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manifestations of sensing

Early on in his book ‘How Art Can Be Thought: A Handbook for Change’ Allan deSouza writes ‘individuals amass data through experience, surveillance, research, investigation, imagination and memory’. Although I agree with this statement generally, in our current age there is also a need to acknowledge ‘the unclear’ and ‘the undefined’ as an important part of contemporary experience as well as art generation, outcomes, documentation and discourse.

Particularly since the 1990s, the art world has emphasised clarity, rationality, definition and precision as signifiers of ‘good’ contemporary art. However, as our local as well as global financial, social, political and environmental systems are driven into ever-increased states of uncertainty the high cost of clarity, definition and precision are becoming too obvious to continue to ignore. Under such conditions, maintaining states of being unfinished and unresolved is a difficult but, I would argue, important part of contemporary practice.

Although approached from a more historical and process/outcome perspective, the 2016 Met Breuer exhibition ‘Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible’ that explored ‘the evolving concept of unfinishedness as essential to understanding art movements from the Renaissance to the present day’ provides significant insights into what stands on the horizon line.

Image: Alice Neel.  James Hunter Black Draftee , 1965. Oil on canvas. COMMA Foundation, Belgium, © The Estate of Alice Neel (detail).

Image: Alice Neel. James Hunter Black Draftee, 1965. Oil on canvas. COMMA Foundation, Belgium, © The Estate of Alice Neel (detail).

at the centre of the field

The art of the 1960s pushed the boundaries and relationships between concept, outcomes, documentation and document. Yet looking again at Agnes Denes’ 1982 installation ‘Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan’, I wonder whether the question of the role of documentation within the context of ephemeral art has ever really been answered.

The monumental nature of ‘Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan’ has been acutely documented in photographs depicting the artist standing amongst the expansive field of golden wheat. Highly alluring and graphic, it is almost difficult to comprehend the massive human power it took to remove debris and prepare the site as well as sew and maintain the vast field.

As a work that was created with the intention of bringing attention to our misplaced corporate priorities and construction-focused identities, does the work’s documentation contradict its intention? Does the documentation of ‘Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan’ imbue the work with a sentiment of indifference? Considering that the work’s documentation processes included the harvesting of the wheat grown for the purpose of exhibiting it internationally, can we ask of documentation what we ask of a work? Or are we asking too much? Does documentation have a responsibility to truth?

shadow. over

Leigh Ledare,  Mom and Me on bed (frontal),  2006. via  photography-now .

Leigh Ledare, Mom and Me on bed (frontal), 2006. via photography-now.

Unconscious participation in social and political meta-narratives sits in many of our uncomfortable blind spots. Blurred, difficult or not possible to define they are uncomfortable truths that when left unfaced can become daunting and lingering shadows. Leigh Ledare’s photographic works describe such shadows: how do structures unseen, unfelt, unknown and often unloved impact not just the way that we see the world, but also impede us from seeing other potentialities without fear, judgement or derision. Raising questions of transgression, the laws of physical intimacy and the limits of self-affirmation and expression Ledare provide methods for viewers to discover their own biases, unconscious or otherwise.

It is this quality of non-judgemental questioning and soft diplomacy that I find so alluring. Looking at photographs from Ledare’s infamous series “Pretend You’re Actually Alive”, I get the sense that each work subtly asks a simple and direct but powerful question: but why? Why or why isn’t this image confronting? Who defines for the rules of what is confronting? Speculation drive the dominant narrative. Yet all the while an alternative narrative sits parallel to this speculation; why ask any questions at all? Can an image of consented expression be something that we don’t question? Can people ever be simply what they present to the world?

invisible entities

Hans Haacke,  Helmsboro Country , 1990 via  Frieze .

Hans Haacke, Helmsboro Country, 1990 via Frieze.

Drawing on the complex nature of the connection between inside and outside; internal and external; private and secluded; power and liberty, the socio-politically charged conceptual practice of Hans Haacke is revealing in it’s ability to discuss specific power structures and systems while also allowing individual works to retain an element of ambiguity. The ambiguity of Haacke’s works stem from their deep connection to knowledge, time and context; a knowledge or at least a peripheral understanding of the social systems, political conditions and/or natural systems that form the basis of his works is often needed to understand them entirely. For this reason, Haacke often presents contextual didactic panels in proximity to installations.

