Monday, April 16, 2012

Angelica Mesiti's Citizens Band

In the room where Angelica Mesiti's Citizens Band is displayed at ACCA's NEW12 we find ourselves surrounded by four screens. One after the other, short films of people in public places performing an unexpected form of music are projected on the screens. As Juliana Engberg says in the catelogue essay, each film is a portrait of the person as they perform. It focuses primarily on their face, with a clarity that shows pores and creases, hair and sweat. The intimate nature of the close-ups contrasts with the setting of the performance. One is in a public swimming pool, another a train, the third on a street corner and the last in a taxi. These films celebrate the joy of an individual being able to express a profound part of themselves without the anticipation of applause. The music they play creates a bridge between a turbulent internal world of emotions and the structured outside world of language and order. These performers seem at times like transmitters who have something that passes through them. 

In the first film an athletic Cameroonian woman (Geraldine Zongo) beats out a complex rhythm using the water in a bright blue swimming pool. There is an ecstatic energy in her performance that seems as much about endurance as skill. The close ups of water splashing up in her face seem at points like sweat from the exertion of beating the water. The film audience are transfixed by her skill, her concentration, her strength and  the incongruity of playing the water in a swimming pool like African drums. By watching her, we understand something of an inner exuberance, of a blood beating heart pumping pressure that needs release.  As she sinks into the water, after her performance, we appreciate  her cool fulfilment. 

In the second film an Algerian man (Mohammed Lamourie) plays a Cassio keyboard and sings on the Parisian Metro. The keyboard has sticky tape holding one of the keys together. The music he plays has similar sense of tension and release to Zongo's music. However, it comes from a much more melancholic place. His music sounds like the feeling of trying to control your breathing so you don’t start crying. As passengers board the train we see the range of reactions to this public release of emotions in a musical form. A blurry kissing couple seem to be laughing, a woman who wants to read a supermarket advertising brochure seems annoyed and keeps look up with disdain, young girls totally ignore him and share their music on their I pods. A man who must stand near him looks a little awkward at having to be in such close proximity. This is the only film in which we get to see the reaction of the public, in the pool Zongo seems alone and in the other two the outside world is only vaguely present. In the train we sense that Lamourie’s intense expression of something deeply personal is received by the outside world as crossing lines boundaries of suitable behaviour. It must be ignored in a space where people who do not know each other must sit so close together.

In the third film a Mongolian man (Bukhchuluun Ganburged) sits on a street corner playing a horse head fiddle and throat singing. This type of singing produces harmonic pitches of sound simultaneously over a guttural drone. One sound is like a deep growl, and another very high and pinning. On this street corner, outside a convenience store, people walk past this remarkable performance that growls out of this man. The ordered and itemised outside world of daily activity and exchange is in the hazy background of night. Cans of deodorant are lined up in the window behind him. We buy such things to feel greater control over our body and its internal machinations that tend to seep out without constant vigilance.  Ironically, this man outside the shops is able to control the internal. He can manipulate the way his vocal folds open and close. However, the many sounds he creates evoke the very physical and uncontrollable sensation of grief—at once sharp, bright and stinging as well as the dark heavy ache. 

In the fourth film a Sudanese taxi driver (Asim Goreshi) whistles a beautiful complex melody inside his car as traffic goes past. He seems less exposed then the others. The whistling brilliantly resinates with acoustic depth that is almost unimaginable from the inside of a car. It sounds more like a concert hall filled with the voice of an opera singer. Yet it is also very humble. Every so often we also hear the driver quietly bring his lips together and we are re-familiarised with the natural sound quality in a taxi. These little sounds emphasise the power and strength of the whistling by their difference. The car, even a public car such as this, can become this private space on a public road. Goreshi seems to communicate a longing or love in his whistle and takes the simple idea of ‘whistle while you work’ to an operatic intensity. Initially, the camera sutures us into this film—like we are observing from the perspective of a passenger. However, like the other films, there are shots that are extreme close ups that make us aware that we are being shown these people and their modes of musical expression in much more intense and intimate proximity then we would see in real life. Like the people in the train or walking past the convenience store, in real life we may fail to appreciate the beauty of these performances.

