Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Palace of Tears

We enter Hermione Merry and Henriette Kassay-Schuster’s Palace of Tears through a dark confined corridor that feels like a secret doorway. We see two projections on a double sided screen, back to back, that make like a wall that we walk around. The two images refract through the screen and appear on the opposite walls. The two sides of the screen have similar images. The image on each side is a different woman in a blue dress in the internal doorway of a brick building. The doorway dramatically frames them like a proscenium arch. Everything seems the same in both images except for the different blue dressed women. They are waving, sometimes with eyes opened and sometimes closed. They seem to rotate around and around so when one is facing you the other has their back to you. Above the screen wall are jugs of leaking water, below a tilted mirror and under that, on the floor, is dry concrete mix. The water in the buckets leaks down through the screens, onto the mirror and then drips onto the dry concrete mix below. Melancholy music seems to drip down over the artwork at the pace of the tears that the water seems to represent. 

This artwork is highly contextual. The images were filmed in Berlin. The building represents the “Palace of Tears”, which was a customs house on the Berlin Wall. The people of East and West Berlin were divided from 1961 to 1989 by a wall given names like “Wall of Shame”. The work evokes the sadness of the city divided. The dripping water gives a sense of the individual tears shed in a customs house where people were turned back around and waved muted goodbyes.  Now that the wall has been pulled down, ghosts inhabit this architecture of division. The artwork seems to question how we capture moments in time and how they are passed on. Is there a notion of history where events, like the demolition of the Berlin Wall, close chapters in time? Or are there, rather, multiple projections that constantly permeate and change within the present? This is suggested by the contrast between the translucent paper screen and the tears which damage it as they fall to solidify into concrete.   

The two women seem to mirror one another much like the two-heads of the Roman god Janus—the god of beginnings, transitions, gates and doorways. As the god of these passages he is simultaneously looking at the future and the past while stepping through the present. The circular movement of the women around the doorway is not unlike a clock that measures the present, on an eternal threshold to the next minute. When the projection stops and turns to black it is more than a blink, it is like sleep or pause before we are conscious again of time circling. So we are presented with both an objective and subjective understanding of the passage of time as something that we continually objectively move through and yet are always subjectively in the one threshold of every moment.

In Palace of Tears the tears shed in suffering drip down but are not dissolved, absorbed and wiped away. The notion of a palace evokes a sense of excess. These tears are beading, brimming, dripping down to wet the concrete mix. The work itself seems to represent a solidification of suffering, suggesting other walls being built. Tears come at an emotional threshold; they tell us something about an internal spilling over that cannot be contained. The blue dressed women tell us how tears flow and repeat. They tell us that past pains and future fears are ultimately always in the passage way of the present—looking forward or back. 

Anna Newbold and Tim Alves 
at Seventh Gallery

Monday, November 14, 2011

Souvenir/Memory : Strange Pillows by Wolfie Mayr

Strange Pillows by Wolfie Mayr exhibits an archive of old slides of travel photos which have been stored for up to half a lifetime. These images can only but evoke the theme of memory. What is distinctive about these artworks is that often the actual slides onto which these moments were frozen are as much the subject of these images as the conventional views, landscapes or people shown. In this sense, this adds an interesting and self reflexive twist to travel photography. While travelling we are more inclined to notice details; to expose our film to banal moments as if they are somehow transcendental. Indeed, in our travels, away from home, they are. Exotic subjects always seem more worthy. 

There is a well known theory of the event of watching a film that suggests that we go to the cinema to input virtual memories into our experiences. Often these virtual memories are beyond everyday experiences—among these are the experiences of the exotic and travel. The cinematic theatre’s darkened space, the larger than life image and the spectators’ comfortable passive state all contribute to focus sensory perception on fantastic but realistic virtual memories. The slide (or 35mm transparency) was the most cinematic of all still photography in that its conventional mode of viewing is the slide show in the darkened room. The slide presentation, commonly associated with travel snaps, was accompanied by a story of the trip as the slides clunk into a projector. This medium is also a reminder of actual travel—it is a souvenir. 