Yet for me the magic of not-knowing, of being confronted with half-understood slogans, logos, arrangements and political messages is the most intriguing aspect of Haacke’s practice. Particularly when considered it in the present context of the Trumpian “Fake News” era. For example, one may not entirely understand why the American Bill of Rights has been printed on a larger-than-life pack of Helmsboro cigarettes cascading out of its deck (Helmsboro Country, 1990) but that is exactly the point. Not being able to completely understand a situation we are presented with or confronted by or even simply being allured by the aesthetic qualities of political messages, advertising and symbols reflects the smoke and mirror tactics that corporate and political systems use to disguise intents and achieve objectives. Most of the time we only ever know corporations or political systems present want to tell us, as opposed to what we want or need to know, i.e. motivations for wars, the health impacts of products or decision making processes.

As Australia transitions into a new cycle of political leadership, now squarely defined by the Australian Federal Police’s ABC Raids, Haacke’s works provide a timely reflection on the nature of power.

space-predictability

The template familiarity of urban spaces isn’t something I overtly notice, but it is something I feel when moving through these cities and towns; familiar paving patterns, similar plant species, the even spacing between trees, the predictable levels of light and shade. Colours and colour combinations also often seem all too familiar – a universal urbanism in which space is arranged in a few commercially purchasable designs.

The topic of the homogenisation of urban and architectural spaces is a current topic of academic research. In May 2018 Sonia Curnier published a thesis with EPFL analysing homogenisation trends of public places in Europe, lending great insight into the aesthetics of repeatable space. Far from being confined to the public realm, space-predictability is also being played out in commercial, public and private architecture. Looking up at the small black and white James Turrell prints on my entrance wall it occurred to me that if urban and architectural spaces were becoming familiar, then perhaps this is influencing both the shapes, colours, texture and forms that artists are producing as well as the type of work people are attracted to (and by extension, also buying and collecting).

As our world divides in discrete, compact units without consideration for the impact that urban and architectural repeat-ism has on the whole, are our art-forms also narrowing? For further reading, check out this article by geo41 ‘Homogenisation of Landscapes’.

Image credit:  geo41

Image credit: geo41

form and proximity

Sculptural and spatial practice for me has always been more expansive than Kraussian quadrants. Simply; sculptural and spatial practice encompasses a wide range of philosophical and artistic interrogations that break down/emphasise/piece together how humans perceive and feel dimension and expressions of form* that can include, painting, drawing, photography etc.

British artist and painter Clare Woods is a great example of an artist working in a medium traditionally considered outside sculpture, but whose practice is formally sculptural. Woods uses paint as a means of expressing the three-dimensional value of form using techniques that emphasise the structure of an image (see below video).

I think it’s important to recognise that historical as well as contemporary sculptural and spatial practice is consistently an expression of form relative to human and human-scale concepts of space and time. As such, form is perceived and experienced at a human level as both a 2D as well as 3D phenomenon relative to distance/proximity. I can’t help but wonder why, at least in Australia, formal distinctions that individuate sculpture from drawing from printmaking from photography etc. continue to persist despite contemporary social shifts in understanding about dimension/space-time concurrently with acknowledgement of the advent of the Anthropocene.

NB. I consider that there is a distinction between the philosophical and artistic interrogation of the dimension and expression of form (sculpture and spatial practical) and the rendering/depiction of form to create the illusion of dimension (broadly printmaking, drawing and painting).

anonymous spectacle

Chair 1966 Formica 151 x 46 x 77 cm via  Saatchi Gallery.

Chair 1966 Formica 151 x 46 x 77 cm via Saatchi Gallery.

Richard Artschwager’s (1923-2013) sculptural practice, characterised by the use of Formica and timber veneer to create sharp-edged box structures, exude character. The materiality and subtle narrative of human gesture that comes with Formica (commonly used in kitchens) lends itself to the Artschwager’s cool and oblique commentary on the links between perception, the tactile and the personal. Colour fields and pattern dominate to produce dreamy, stylised sculptures that neither reject nor elevate their synthetic nature. A balance between what is and what could be, Artschwager punctuates space with anonymous spectacle.