At the end of the fourth film, coloured lights like those of the cars that went past the taxi, circulate around the four screens. The audience is surrounded by the coloured lights whizzing past and the sound of all four performances being played at the same time. After the intimate portraits we have watched, the busy assemblage of sounds and lights gives the audience a perspective of the distance in which we usually perceive strangers in crowds, queues and cars that surround us. The music that the people made in their portraits is complex and structured like the language we must acquire to function and be understood in the outside world. It is language that enables us to develop relationships where we can bring our internal needs into a structure that can be made sensible.  However, in each of these performances the musician is able to express something beyond the perimeters of language and metaphor. Their performances are unique moments in time that convey a rich and satisfying personal expression. Mesiti shows us the beauty and worth of these moments.

Anna Newbold

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tony Clark's Myriorama

Myriorama is a project that consists of landscapes painted on uniform boards that can be matched together to produce panoramic landscape tableaux. These paintings all depict an Arcadian scene and are all painted in an improvised classical style; they all have the same non-determined horizon line. The work invites play as there is no prescribed order in which to arrange these boards. Clark has been painting Myriorama since 1985. This concept comes from a nineteenth century child’s game—myriorama, or in English, the endless landscape.

Myriorama works like the unconscious. It has timeless qualities and a rearrangeability that is similar to the way unconscious thoughts reproduce mixed up perceptual phenomena in memory or dreams. Furthermore, these paintings appear like the background from an Italian Renaissance portrait. This interpretation of Clark's landscapes suggests a metonym for an unacknowledged subject. The possibility of rearrangement incorporated in the artwork also implies a small reminder of this subject. But there is also, I would argue, an obsessional structure to Clark's work that points to a persistent, radical and highly poetic synthesis of latent and manifest content. It is not our place to ask if Clark himself is obsessed by this ongoing body of work but, rather, it is interesting to propose that the artwork's mode has the structure of obsession. Obsession needn't be read as pathological. The way the project uses repetition and rules is what evokes the idea of obsession.

In 1997 Graham Forsyth described Tony Clark as obsessive. The tensions at play in Myriorama have qualities similar to the nature of obsessive rituals. This is most apparent in the fact that they must fit a specific pictorial format. In the case of people who carry out obsessive rituals, usually strict adherence to certain procedures must be fulfilled in order to perform simple everyday tasks. Myriorama follows the logic of a set of rules that enable the process of artistic creativity to be conducted. Each painting in the series must fit together to create a consistent landscape. They all must have a coherent sense of space, volume, atmosphere and perspective. Their shared proportions, in different sizes, are all derived from the golden section. These days the series has a restricted pallet of black, brown, turquoise blue and warm pink. In Myriorama, it seems, the restraints of the rules enable Clark to make work that has a great deal of expressive freedom.

That the project is ongoing, asks some philosophical questions about the nature of an endless landscape—about endlessness. Clark's Myriorama cannot be fully described, though it has a highly recognisable look. Each individual element, each panel, each set, looks distinctively like the rest of Myriorama, yet this look or ideal is never fully resolved. There is an aesthetic false unity in the relations of the parts to the whole. An ideal, in the classical sense of a perfect example, that represents the whole body of work isn't realisable. The opposition between a part and whole corresponds to the other contrasts in Myriorama, rigorous versus mannered, structured versus spontaneous, prescriptive regulations versus an anarchistic streak. These contrasts all have an open-endedness in Clark's work.

Myriorama evokes the timelessness of the unconscious. In the return of Renaissance backgrounds these landscapes have a sense of déjà vu. A moment already past is shown in the style of the work while a moment though not yet realised exists in the false unity of the arrangement. Displacement replaces a notion of an aesthetic absolute. The formation of an obsession takes shape as a way of reconciling the many paradoxical qualities in Myriorama. The radical return of what was old offers renewed creativity.  
At  Murray White Room

Tim Alves

Monday, March 19, 2012

Michael Miller's The High North

There is an eerie silence in Michael Miller's photograph series High North at Colour Factory. The enormity and tension of the landscape create a suspense akin to a fairytale where the little humans must tiptoe quietly around a brutal sleeping giant. In this series of photographs taken in an arctic winter we see the sleigh dogs are on edge snarling and ready, the boys are bulked up with machismo, guns and camouflage parkas and the train rail from the mine is snowed over. Here, human activity cannot just push forward with its elbows out like it usually does. We can certainly see through his photographs what Miller means when he writes that 'An arctic winter is humbling.' As this winter snores on, we sense the awe and fear that this landscape inspires.