In the past before the slide, however, the same darkened room was used to capture a memory or a souvenir of travelling to a destination. The 18th century Venetian painter Giovanni Canaletto made artworks for British travellers on the grand tour to take home. He used a camera obscura to produce his work. In other words, he worked inside a darkened room with a lens on one wall and painted his paintings from the likeness projected upside-down on the opposite wall. Visitor, Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA 1998 is taken in the dark museum without a flash. A bald head obscures the sky of the painting View of the Grand Canal and the Dogana by Bernardo Bellotto—Canaletto’s nephew. Bellotto was himself a traveller. He was invited around various courts of central Europe and painted views of the cities. In fact, his detailed views of Warsaw were used to assist the rebuilding of the city after World War II. The space in the Getty, vignetted in darkness, seems not only reminiscent of the conventional presentation of the slide photograph but the optics used by Canaletto and Bellotto, the cinema and also a conceptual visualisation of memory. 

Strange looking patterns of mould damage on the emulsion of the film form abstract references to time and memory. The nature of photograph image, which freezes the world’s visual likeness, is undermined by the slides material deterioration. The image continues to change in time.  However, the freezing of time is re-enacted with the transfer of the image, damage and all, onto the pristine reproduction colour print. Time’s index, material deterioration, is aestheticised. The colours of slides enlarged in this way also seem less naturalistic, more saturated, chromatically distorted or stained by an unnatural colour. Framed two-dimensional artworks are displayed against windows. This creates an unexpected effect like an inversion of the conventional slide projection; the image is darker than the background of daylight filled glass. This inversion poetically renders the absence of the old slides. This all can be likened to Sigmund Freud’s analysis of his analysand’s memories where distorted colours in remembered situations give clues to an intrusion of the present into past events which have been subjectivity coloured. 

A sense of the artist’s motivations, which differ at various times in his life, come to the fore. Although abstract, different times and stages of creating images with different moods render shifting interests and an ever emerging personality. The viewer is made aware that these images were always intended as art yet this outcome had been disavowed till only now. The artist who emerges within the traveller continues work on this personal art project. The strangely photogenic material deterioration is compulsive. Time is the traveller-artist’s invisible hand. It could be said that material degradation of the film causes aberration in a similar way to how forgetting stains memory. However, in Mayr’s work the beauty of aberration evokes a clear present time. The present seems to wash over these images, and overwhelm their resemblance to the past. 
Tim Alves

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Natasha Johns-Messenger’s installation Yellow in Power to the People at ACCA makes the audience integral to a work. It addresses how the emotional reactions that the public brings to any work of art reveal something of themselves. When Ron Robertson-Swann’s minimalist public sculpture came into the world it was name-less and hated. The public and the press gave it a name of their own that reflected both their fear and loathing “Yellow Peril”. The people felt it had cost too much and said too little. Why can’t we have just a nice fountain some asked? It’s like "an old blonde girlfriend pouting at you" said others. Even the Queen was said to ask if it couldn’t be painted “a more agreeable colour”. Towards the end of its one year in the city square, before it was moved to an obscure public pastures it was officially titled Vault.

In light of Johns-Messenger’s work Yellow, we start to understand how on many layers the title Vault was an apt description of a work that the people of Melbourne locked out. As we enter the first corridor of John-Messenger’s work, there is a little peep-hole to our right and a large round window to our left. Through the peep hole we see Vault which has now found a respectful home at the ACCA site. The peep-hole in Yellow emulates how Vault must have been viewed in the seventies and eighties. Peeping from behind the closed door, a fish eye distortion makes it at once bigger and smaller. Vault was a big foreign otherness that was tapping at the parochial door of a blue singlet wearing xanthophobic. Melbourne felt a little bit safer that they shut it out.