Sitting somewhere between industrial design and sculpture, Chair (Formica, 1966), a swirling Walnut-veneer rectangular form exemplifies what I like most about Artschwager’s spatial philosophy; clean, rectangular shapes defined by organic pattern, harmonising two materials that define different aspects of form.

In 2012 The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles produced a great 1-hour film about Richard Artschwager and his work titled ‘Richard Artschwager: Shut Up and Look’ (Directed by Maryte Kavaliauskas; produced by Maryte Kavaliauskas and Morning Slayter) that gives great insight into Artschwager’s practice. Click here to find out more about this documentary.

beyond social order

Avgust Černigoj, untitled collage, n.d.

Avgust Černigoj, untitled collage, n.d.

Avgust Černigoj (pronounced: aou-gust che-rnivoy) was a significant Yugoslav-era Slovenian Constructivist artist and activist. Although he only spent one semester at the school Černigoj’s oeuvre was strongly informed by his studies at the Bauhaus School in Weimar, from which he fashioned and exhibited his own style of Constructivism in Ljubljana, Slovenia between 1924 and 1925 and afterwards in Trieste, Italy from 1925 to 1929.

Informed by the artistic, architectural and social ideologies of Russian Constructivism Černigoj’s new-world vision was radical; through creative enterprise he sought to overturn even the most fundamental aspects of social order. Taking a propagandist and provocative approach Černigoj created work in a wide range of media including collage, architectural models, machines, sculptures, theatre sets and politically artist slogans to name a few.

Mixed with Italian Futurism and mystical Zenithism Černigoj’s version of Constructivism is vibrant, future-looking, technical and phenomenological – each work one part of an evolving and ever-shifting maxim of modern order.

Click here to read the fascination exhibition catalogue for the 1978 Avgust Černigoj retrospective at the Municipal Gallery of Idrija (in collaboration with the Architectural Museum, Ljubljana) created by Aleksander Bassin in Peter Krečič. English translations available.

fish above water

Art as a cultural output that is produced, circulated and consumed within economic systems by multiple agents (most of whom are unknown to the artist) can be a difficult concept for artist to reconcile with. This is particularly true for artists whose outputs have deep connections to social practice and personal narratives, and in my own case, personal narratives that are connected to a particular community’s history and story by association only. When a work is created within these contexts, what responsibility does the artist have in regards to ongoing cultural representation now and into the future?

As I continue to make art in response to my own understanding of my cultural heritage, identity and legacy (which is quite fragmented and unclear) I can’t help but wonder about the potential for any outcome, good or bad, to impact others. Particularly when it comes to art that reflects my own understanding and knowledge of culture, which itself is not necessarily in-line with dominate frameworks and rules related to how, when and to whom certain stories are told and with what voice.

Are there times when culture, no matter how well understood or deeply connected the individual is to that culture, should not be pursued in art?

Ren Gregorčič, constructive (detail), 2018.

Ren Gregorčič, constructive (detail), 2018.

without hierarchy or transition

How much of our aesthetic ideals are influenced by structural or moral hierarchy? Can the pursuit of gesamtkunstwerk (a philosophy of egalitarian art-creation commonly linked with German theatre director and composer Richard Wagner) ever result in the realisation of artwork that is without hierarchy or transition?

Are ‘common’ aesthetic values simply the consequences of programming decisions made by gatekeepers and self-appointed taste makers? Does the recent proclivity towards the deadpan in many forms of art (specifically photography) herald the dawn of a gesamtkunstwerk-ian utopia or signal the imminent dominance of impotent, bland appeasenik aesthetics that doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of 90’s grunge youth culture?

Is the future definition of art that which emphasises ‘mood’ (an intuitive feeling often develops slowly over time in response to a catalyst but that is not reliant on contextualisation or stimulus) over ‘emotion’ (an intuitive feeling that is neither knowledge nor reasoning and is shaped through context and association)?