The hardness and darkness of rock faces, water and bare trees contrasts with the bright white of the snow in many of Miller's photographs. In the work Priest Island, Kirkenes we see the land surrounded by this very flat dark blue water that gradually gets darker the further it is from the land. The land is covered with bright white snow and bare, black trees that seem to encroach around the little houses with little glowing lights. Above the land is a huge expanse of white sky. The houses seem so vulnerable between the darkness of the water and the whiteness of the sky. The perspective seems like that of a powerful predator, watching from afar. 

Other works that depict the way the landscape controls and impacts on human behaviour include Parked Car, Langørhøgden and The Rail from the Mine, Bjørnevetn They snow covered vehicles suggest the inactivity and stillness that the landscape demands. Interestingly, works like High Tension Power Lines, Nordland show power lines in a mountainous autumnal setting. The mountains are so awesome and beautiful that the work resists a simple environmental interpretation about the negative effects human impact has on a vulnerable environment. This image warns against human arrogance. It's not to say the human impact is not disruptive, it's just to say that the natural world seems full of strength and power. Miller's photography evokes the sublime pleasure we take from a turbulent nature that threatens to destroy us. 

 The work Border Guards shows two fresh faced, bulked up young men who are heavily armed. Their heads seem so small in contrast to the bulk of their clothes. They have these wry smiles and intense blue eyes that look back at us. In the context of the rest of the work, their exaggerated defensive stance and armoury seem to protest against the actual vulnerability that comes with living in a hostile climate. The expanse of which we see behind them. In the work Sergeant Pepperoni, Grense Jokobselv Border Outpost, we see inside a cabin we imagine boys like this must hang out. It has tropes of a lodge with plaques for achievements, wood panelling and guitars for a sing along. In the corner is a cut out of a 50's cheesecake style illustrated military girl with big breasts. The crude wear and tear tells us that maybe she been used by a lot of snowed in border guards with big guns with only Sergeant Pepperoni to entertain them. 

In Roll on Turf, Kirkenes we see children playing on big rolls of turf  that seems to have gotten all black and soggy over the snow and thaw. The piles look like big beached whales, cumbersome and difficult. The children in their purple jackets are enjoying playing on them. The scene depicts a very mundane reality of living in these conditions. The slush and messiness of the thaw seems like a dank depressing aftermath of white snow. The big grey sky and suspicious looking figure in the window of the house behind where the little children play seem ominous.

In Miia from Finnland,  Kirkenes a very beautiful girl in a white strapless debutante gown waits in the snow on a yellow milk crate. She is so graceful and composed but must be so cold. We see faded tan lines. Her black open toe shoes reveal the seam of neutral panty hose. Her hair is both black and blonde. The window behind her has white curtains and a black space for someone to peek through. Again, there is an eerie incongruity in this work that is led by the contrast in white and black. Like the children on the roll of turf there is sense of suspense of what's to come for this girl. Though for those of us from a temperate climate, there is an exoticism in how we view the soft beauty of this girl from the snow. Like sleigh bells, fur coats and warm fires there is something of the romance of the winter in the dreamy gaze of her icy eyes. It tells us she knows how to manage the slush of this place just fine. She is part of it. 

These photographs invites stories as they are rich with disruptions to build narratives around. There is a tension between the human world  and the natural one. The human world is depicted diminutively often with little flecks of bright colours that seem to contrast with sombre intensity of the whites and darks of nature. Ultimately,  Michael Miller's photographs have a deep humanism. There is a sense of hostility that somehow always seems to be suspended or deferred in those moments of everyday pleasure.