In the Yellow installation we see ourselves again and again. Through a big round window in the wall we see a reflection of ourselves looking at ourselves from a side view. Johns-Messenger leads us down corridors that have mirrors on 45° angles that reflect light around 90° corners. You see other people or yourself in unexpected places. With its sharp angles and geometric complexity people can imagine getting inside that feared Vault sculpture. However, Yellow’s big round window in the entrance invites us in to this angular world. One initially feels like there could be many routes or paths to take around this actually quite simple hairpin shaped corridor. Shades of yellow light descend into darkness just as they do in the inner chambers of Vault—suggesting something deeper or more internal. There is an element of Alice’s experience through the looking glass as we start to question what is reflection space and what is real space. Similar to the way any sort of self-examination enables you to be aware of yourself. You think god that woman’s vain look at her pouting at herself in the mirror, oh now she thinks someone’s watching her so she’s trying to act all casual, now she’s looking around to see if anyone saw...oh yeah it’s me..I saw...me. There is a performative element of at once being and becoming. 

Yellow is a playful work that invites us to play a narcissistic hide and seek game with ourselves. The audience is central to the work. Vault was something that seemed to come from an impression of an elitist art world—people felt excluded. Its closed sloping forms, as well as its name, announced something locked or insular. In Yellow we are allowed entry into the secret tunnels of this world and discover in its interior, not a dreaded Yellow Peril Minotaur waiting to devour us; but rather, infinite views of ourselves—which maybe even more frightening. A warning at the entrance asks you enter this space with caution. You never see your double front on in this work but are aware of it like a shadow catching up with you. It is like the sort of claustrophobic madness we might imagine happens in rockets or on submarines, where the one thing you want to escape most is yourself. 

Yellow shows us that sometimes the most unnerving experience can be watching ourselves watching ourselves. It is much easier to stand outside a work and criticise its aesthetic merits (as Melbournians did with Vault) rather then ask ourselves to critique our own values and attitudes. Ironically, the controversy sparked by Vault inspired discussions about identity, art, cultural significance and aesthetics. Johns-Messenger shows us that however we enter into an artwork, with hate, love, fear or indifference; we do so to look at ourselves. Works that inspire the most hate because of their intangibility can become icons of public debate and reveal collective fears. The adventurous maze like quality of Johns-Messenger Yellow also reveals how simultaneously exciting and unsettling this can be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


My love isn’t good enough. It’s unwanted. I left it on the windowsill and now it’s gone off, spoiled, fly-blown, encased with scar tissue. All my photos have become diseased.

—Glenn Sloggett

Glenn Sloggett’s exhibition Filthy - a white trash (lost) love story is about rejection. Throughout his work he taps into the painful clarity of the moment where the lover realises that the beloved just doesn’t like them that much. They have absolutely no chance. The photographs are images of diseased flowers, a waiting dog, graffiti, bright plastic flowers with bright plastic brooms, armless mannequins, cars with tarpaulins on them hitched up on blocks and grinning eager looking skeletons in second hand stores. Each image tells us about how the lover sees themselves at that moment as somehow discarded and repellent. Sloggett also captures the way the outside world responds to signs of a broken hearted self—pity with a sort of bashful cringe. 

Accompanying the exhibition is a mixed tape of pain songs that range from the Johnny Cash version of Hurt to Hope there’s someone by Antony and the Johnsons. The beautiful melancholy of the music is like the story the lover tells themselves about their endurance, their stoicism and is the tender and romantic way of enjoying the suffering. In a corner of the room is a little plastic poo. This is the antithesis of the heartfelt and earnest music. The photographs themselves are emotionally somewhere in between the poo and the music. They portray the banality of an Ophelia complex or the affectation in a Nick Cave ‘angry man’ strut. These sombre melancholy expressions of the rejected self are seen as awkward and silly in bright suburban clarity and the sunny Australian ‘chin-up’ light.

This ‘lost love’ story, speaks of a blunt ache that is not received by the wider community with a great deal of compassion. Australians are not known for their great laments to lost love or rejection. There is a humour in Sloggett’s work that plays on this cultural cringe of displays of the pathetic. In Reservoir Dog the little fluffy terrier tied to the bench, is vigorously bouncing on his hind legs with his tongue out. He is waiting, and waiting for his master to release him and take him home. The photograph focuses on the steel of the bench and the cement of the pavement reinforcing a sense of the happy but impatient lap dog’s captivity. Blurred traffic rushes back and forth oblivious to the plight of the little dog—whose suffering is still kind of cute and funny.