Just some of the questions I’m currently mulling over while I put together exhibition applications for 2019.

short-term destinies

According to many news sources, on October 13th the state of Victoria (Australia) experienced a heatwave that nearly broke records. As ‘the hottest day on record…’, ‘the coldest morning in summer for 100 years…’, ‘the worst recorded disaster…’, ‘the first time in known history…’ continue to frequently make news headlines accompanied by the predictable ‘did you hear that it was nearly 33 degrees? In October, can you believe it?’, ‘It was so cold this morning (Valley girl accent)’ chitchat, I couldn’t help but wonder whether there are links between reports of pleasure and misfortune and severe weather events.

According to Tom Stafford, writing for the BBC (read the full article here), referencing research conduced by Marc Trussler and Stuart Sorok at McGill University (Canada), when presented with an option to watch a news story on a negative or positive tone, people will chose to watch news items with a negative tone. Apparently this is the result of a ‘negativity bias’, which is explained as term that describes our ‘collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.’ Results were also framed within the context of ‘Illusory superiority’ (another form of cognitive bias whereby we ‘overestimate our strengths and underestimate our shortcomings in comparison to other people’); against the backdrop of the pleasant views we have of our world, bad news is a surprising, dramatic and sometimes enticing interjection that mirrors the action of many movies.

I think these psychological biases are important things to consider when making art that engages with the topic of climate change. Very often ‘climate art’ borrows from disaster-aesthetics which, considering the aforementioned may not be achieving it’s intended purpose of influencing positive change. Rather, climate art that borrows from disaster-aesthetics might be re-enforcing the disaster spectacle that is experienced by an ‘other’. If meta-cognition breaks down iIllusory superiority, perhaps this is what we need to be aiming for in art.

Come Hell or High Water, Michael Pinsky, 2006 .

Come Hell or High Water, Michael Pinsky, 2006 .

performing the supermodern

On October 2nd I’m excited to be opening ‘400% bonus’ at the Library at the Dock in Melbourne, Australia; a site-specific installation created by me that uses light and colour to emphasise the changed biological processes of the weed Oxalis pes caprae (that have resulted as a consequence of recent human intervention with the plant). The work is heavily informed by supermoderist (otherwise known as hypermoderist) theory.

In 400% bonus, the physical and biological attributes of Oxalis pes caprae are replaced by laser-cut yellow and dichroic acrylic films which generate effects that exaggerate the plant’s qualities (specifically the strong yellow colour of its flowers and dynamic internal structures). These effects are produced in response to the intensity and position of the sun (as well as other light sources) and the relative position of he viewer. The effects created by the acrylic film drive the preformative aspects of the work - individuals experience and perform the saturation of their senses by engaging the installation, which is then observed by spectators.

Biology, human interaction and technology converge to create a work that is not didactic, representative nor bound by material limitations. Instead 400% bonus, like Oxalis pes caprae, seeks to go beyond one hundred per cent; beyond what is considered possible or knowable and where imitation is able to reveal a reality independent of form.

400% is officially being launched between 1-2pm on Saturday October 6th at the Library at the Dock in Melbourne (107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands VIC 3008). All welcome.

Ren Gregorčič, 400% bonus, 2018. Yellow and dichroic acrylic film.

Ren Gregorčič, 400% bonus, 2018. Yellow and dichroic acrylic film.

territories beyond sculpture in the expanded field

Sculpture in the Expanded Field by Rosalind Krauss is a well-discussed and significant theory of sculptural practice post-1960s. Published in 1985, the theory is still today (some 33 years later) referred to a guiding text for contemporary practice. However, can a text written in 1985 and the theory of post-modernism it refers to still be ‘contemporary’? Have the tenets of art shifted, and if so, in what direction?

The above are posed as rhetorical questions, however I do believe that the avant-garde of today is distinctly different in its cause and outcomes. Although linked to post-modernism, the art that I feel ‘succeeds’ (a definition that I will discuss at a later point) as art in the present day is work that makes a conscious effort to extend beyond the limits of post-modernity by emphasising human experience (and one that isn’t restricted to art-audiences). In this present-day art that I am encountering and myself trying to make within, the post-modern condition is negotiated rather than presented formally and the ‘hand of the artist’ is not elevated. It is distinctly non-architectural and non-structural.

