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.