 In Diseased Roses a scraggly looking rose bush with black spotted leaves produces a couple of lovely velvety looking red roses, the flower of emblematic of desire and love. In the background we see weeds, gumtrees, the roof of brick veneer suburban houses, brown lawn nature strips and asphalt roads. The melancholy and symbolism of the diseased roses seems like a Goth in full make-up walking through a suburban street in Glen Waverley on a summer’s day. Yet the image of the neglected garden is so familiar, like the yapping dog, the element of aberration in it could go totally unrecognised by the passer-by. This is part of the feeling of ‘filthiness’. There is the story of rejection and neglect told by the state of the objects in the photos. And then there is the basic acceptance and lack of empathy from an outside world who view this sort of pain as just embarrassing—all too normal and commonplace to be given much recognition.

There is a sense in all these works of not only the pain but also a helpless and misunderstood rage. The photograph of the writing in the cement pavement “You are alone” and the hot pink “Sux” seem to capture a frustrated attempt at catharsis. This sort of public announcement and public defilement seems a tough way to release the self-pity. The photographs give us the distance and the narrative to view these expressions of despair with sympathy. However, we imagine the real life response to the angst-ridden vandalism is that it’s just a bit ugly and annoying. 

In works like Amputee Op-Shop Bride and Plastic Flowers we read a certain shame in ‘trying too hard’. The glittering white wedding dress in the op shop window tells a story of a sullied fantasy. That the mannequin is missing an arm only adds to the absurdity of the rejectee dreaming of white weddings and happy-ever-afters. Similarly the trolley of bright and colourful fake flowers and plastic brooms seem like having too much make up for going down the street in hope that the cute guy is working at 7/11 today. It reminds me of line in the Dorothy Porter poetry book Monkey Mask
In love I have no style
My heart is decked out in bright pink tracksuit pants
Sloggett’s work captures the awkwardness and the obviousness of wanting someone too much to ‘play the game’ right.

In all these artworks there is tenderness and sympathy for the broken hearted. We imagine characters behind the emotions that are aroused by these images. The photographs depict a beauty in awkward and embarrassing emotions; emotions that are too often considered ok to get drunk over initially but are then best reserved for diary entries and private wallows with ice cream. 

Anna Newbold

Friday, October 14, 2011

Patrick Pound's Collected Works: Telling Tales

Patrick Pound describes his artwork in the Collected Works: Telling Things exhibition as like a ‘dad-joke’. The viewer is faced with a series of collections and with each one we have to establish a pattern. There is a series of books on the floor and we have to work out their relationship to each other based on their titles. There is a series of postcards on a wall that are all from the same place and we have to work out the story. There is a series of objects on a table and we have to work out their relationship to each other. The collections of photographs make us wonder make us wonder who the photographers were. We find ourselves looking for not just what is seen, but also for what is inferred by the space around it. Like the ‘dad-joke’, Pound plays on words, puns and associations often revealing what is most obvious. 

In the collections of found photographs we search for a common link. In one series all the people have the wind blowing their clothes. In another they are all listening to music. These two collections show us how the key factor in all these photos, the punch line, is in fact invisible and only understood by what is around it. The intensity of the wind is shown by how it affects the hair and clothes of the people. The type of music playing is shown by how the people in the photos interact with their radio—dancing, lying down, working on something else. By the repetition of the blowing clothes as a metonym for wind, or the radio as a metonym for music we become aware of how we make meaning by associations. The very nature of collage makes a search for meaning in the relationships between images. The viewer looks for the cohesion that is made by the empty spaces. Pound’s work makes us aware of how we understand the world around us not necessarily through what is shown but in the space in between.

In another collection of photographs, Pound shows us People who look dead but (probably) aren’t. In this collage the invisible breath and heartbeat of the sleeping, resting people seems initially the invisible factor that we are looking for. We soon realise that it’s impossible to prove if these people are alive or asleep from the photograph. We become aware that what we really need to search for is a sense of the character of the unseen photographer in order to try and work out if these people are alive. Do these photographs reveal their ghoulish or just cheeky interests in stealing these private (or perhaps morbid) moments of the people? So it is not just the search for breath that we become aware of, but also a sense of the other half of the room—the missing space; the other side of the camera where the photographer stands and shoots.