Anna Newbold

Monday, March 5, 2012

Janine Randerson's Albedo of Clouds

 Janine Randerson's Albedo of Clouds at Screen Space is a work that evokes the nature of subjectivity. There are two round screens in the space, one up in a high corner at the back of the space and one down low at the front. On these round, planet-looking, screens we see images of clouds projected. We see the human perspectives of experiencing them from the ground and from satellites recording them from space. As we turn our heads to watch the two screens showing clouds we also hear a conversation between two cloud watchers. Each voice is played out of speakers on different sides of the room, which gives a sense that the cloud watchers are in different locations but are trying to see if they can see the same clouds. This gives a sense of following this conversation while being in the privileged position of being  able to see both perspectives. The talking is often followed by reverberating sounds that create a soft tension. 

The cloud watchers describe the clouds as things they might look like. One looks like a map of North America, a submarine, "Can you see the head?", one asks. The viewer also sinks into the cloud gazing activity—I can see North America once it has been said but I initially thought it looked like a camel. In some cases they just can't see the same thing. When one describes a cloud as looking like a submarine, the other can't seem to see it. They wonder if it is the interpretation they can't see or if they are just not looking at the same clouds. The clouds on each screen look very different. This opens up an interesting idea about whether what we see or understand of the world is experienced in the same way by other people. We can never know if others see and feel the same way as we do.

 The cloud, like the Rorschach inkblot, has been used as a way of mapping responses to find out about the psychological preoccupations and motivations of individuals. We can only interpret the abstract shapes of the clouds through a language of associations. Associations that we draw on when we meet a shape again. In art we are presented by an artist with a series of forms or objects. While these objects may have distinct associations particular to the experience of the artist, the viewer will always bring in their subjective projections.

 In E. H. Gombrich's chapter The Image in the Clouds he argues for art that exercises the public's imagination rather than just a polished depiction of reality. He says: 'it is an art in which the painter's skill in suggesting must be matched by the public's skill in taking hints'. Randerson's work suggests that the public are very adept in using their imagination to make abstract shapes into forms that communicate. The viewer brings their knowledge, associations and history to make a work understandable. This game of representation has been practised on clouds, rock faces, constellations and birthmarks throughout history. The interesting part of the game in discussing art is, of course, the variety of interpretations. Viewers search through their personal references to understand the abstract ideas that artists have found a way to visualise.

Randerson also presents images of clouds from the view of satellites. The contrast between the perspective of the people on the ground and the satellites seems to initially compare the subjectivity of the cloud watchers with the objectivity of a recording machine. However, in the tense hum of the audio, we continue to turn our head from screen to screen. This motion evokes the sense that this data will too be analysed, categorised and interpreted by people who will again bring their knowledge, their history and their projections to the forms and shapes they see. Randerson's work offers an interesting reflection on how we imagine, learn and interpret the world around us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rob Miller's Odysseus and the Sirens

The foyer of 101 Collins Street has ionic columns for their beauty rather than their engineering. It has marble spirals on the floor, sculpture alcoves, phases of the moon above the reception desk and 23 caret gold leaf walls. It has a temple like grandeur and stature. Rob Miller’s sculptures currently on display in the water features in front of these golden walls are interpretations of classical Greek myth. One is Odysseus. The shimmering backdrop and the enclosed space of the water feature gives the sculptures and the space an aedicula like quality. With this association in mind, there is sense of the work relaying a parable that through narrative can circle around abstract desires. 

In Miller's Odysseus and the Sirens there is a man with a round head wearing long robe leaning starboard on a boat. In the myth, the sirens sing such a seductive song that it lures sailors to their death. Odysseus ties himself to the mast of his ship to avoid crashing to his death. Miller's sculpture incorporates the mast and the man in one vertical line. The sculpture embodies the nature of the tragic hero; the solid and strong carved figure leans precariously towards temptation. This Odysseus, in this gilded foyer, seems a reminder of the perils of hubris. 