I am also finding, more and more, that there is a tiredness in the ambiguity of post-modern (art created in the expanded field) works. That works created in this framework lacks the present-day emergence of intuitive sensation and the ecstasy that comes with a personal processing and understanding of complexity. To be modern (and by extension, to be relevant) now, is to engage others through art as a mental activity as opposed to seeking to present or represent objective reality. As far as I can see, to engage others in art as a mental activity, one must to point towards, but not at, art. The present-day contemporary accepts that it can engage in neither truth nor proof and instead functions as post-logical conceptions of sculptural occurrences where complexity itself is the medium.

 At least, that’s how I see it.

art on disguise

Throughout my career, ‘truth to materials’ has been upheld as the truest, purest virtue in contemporary sculpture. Lately though, I’ve been questioning the validity of this architectural concept. Not because I disagree with the concept necessarily, but because of what it masks. If everything is presented as it is, are we ever really looking at the hidden and sometimes intentionally obscured manufacturing process from which our modern world originates? Can we live in an environmentally sustainable-focused world and continue to be ‘true to materials’? Can we trust what is presented to us as ‘true’?

It’s interesting to consider the validity of ‘truth to materials’ in terms of the oeuvre of Robin Page (notably Baumgeist, Tree Spirit), an oeuvre that turned the ‘truth’ of materials (conscious of the term ‘truth’ to be a social as opposed to actual reality) on itself. Mocking commercialism and art itself Page’s anarchisms (with roots in Fluxus) often function to reveal what is beyond a material or our expectations of it, what it does or should functions (in a human sense). Perhaps to reach a sustainable future we have to accept that there is no ‘truth’? That truth is a manifestation of expectation, and a human desire to make patterns and design determine universal formula? What if we don’t believe in truth?

Robin Page, Baumgeist (Tree Spirit), 1972.

Robin Page, Baumgeist (Tree Spirit), 1972.

higher than the highest low

As a part of my upcoming collaboration with Mona Ruijs of Sound Interventions (http://soundinterventions.com.au/) for Melbourne Fringe Festival 2018, 'you probably don't know but you've already won', I've been re-reading the catalogue essays in 'Dear Painter, paint me---'. If you haven't read it, it's high on the recommendation list (Meta-Trash by Sabine Folie and Kitsch in the Age of Painterly Reproduction by Blaenka Perica in particular).

I've been re-reading the catalogue essays because they present an interesting premise, namely 'there can no longer be any painting without trash' (Meta-Trash, Folie). Contemporary painting (and art more widely) has much to benefit from elements that have classically been and continue to be considered undesirable in 'high art' such as camp, kitsch, the ornate, the bombastic and the pompous. What do we have to gain by removing 'trash' from art? Are we just limiting possibility? Is it time to progress pass the Bauhaus model of contemporary art presentation where objects are de-contextualised, elevated on plinths and hooks and fetishised in a white cube? Is trash the way out out?

John Currin, The Scream, 2010. Oil on Canvas. Gagosian Gallery.

John Currin, The Scream, 2010. Oil on Canvas. Gagosian Gallery.

drowning in a deep ecology

When you sit down and really analyse reporting on ecological issues and the representation of nature and natural system in the media, its anthropocentric quality becomes strikingly apparent; nature is most commonly positioned as an outcome of human desire, toil, rage, ignorance or abandonment. It makes you wonder:

What amount of nature is psychological?

This question has led to me to two key ecological philosophers: Arne Naess and Pierre-Felix Guattari. Both Naess and Guattari advocated for an understating of ecological sustainable that is not reductionist (more than mechanisms of facts, figures, description and prediction) but instead promotes ecological harmony of equilibrium, ecosophy.

Naess and Guattari agreed on many aspects of what constitutes an ‘ecosophy’, however they differ in their position of humans within the equation. To Naess, ecosopohy requires holistic thinking in which the biosphere is a single and unified whole, whereas Guattari centres social liberation at the heart of an ecological philosophy. 

Don't have an answer yet... but the Heidelberg Project is an interesting art/social justice/community building experiment to consider...

Mission

The Heidelberg Project (“HP”) is an outdoor art environment in the heart of an urban area and a Detroit based community organization with a mission to improve the lives of people and neighborhoods through art. 