Several works deal with the paradoxical presence and absence of the photographer. In one collection all the people photographed have cameras. These people have the potential to take photos of the photographer who we are not able to see. This gives us a sense of the missing half of this reality presented to us. The viewer becomes aware that the photograph is just a tiny square in the photographer’s full panoramic landscape. Photographs tell a subjective story of the events of a place and time and of the interests of the photographer. Yet that person who presses down the button is necessarily absent from the moment that is being recorded. They are the missing space that holds all the meaning of the image.

In the collage The Photographer’s Shadow and a series of larger photographs entitled The Photographer’s Hand we sense that the people on the other end of these cameras haven’t quite succumbed to the notion that they can’t be in the photo. In the shadow collage, dark photgraphers’ shadows creep up walls and along cut grass and white skirts, encroaching on the smiling subjects’ moments in recorded history. In the larger works it is literal thumbs and fingers that obscure the image intended on being recorded. These crimes of photography, like the smudged finger prints of a crime scene, mean the photographer will still remain unknown, but we are aware that he has touched this space.

In Building Time (the Cliff House, San Francisco) Pound displays a series of postcards that tell the story of the Cliff House restaurant and its repeated fire, destruction, rebuilding and makeover. The site seems to have an almost Hitchcockian curse in its propensity for strange coincidence. The drama of the architecture in each rebuilding, every one so quintessentially in the style of its time, also reminds us of the vertiginous settings one expects from a thriller. Pound creates a flip-book like animation of the story of the site by placing the postcards in a way that shows us the time passing and the creation and destruction of each new version of the restaurant. This space, like all spaces, is changed by what is around it but in some ways reflects the mortality of the people it encounters more than most. 

The ultimate tribute to space in this exhibition is The Space Museum. In this work Pound lays out a collection of found objects on white tables. There are records, pictures, books, video games and postcards and each deals with the idea of the pocket, the void, the gap, the place over there or the spot in between. One is two pictures of a man leaping the chasm between cliffs, another is a tape titled 5th Dimension/Individually and Collectively, a novel titled Between Man and Man, a relief map of Australia,  a University thesis titled Parking Spaces for Cars Assessing the Demand, a hand held computer game called Space Attack. Like the photographic collages, we are drawn to the variations of the conceptual elements that seem only to be defined by what is around them. It is the space between things, like the gaps between words on a page that make meaning. 

The space in the ‘dad-joke’ is like a gap between meaning and form that only becomes apparent when dad takes advantage of the sound of the word rather than its meaning. Pound takes advantage of the obvious thing in the image that hasn’t been captured visually. He also considers how what is not captured visually can create patterns when repeated again and again—so we can see space, wind, breath only by what is inferred. We can only see the photographer when he obscures the image he is photographing. Yet, Pound, in his collections of photographs and objects has embarked on capturing the uncatchable. The exhibition resonates with a Dadaistic poetry, humour and absurdity. Pound shows us that we understand what we see by what we don’t see and that empty space is the place of tension and meaning. 

Fehily Contemporary 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Emile Zola’s novel Nana (1880) is the story of a beautiful Parisian prostitute who develops a tremendous influence on the aristocratic society from which she has drawn her clients. Written and set at the end of the French Second Empire, the character Nana’s cumulative power and destruction becomes symbolic of the excess and decay of the nobility of France. She comes to represent an orgiastic loss of control that is coupled with a crippling shame and despair. Nana, born in poverty, seeks revenge for what was denied her as girl on the streets. The men who govern society, have enjoyed women like Nana and the other courtesans (such as Gaga—perhaps an inspiration for the Lady?) while duplicitously being able to live double lives. Unlike their wives and their lovers, the men can be a respected but still indulge in their secret vices without any repercussions. Nana changes this. This voluptuous strawberry blonde demands public respect and seems on a mission to reveal the “filth” she sees evident from the Emperor down. She has an enormous appetite for more—money, power, clothes, lovers but always remains dissatisfied.  With more and more decadence comes more and more repulsion.  