There is a focus on the breasts and buttock of the sirens in these sculptures. This creates an ogling element to Odysseus lean that also makes him a little less noble in his clever self-will and restraint. The form of the sirens evokes the little Venus of Hohle Fels, a sculpture from the Stone Age carved from a wooly mammoth's tusk. This reference to Venus and ancient fertility goddesses denote a simultaneous admiration, fear and objectification of female sexuality. Fertility has also been customarily synonymous with wealth and prosperity. In the opulence of this space these exaggerated body parts can be read as embodying a certian bountiful plenty.   We can again suggest that the desire and temptation Odysseus leans towards may have many faces and it’s left to the individual viewer to imagine what song would drive them off course.

The perils of hearing the song of the sirens has been retold in many ways. We know from Hollywood alone the monstrous destruction that the seduction of the femme fatale can bring. Think of Glen Close or Sharon Stone in those thrillers like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. The female gaze has been mythologised as frightening, aggressive and a threat to society. Homer writes: 'Whoever draws too close, off guard, and catches the Sirens' voices in the air—no sailing home for him, no wife rising to meet him, no happy children beaming up at their father's face'. Though Miller’s siren sculptures have no heads or arms they seem to still be able to frighten by their gaze. However their missing limbs (wings) and heads also imply a breaking or restraint of any real power a siren may represent. These sculptures become a pure fantasy. 

The fetishised focus on the sirens’ bodies suggests Odysseus’ is both a victim and a voyeur. He lives to tell the tale of the women who could have devoured him. The siren’s song is a death song. It brings momentary bliss and unknowable pain and death. That Odysseus hears this song without being dragged in gives him a knowledge that he can cannot express in language. He never recounts the actual song. It is like the unquantifiable object that attracts us to one another. The focus on the torso in these sculptures suggests a mysterious disembodiment is at play in attraction and desire. These sirens have no mouths. There is no music in the air. The only way that the song is rendered by Miller is in Odysseus' posture. His desire is captured in his totally physical response, his slant and motion. Miller captures that the nature of the sirens' voice is Odysseus's own desire that leads him to potential destruction. However, since he momentarily cheats this fate, he is destined to enjoy this satisfaction by unspeakable proxy.   

In Franz Kafka’s essay The Silence of the Sirens he reinterprets the story to say that Odysseus blocked his ears as well as tied himself to the mast. However, the sirens admire his "innocent elation" , that they spare him. Whatever Odysseus heard was internal. Kafka writes: 'now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing never happened, it is still conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never.' The song has become a way of projecting  his own self congratulatory and self destructive desires onto the sirens. The headless sirens of Miller’s work correlates well with Kafka's approach to the myth. There is a sense that this Odysseus will create the heads of his own nightmares and fantasies and that they may be far more frightening and exciting than any external metaphysical beast.

These dark and elegant silhouettes compliment the opulence of the space. Yet these headless and armless sirens are not without melancholy undertones. In this space where giant phallic columns just decorate and the luna cycles are safely under the control of the reception staff, these fierce creatures of the sea have become quite tame. They are beautiful and elegant but are without their song or their gaze to decide who to seduce next. As though this myth can be enjoyed in this space but the scary bits cannot be eluded to too specifically.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tom Polo Gestures and Mistakes (Trust Me)

Acrylic on canvas, wood.

Tom Polo's work at Gertrude Contemporary alludes to the way the self-help industry now mitigates the language we use to try and express our deepest and most complex emotions. This industry tries to make our internal chaos more logical and controllable. It offers feel good maxims to feed aspirations and "twelve-step-solutions" to complex problems. It also offers easy catch phrase diagnostics. Polo’s work is a funny and cynical play on our obsession with ourselves, our need to "talk about it" and the self-conscious element of all self expression. 

Self Sabbotage (as you leave)
Acrylic on linen.

