly?) process. The Melbourne Museum of Printing holds a collection of print presses, which have been left behind, often discarded. Thankfully director Michael Isaachsen has caringly held on and saved as many as he can. He has collected a group of Linotype presses in the back room, with the dream of one day re-establishing a typeset newspaper. Why set type when digital printing is so much faster, cheaper? Holding type in your hand you can feel its straight lines and curves. The process has the capacity to materially bring into focus the distinction between text and reading. Good typesetting encourages a good read. It is built.
Thanks to Will Holder, David Reinfurt, Abra Ancliffe and the Banff Centre for typesetting workshops and information during ALWAYS LIFT INKING ROLLERS WHEN PRESS IS NOT IN OPERATION. IF ROLLERS ARE LEFT TURNING ON THE DRUM THE INK WILL DRY FASTER AND THE ROLLERS WILL BE SUBJECT TO NEEDLESS WEAR residency.
Xmas: Jordan Marani
Jordan Marani has piled five old TVs flickering afternoon programs to represent five brothers, including the ‘new’ one he’d discovered late. Black and white ‘Mr Ed’ is playing on the top screen so my guess is that must be an older brother. The little screen represents Jordy, because he is the youngest and it is at the very bottom, I suppose—according to the catalogue it’s showing the bulldog from Looney Tunes’s Chow Hound.
Xmas is a four-letter word is split in two halves with text works and recent portrait paintings on one side and at left/centre sixty or so small-scale works from as early as 1986 but mostly completed through the early and middle 1990s. These earlier works feel slightly strange now, marked as they are by time and a different regime of language, but I’m thinking too that the wider account Jordan plays out here—the exhibition and his act of self-historicising—is stirred by how long memories are so often missing in action these days. Only a few viewers or art professionals would have any recollection of these works I would guess. Jordan’s art is at one level contained within personal idioms and affections, but he is in fact an insider and ‘survey’-making says as much. In this sense making history on his own terms is purposefully set in the exhibition against today’s wider context of impossibly stacked attentions devoted to contemporary revisions.
The actual stories Jordan ascribes to these early works, the first-person contacts they make and the abrupt, demonstrably close viewpoints, are calibrated as a glue or a binder from one to another. Jordy uses materials as binders. His blunt face-down of attitudes and upbringing isn’t just an invocation of family, brothers and absent parents, but creates a kind of physical blur or shorthand that flows across the exhibition. Cardboard cartons, tin can lids and artworks with words like ‘wogs’, ‘shit’ and ‘arse’ collapse into a very confined, pushed-together space so they touch. Greasy paint circa 1991 therefore equals honest: bereft but willing. Four letters equals foul but sincerely yours. You would have to close your eyes first but maybe there is an art stack too, another pile. Is this OK? The glue extends as a male sauce thing that is a point of fact more than right of exclusion and connects Jordan with a community of artists that would include Ralph Balson, Robert Rooney, Mike Nichols and Raafat Ishak.
The male thing actively looks to women too, for instance in a work such as Mother, 1991, that puts ‘habit’ in the same frame as ‘tenderness’. I like the poetics of these works. They are studied and reserved.
These images are from the exhibition at Neon Parc, Heavenly stems, which has just closed. I want to draw attention to it because it echoes things I have been thinking about recently, and poses interesting questions about the nature of contemporary art and curatorship.
If anyone saw the exhibition they’ll know that it made a strange yet unavoidable kind of sense. It shouldn’t have worked, yet it did. I’d argue that this kind of feeling, at this current moment, is exactly the kind of feeling we should expect when we look at contemporary art exhibitions, big or small.
What I’ve been thinking is that not enough curators get it wrong or even risk doing so. Most exhibitions seem to be about reiterating the canon, or tracing already defined relationships in ways that echo local sentiment. But good exhibitions increasingly have a spanner in the works; some unexplainable aspect that really is just about a gut feeling. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is how artists work too: suspend judgement, close your eyes, and perhaps that odd idea that you’ve been telling yourself is ridiculous might just be the way forward.
I’m not going to argue for these connections, or against them, but something in Heavenly stems was unavoidable. Put together a faux naïve modernist, an artist who would be classified, I guess, as an ‘outsider’ artist (if that is still the accepted term), and a long-out-of-favor Antipodean modernist and something happens. It’s not rocket science but it does disrupt an existing order. It points towards many more possible connections, all of which act against prevailing distinctions.
Jan Verwoert’s Exhaustion and exuberance is one of the great pieces of writing on contemporary creative culture, and not only because it is the first to bring together the ideologies of the Sex Pistols, Edgar Allan Poe and Spongebob Squarepants. It is the love-child of critical theory and self-help, and this writer returned to it after a recent visit from her villainous inner critic.
Though Verwoert is writing for and about our high-performance culture, there’s plenty in there for those just doing their thing. There’s something for anyone whose ‘I can’t’ is louder than their ‘I can’, or anyone questioning the legitimacy and ethics of their writing/curating/sculpture/photography/performance/lack of performance/opinion/preferred brand of laundry detergent/collection of sunglasses/badminton swing.
These photos were taken this month on the single dirt road that connects the Aboriginal community of Peppimenarti in the Daly River region, and the Stuart Highway, in the Northern Territory.