While she moves into an ever more powerful position in society, she is seen by some to be able to “infect” the upper classes with the filth of the slums—‘a fly the colour of sunshine that had flown from a dung heap’. It is perhaps easier for the nobility to see her as a sort of outside parasite that has come to feed on their goodness. However, rather than some sort of outside threat, she could also be read as a manifestation of the corruption in the upper classes. She becomes symptomatic of the hypocrisy, sexual repression and moral degradation for which the prostitution industry has only provided an opportunistic service. Until Nana, the duplicity of these upstanding men had only revealed itself in winks and nudges.  Nana becomes more than just an adored and desired prostitute. Like the ‘Blonde Venus’ part she performs on stage in the opening chapter, Nana becomes a goddess of Jouissance—where pleasure is taken to the limits and becomes painful.  These men suffer for their pleasure and become total slaves to it. Nana cripples them financially, she bankrupts them morally and she breaks them of their dignity and self-respect.  In a frenzy of lust and greed, the men who chase her are brought down choking on their own sweet cake.  

Nana is able to wipe her conscience clean. In her callous response to the suffering of her lovers she is able to say ‘...if they’ve kicked the bucket or lost all their money, they’ve only themselves to blame. I’d got nothing to do with it’. Nana is a selfish, vain narcissist who is in love with her superficial beauty and its magnetic power. She stands naked in front of her mirror admiring herself for hours. As the power of Nana builds we see this beauty as a mask for an internal decay. This is manifested through the piles of destruction she leaves behind. Like some reversal of an alchemist princess story; she is a pretty urchin who becomes a princess to be able to turn gold into straw.
Nothing remained intact in her hands; everything was broken or dirtied or withered between her little white fingers; a heap of nameless debris, twisted rags and muddy tatters followed her and marked her passage. 
As readers we pity the destruction of the men who are destroyed in the same way that their gifts are and we are appalled at such waste.  However, we can also see that their access to so much wealth for the sake of buying their moments of pleasure is where their waste and ruin begins.

Nana, as an agent of masculine self-destruction, embodies lack as a necessary component of pleasure. That she will never be satisfied by them is part of her allure. She will never be faithful, she will always detest them and be bored by them, she will always want more—she will smash their presents of Dresden china and throw their diamonds in the fire to see if they become coal. For all they sacrifice for her she will be irritated by their bankruptcy, imprisonment or suicides that leave annoying stains on her carpet.  Nana, in her greed, stupidity and lack of empathy, reflects back to them their own boredom and that insatiable greed to have, to own, to possess. They would like to contain her, make contracts with her, and marry her in order to control a manic desire that continues to grow with her power.  

Count Muffat, Nana’s most generous benefactor and most humiliated lover finds himself totally possessed by her in a way he once was in prayer and religious fervour. On meeting Nana in the din and sweat of backstage he becomes of aware of a sexual freedom that he didn’t know existed and equated it immediately with a path to destruction that he felt was out of his control.
He was hers utterly: he would have abjured everything, sold everything, to possess her for a single hour that very night. Youth, a lustful puberty of early manhood, was stirring within him at last, flaming up suddenly in the chaste heart of the Catholic and amid the dignified traditions of middle age.
It as though Muffat enters into this relationship aware of giving over his free will. In the course of the novel the austere religious world of the Count and his wife Sabine unravels into a reckless debauchery that ruins their family and their estate. Nana s advises Muffat that:
If you weren't brutes you would be as nice with your wives as you are with us, and if your wives weren't geese they would take as much pains to keep you as we do to get you.
Here Nana’s insight alludes to the sexual repression that keeps her in business. Muffat is a pitiful character whose naivety and cowardliness make him a man who needs to be directed through life. In the hands of his mother’s Jesuit lawyer he can find momentary fulfilment on his knees burning in pain in religious supplication and in the hands of Nana he can find fulfilment on his knees begging like a dog. These are the men in power - gripped by cycles of pleasure and shame.