Self-help allows people to identify, for themselves and the rest of the world, a reason behind the inexplicable emotions they have been feeling. Maybe they have low self-esteem, midlife crisis, self sabotage, dysfunctional family or anger management issues or all of the above. These are terms that everyone now understands and nobody needs any more details about when they are dropped into a conversation. "He quit his job and left his wife." "Why?" "Midlife crises." "Oh ok." Self-help language has also become a useful way to discuss our emotions without actually getting emotional.  Tom Polo has identified the way we are talking loudly about our personal feelings everywhere from Oprah's couch to the back of the tram. He conjures the idea of us somehow becoming these emotional activists who march around  protesting our feelings for the world to see. He does this by combining the language of self- help on hand written signs together with expressive portraits on placards. The slogans of self-help enable the activists to protest their messy emotions while still keeping it together and tidy for the cafe. 

Gestures and Mistakes
Time based wall drawing.

In the front space at Gertrude Contemporary the walls of have been painted a vivid blue. Even the front window has been covered over with a light blue wall. It is enclosed and dramatic. These internal colours evoke the intensity and saturation of emotions that colour our perception of the external world. The placards leaning up against the walls have definite shapes like squares or circles. The portraits on the placards have been painted in similar bright primary colours as the walls. The simple shapes of the placards suggests a desire to control and organise the colours of the walls.

The portraits are painted in a naive style that is comic and playful. It suggests painting sessions at school or in art therapy where we are asked to paint how we feel. There is a pink fleshy face with an unhappy blue smile, a cloudy grey melancholy one, one with orange hair and a squiggly orange nose, and another way up high on the wall with triangle nose that starts in his eye. One of them has a man with a brown gravy tray nose. We can imagine these placards at a personal crises rally where people go to demand that someone stop this internal chaos. Polo has created placards that express the squelching nausea of anxiety and uncertainty. At the same time, their simplicity makes them unheroic. A placard usually presents a catch phrase that sums up the activist's position and demands in a few words. But these placards are far more ambiguous and communicate abstract feelings that are difficult to express in language. 

Paintings/Props/Personas (Balls)
Acrylic on canvas board, wood.

 We are reminded of the idea of art as being able to communicate something pure and honest. It has been thought that painting, in particular, can show emotions that cannot be expressed in any other way. However, Polo's emotional and expressive paintings on placards suggests that any form of self expression will always have an element of presenting oneself to the world in a way that can never be free of self-consciousness. Their messiness seems like a joyful and colourful romp in artistic frustration. 

Paintings/Props (Flag)
Acrylic on canvas, wood.

The self-help slogans in the space are painted in a thick home-made, garage-sale- today sign style. They are not written out in their conventional form. The spaceless Try Harder to Try Less could allude to the sort of cryptic advice often offered to people who should 'focus on the now' while trying to 'set goals'. This work gives us a sense of how self-help language is used as a sign to explain and clarify this internal world. However, within this intense and emotional world their meaning appears as confused, disordered and as inarticulate as the emotions it tries to organise. It is the sort of catch phrase shared in both the language of the rally, shouted through the megaphone, and the language of self-help, posted on the wall of the gym.

Placards are commonly used in big rallies where like-minded people meet in the streets to bring about change and express discontent. Perhaps the language of self-help, like the political rally, enables people to come together and feels connected to a wider community that share the same problems. This installation seems to grapple with the actual difficulty of trying to incorporate the public ideas of self-help into the turbulent internal world of the individual. The language of self-help can be experienced as our own imaginary angry activist. They scream out their slogans and demand change of ourselves. 

Wall drawing.

Self-help has made an industry that profits from people's insecurities  and encourages them to repress negative emotions and focus on self-improvement. The use of terms like “heal” or “move forward” to turn sadness or anger into some form of illness that can be treated by following these clear procedures. By turning it into an illness, self-help seems to alleviate the guilt and sense of personal responsibility associated with feeling emotionally terrible. However, by providing easy solutions it also puts the onus back on the individual to change the way they feel. They are obviously not trying hard enough or following the steps properly because if they were they would be successful and have everything they ever wanted and feel great about themselves. So while there is much more public discussion about our feelings and “where we are at” emotionally; there is an implicit pressure to be progressing up some sort of happiness ladder. This is what is so clever and funny about Tom Polo’s work. His placards show an awareness of the absurdity of demanding more happiness of ourselves and the world.