Public art = social space: A review of Sean Peoples’s ‘Channel G’
‘The Internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance. It divides the flow of data into small, traceable, and reversible operations, thus exposing every user to surveillance—real or possible.’ Boris Groys
Throughout June, West Space became a live-to-air studio for Sean Peoples’s social experiment Channel G TV. Over a period of nine days performances and pre-taped mayhem were broadcast via U-Stream accompanied by schedules, nightly updates and content appearing randomly on Facebook. Peoples and his collaborators created a multidisciplinary social arts experiment exposing the strengths and weaknesses of online platforms for artistic engagement. Interestingly Channel G was based at a public gallery but viewed primarily online. In this way Peoples challenged established arts audience codes by proposing the public realm of social media as a platform for public art. His open invitation to friends, associates and relatives resulted in the production of live content that included over 100 participants.
Groys’s theories of Arts Worker and Bertolt Brecht’s theories of Epic Theatre highlight themes that are marked in Peoples’s project. Groys writes: ‘the artistic project becomes a revolutionary project that aims at the total transformation of society’. One of Peoples’s mantras ‘no EGO, no PROBLEM’ acknowledges a similar desire to revolt against polemic definitions under the gaze of public scrutiny.
I wonder does the G experience improve upon our desire to scrutinize or question; does it address the percieved non-criticality of the net while also promoting the sprawling platform for engagement?
As an act, Channel G expresses a desire for research in an area arts practitioners often leave dormant or ignore. I wonder how Peoples’s social experiment fares with Groys’s thoughts: Can egos, faults and relationships (and their intermixing) become sources for engagement and gathering?
I asked Sean a few questions via email and over the phone.
KM: How did you approach managing the show?
SP: I really took a non-arts focus when putting it together. Most of the decisions were technical in production. My job was making people feel at ease with what they were going to do. It was apparent there were complications associated with the format months before it became a reality. The idea of participants juggling set construction, dialogue, costumes and scene changes in tandem with others was inescapable. The mantra soon became ‘How do I do my best in this impossible situation?’
Perhaps it is brave to comment ‘I took a non-arts focus’ when presenting organisation as art, but this is the new way, to gather being the statement. Which encapsulates a direction we are heading, switching towards social interdisciplinary art that is process-driven, differentiated by communicative ‘non-art’ perspectives (enabled by a renewed appreciation of a range of media sources).
I’ll admit, I got hooked on the experience of Channel G. Watching the phenomenon develop and Peoples’s craft improve was a real pleasure. I took part, then asked Sean not to republish it. As an audience member, I enjoyed observing participants in the act of posing before an unquantifiable gaze.
Theories of audience distancing itself from the actor’s identity is exemplified in Brecht’s Epic Theatre approach, or ‘Verfrumdungseffekt/Alienation Technique’. Brecht believed emotional distance should be maintained in order to ‘effectively critique and evaluate the struggle between characters and so as to understand the social realities of narrative’. Unlike Brecht, Peoples’s audience chose to interact via social media (Facebook), enabling comments, messages or phone calls from the audience to foster response from performers. Unlike Brecht’s, Peoples’s suppositions did not seek to be moral. Rather, Peoples attempted to create a celebration for us, of ourselves and comment on the power of community to embrace difference.
Brecht wanted to break the notion of disbelief employed in theatre, with the audience able to acknowledge that they were witnessing performative fiction (entertainment) and as such were able to interact, communicate and alter performances accordingly—a feature of the Channel G transmission.
A critical performance with little preparation, an open journal without need for an editor, Channel G consciousness oscillated between: ‘who could be watching?’ and ‘what if people are watching?’ A few artists chose to share influences and to meta-perform: Anastasia Klose faced the camera staring passed it watching archive footage of Andy Kaufman (interviewing his ex) on screen while smoking. The green screen trick meant Klose met Kauffman with the YouTube clip screened behind her; Simon Zoric played Simon and Simon while Matthew Linde, Holly Childs and Christopher LG Hill created unsubtle text/sound performances that challenged poetics. Nathan Gray, Moontubers and Sarah CrowEST initiated live performances; Gray’s Ancient memories was an improvisational 8-piece scratch ensemble and CrowEST’s Mount activity utilised Arthur the cat searching for an object under a sheet. Masato Takasaka used computer-generated sound distortions to describe theories of the ready-made.
KM: I noticed the green scene was popular.
SP: Everyone loved the green screen! They were obsessed with watching a preview of themselves onscreen. They saw themselves in those spaces and acted as if in those spaces they weren’t present in the actual space. This caused an unconscious type of other’. I had a particular persona when people were asked to participate, come in and do their part—I was interested in what they were going to do, who with, the amount of time and what they needed. Most people wanted to explain why but I wasn’t interested in that. It didn’t matter if they were bad or awesome, if it was embarrassing that was fine. I suspected it would be in some ways, that’s why I created the wall from the front gallery to create privacy, for a sense of security. We created a few spaces, the green screen and a living room. It made the room (gallery) feel homely. Some people were really rehearsed and brought in their expectations about the camera angles and how the show would look, others would walk in and walk out and leave it up to me. The camera being there made some people feel embarrassed.
KM: How did the ideas for presentation come about?
SP: The concept of an unknown audience and the distortion of their usual practice and prepared art object as opposed to a spontaneous act was obviously challenging for some artists.
KM: What is your definition of ‘collaboration’ for the purpose of this work? Was it creating opportunities for presentation?
SP: I took a deliberate approach for the project to be seen as a collaborative effort. Channel G’s success was reflected by those participating and the programs they created. I didn’t want everybody’s hard work being solely a reflection of what I had done. I wanted to acknowledge that they had generated the work.
KM: Groys writes that ‘Jean-Paul Satre said hell is other people—life under the gaze of others’. What do you think this means in regards to Channel G?
SP: I feel like the project’s experience of ‘the eye’ was the reverse. It was supportive, the emphasis was to embrace all those mistakes.