The beauty, wealth and power that make the character Nana almost mythical represent the certain illusions of infallibility in a pleasure culture. Her inevitable rotting demise (that is as ugly as we can imagine) reads not so much as a punishment for the individual woman’s crimes but rather as sort of social tumour finally revealed from behind a mask.  The novel ends at the eve of the war with Prussia with mobs of men chanting “Berlin. Berlin. Berlin”—their libidinal energy will turn to a similarly self-destructive avenue.  We imagine, with their defeat on the battlefields of Prussia, the demise of the French Second Empire ended in a horror and shame that is echoed the tale of Nana.  


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cloud House

Michaela Gleave’s Cloud House in the Octopus 11 – The Matter of Air exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary creates a magic space, even with all the parts of its construction exposed. The walls of the gallery are painted Yves Klein blue. Two smoke machines pump smoke into a cubby-like house through little windows. The viewer must climb a ladder to get inside. The smoke fills the floor of the house to create an illusion of infinite depth.

The clear and logical transparency of how the work is made only enhances the fun. It evokes the smoke and mirrors illusions of a magic show and, thus, the desire of an imaginative audience to suspend the disbelief. It must be heartbreaking for magicians when their audience gets to an age when they only care about how the magic is done and feel annoyed at having been ‘tricked’ as youngsters. Gleave in no way tries to trick us. This is important because it means we can leave our 10 year old cynic down the bottom of the ladder to ponder the smoke machines. We can then feel free to just enjoy the enchantment of the Cloud House

The work combines a childhood place of play with the desire to escape the reality of logic and function. Like in Narnia, the Magic Faraway Tree or the Harry Potter series, the work reminds us of our desire for secret doorways to open up for us into a world where we can defy the rules of science, caution and expectations. These worlds, like dreams or imaginative child play, offer characters in fiction the opportunity to work through the tensions and anxieties that underpin life in the ‘real world’. The suggestion of infinite depth and magic contained in this cubby house feels akin to the depths of the imagination in a space where one can play without being self-conscious.

I didn’t realise I could get into the cubby even though I really wanted to. I stood and watched the smoky room from the ladder. Perhaps it was the blinding clean whiteness that inhibited me or a sense of depth created by the smoke that I read as something I would sink into. I now feel like I missed out on an chance to experience something  I have fantasised about when staring out plane windows or lying back on picnic rugs. Maybe it was my understanding of clouds as something that you would fall through if you tried to sit on them like they were white fluffy cushions that stopped my ability to reason that this space was open to me to step into. The enclosed cubby house should have logically reassured me. But notions of the owners of cubbies being notoriously territorial could also have been putting me off. The otherworldliness of such a cubby maybe also told me that this space was not for me. It was like where cherubs might go to barter celestial swap cards.

Gleave’s work reminds me of one of the first installations I ever went to - Asher Bilu's Escape 1992. In Luba Bilu's gallery in Greville Street, Prahran, in a large dark room, there were piles and piles of white shredded paper that were lit by neon lights. Every afternoon school students like me from all over the south east would dump their school bags at the door of the gallery to romp around in the shredded paper and enjoy the utter delight of entering a secret, magic place. Artworks like Cloud House will let your mind play in them like you were once able to do with a box or a tree as a child. Even if you don't step in.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I was under a constraint, against which I had not entirely given up struggling, so I made a demonstration against it by forgetting. Sigmund Freud