Vision

The theory of change for the Heidelberg Project begins with the belief that all citizens, from all cultures, have the right to grow and flourish in their communities. The HP believes that a community can re-develop and sustain itself, from the inside out, by embracing its diverse cultures and artistic attributes as the essential building blocks for a fulfilling and economically viable way of life.

Read more at https://www.heidelberg.org/

cycles of function and form

‘feel forever feels’, an exhibition at Trocadero Art Space featuring a collaborative work of the same name created by myself and Shannon Garrett wrapped up on the 4th August. We’re very thankful that the show has been a great success and prompted many conversations centered on the theoretical framework of the exhibition and artwork.

‘feel forever feels’ is inspired by the concept of social sculpture/socially engaged practice as described by Joseph Beuys; an art theory that welcomes social context into art forms. Sofas (which are the focus of ‘feel forever feels’) are the perfect example of modern social sculptures. Selected by an individual based on personal determinations of design, comfort and aesthetic, sofas often transition from the personal realm of the home to public domains (Op Shops, lawns, fields etc.).

It is here, in public domains, after being shaped by the downward force of bodies over time and surviving disposal, that sofas communicate their accumulate wealth as collaborative, contemporary sculptures; objects that have survived the relatively short timeframes that we allow contemporary functional things to have.

The question is, in a system where the consumer is conditioned to ever expect the new and the tasteful (which is designed and delivered to our door), are we giving up diversity and variety in not only the objects that surround us, but also our cultures and our societies?

a next wave Neue Sachlichkeit

Describing the German art movement that rejected expressionism and advocated a ‘return to order’ with an emphasis on (then) contemporary lived reality, the Neue Sachlichkeit depicts a post-war satire that is relevant today. As we continue to understand more about the links between personal freedom, resource limitations, pleasure and climate change, so too comes the need to evaluate our co-existence logic (the orientation of human thinking with our environments).

Timothy Morton in his book ‘Dark Ecology, For a Logic of Coexistence’ provides a theoretical primer for understanding the position of the self within our contemporary environmental circumstances. Both depressing and uncanny, dark ecology aptly describes the current Neue Sachlichkeit, a lived, modern magic realism where the everyday appears logical and illogical, ordered and comprehendible yet on the periphery of understanding. As we continue to struggle to come to terms with what climate changes is and its ramifications, it is becoming increasingly clear that the logic of the Industrial Revolution can’t be applied to solving issues of ecological sustainability. Could a next wave Neue Sachlichkeit be a way forward?

Christian Schad, Operation, 1929. Lenbachhaus, Munchen, Germany.

Christian Schad, Operation, 1929. Lenbachhaus, Munchen, Germany.

x y x z

Drawing on graph paper seems to work for me. My drawing technique on graph paper generally involves using blue or green pigments that blend into the blue grid. I cam to know the grid through Rosalind Krauss’ ‘The originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths’ from 1985 that includes a section on grid and its links with originality. I’ve read this so many times I had to buy the paperback version so I could highlight and write notes in the margins. Krauss makes some pretty salient points about the grid’s ability to create an aesthetically pure and ‘free’ surface through its ability to ‘figure the material ground of the pictorial object… an absolute beginning.’

I’ve been working with the grid as a surface to mirror my paternal family’s migration to Australia from post WWII Slovenia (then Yugoslavia) and my own understandings of what it means to form new identities on cultural memory. Simultaneously ‘free’ and restricted by repetitive uniformity, the grid to me represents a spatial conceptualisation of linear surface – a domain where ideas land without penetrating the paper material. Here, symbols are not fully committed to the realm of art but instead are represented as symbols self-conscious of their status as an image.

Carl Andre, Blue Lock, 1966 Colored ink and felt-tip pen on graph paper, 8 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (22.2 x 24.8 cm) Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Art © Carl Andre/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY via http://notations.aboutdrawing.org/carl-andre/

Carl Andre, Blue Lock, 1966 Colored ink and felt-tip pen on graph paper, 8 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (22.2 x 24.8 cm) Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Art © Carl Andre/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY via http://notations.aboutdrawing.org/carl-andre/