‘HEVY’, the title of an exhibition at Conical, is missing an ‘a’. Freud in Forgetting of Intention discusses the repetition of forgetting: forgetting to pay a doctor, forgetting to return a book, forgetting to buy blotting paper, forgetting to meet a lover and synonymous to this exhibition in a Freudian pun sort of way – forgetting to post the letter. The reasons, he puts forward, are that these acts of forgetting speak of one’s unavowed counter-will. The missing letter ‘a’ seems an aberration. However in being that, it acts as a salute to the counter-will that challenges the heavy weighted constraints of obligation and purpose. The works in this exhibition also evoke the existential absurdity of searching for a deeper meaning or interpretations of such eternal repetition.
The first works we see in the exhibition are by Sanja Pahoki and Simon Horsburgh. Pahoki’s is a photograph of a cream apartment building that has snow piled high all around it and a fold out black chair directly in front of the photograph. Horsburgh’s work is a set shark jaws made from egg cartons that hang on the top right  of the wall from the photograph. Pahoki’s work evokes the heaviness of domestic obligation and the desire to escape it. A little sail boat in the window of the bottom floor apartment reminds us of imaginative child-play. Like the suggested attendant who has escaped staring at the walls of white from this black chair, the child in the house can escape the banality of indoors by playing out adventures. Horburgh’s shark jaws made of egg cartons seem a combination of cold day craft and the trophies brought back from fishing trips. Together they seem to suggest that the triumphant return to the home is a necessary part of the daydream. The malevolence of open shark jaws reminds the viewer of the heavy risks one faces if they decided to throw it all in. 

There is a looped video of a bird that runs up a horizontal track up a wall in Lani Seligman’s work. The bird seems to have forgotten its wings and is compelled by some sort of irrational counter-will to endlessly repeat the path up the wall. It is distressing – like a bird in a classroom that keeps banging its head into the window to try and escape. It can seem that despite all our free will, here depicted in an emblem of freedom – the bird, we continue to compulsively repeat. Repetition becomes absurd when we realise there is no sense of progression being made. Like Sisyphus with his boulder or the looped thud of the medicine ball that we hear from another work, the impact of the weight comes in two directions – the labour of rolling, waiting, running up a wall and the heavy realisation of the meaninglessness of the task. It is the actual missing weight of purpose that makes the superficial lightness seem so futile.

In another bird work, Kiron Robinson’s work, there is a television screen imbedded in the floor and we look down on a video of a little bird who is perhaps convalescing in a box. The box is filled with bread and bird poo and the poor bird seems terrified, huddled in a corner. In this flightless bird we read that it is the burden of security, routine and care from others that add weight.

In Seligman’s other work a black heavy medicine ball thuds into a concrete corner, like the call for exercise in a prison yard. Like the birds, the balls potential for flight becomes metaphoric for a certain paradox of the notion of freedom and lightness. This ball is not one to be volleyed or dunked in a game of sport with winners and losers, arbitrary boundaries and specific ways it can or cannot be handled. The weight of no rules is heavy.

Lou Hubbard creates a sunken heavy Crumpler bean bag creature from found objects. The face is made with novelty eyeballs and a punctured grimy soccer ball. It has baseball bat limbs that connote the sort of striking or infliction made to deflate these round, once more buoyant spheres. The sunken in bean bag, implies the weight of being sat on. The soccer ball shares a similar fate, though we imagine it being waterlogged under a car, waiting to be squashed. When we step back the little creature forms a Jolly Rodger, the pirate flag associated with fighting to the death. In Hubbard’s closet work, two blacked out light bulbs hung over a closet looking frame make eyes that evoke dark depths of deadness, but like the Jolly Roger, there is something quite caricatured and friendly in this uncanny collection of useless found objects. They defy the pity that their heavy, junky uselessness could evoke and smile at their new found meaning and purpose as Duchampian like poetry.   

The busted up tyre image by Simon Horsburgh on the wall opposite does not share the chutzpah of the cheeky Hubbard ready-mades. It depicts an object heavy with the weight of being pure junk. Useless and yet not destroyed, the tyre is heavy with the inability to function. It can’t be rolled away. An object that once enabled others to move, an object so essential it has been acclaimed as an intrinsic invention in the history of human progress, will now be picked up and carried, with resentment. This work evokes the heaviness of ‘being a burden’ and the sadness of existing in a state of eternal disrepair.

An analyst searches for the meaning of why one would forget to post a letter. They would look at the constraints associated with this obligation and why a counter-will has emerged to challenge the conscious intentions of this simple act. In this exhibition, the works play with our expectations of what the constraints actually are. It seems often that the absence of purpose, a futile search for meaning and heavy awareness of the comic absurdity of it all can be the greatest of burdens. 

Photos: Christo Crocker. Courtesy of Conical & the artists.