Review: NEW08 at ACCA

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art 12 March 2008 - 11 May 2008


This much anticipated annual survey demonstrates an eye for detail.  The works here are carefully constructed, labour intensive and often  require the viewer to look very closely.

Daniel Argyle's collaged record covers obscure and reveal  information - the backs of the covers have been cut to an islamic  pattern, then placed over the front of the cover so that the imagery  peeps through little holes cut into the text. The pictures on the  front can't really be made out and the text can't really be read.  But we can see the pattern. Records themselves are information - a  pattern which cannot be decoded without the right gear. On the floor  is a matrix of tiles with the same islamic pattern, this time  moulded and gouged from raw terracotta clay. Again it is tempting to  consider the link with the processes of moulding and stamping used  in vinyl record construction. So the construction and encoding of  information seems to be placed ahead of the actual content of  information. Perhaps like metalanguage, or formal systems of logic  which provide the framework for meaning without actually having  meaning itself. And a lot of nice work with the cutting too - very  neat, a lot of hours work.

In the next room Gabrielle de Vietri also seems to be dealing with  the coding of information. A regular performance features a group of  energetic dancers following the moves of a video projected lead  dancer. Mostly in time but sometimes a little ahead or behind. There  is a tiny dance floor installed for punters to try for themselves.  It's tricky.

Sandra Selig's installation is perhaps a little unsatisfying. In a  dark room, a luminescent circle is the only visible object. Moving  around the room the viewer brushes through a sheet of what feels  like plastic film. But the circle is hand painted, and seems just a  bit shaky. Perhaps this is intentional. If so, it is the only real  evidence of gesture in the show and seems somehow out of place. The  lights come up in the dark room and we see that what seemed to be  sheets of plastic film sheets are, in fact, several plastic sheets  of plastic film. With some will power, this installation almost  transcends its physicality but ultimately it remains somewhat un-transcendent.

Jonathon Jones' installation across the rear wall of the main space  is a field of parallel white zig-zags, offset by two enormous blue  boxes filled with fluorescent lights echoing, in a different rhythm,  the zig-zags on the wall. The zig-zags are not perfectly regular,  and the enormous boxes are not perfectly aligned. But the placement  is deliberate and the coldness of the construction and colours makes  the variations seem heavy with meaning - or at least intent. This is  a spiritual map in the language of high modern formalism. Brilliant  - it is like Australian indigenous art from the distant future.

Chris Bond's large symmetrical installation is fascinating. Much can  be said about symmetry, from aesthetics to physics. The level of  detail is extraordinary - a pleasing game can be made of noticing  even the most minute fold, ripple or grain in this work and finding its opposite pair. Bond here shows two other works which are  replications of themselves. A pair of identical drippy abstract  paintings and a pair of bundled objects from a typical office drawer  (calculator, pencils, ruler, paperclips). Together these works cause  us to question the possibility of chance  - maybe nothing is random  after all. And the relationship between original and replica is also  thrown into confusion. Of these apparently random groups, was one  genuinely random and the other copied? If so, which? And, does it  actually matter - is a copy the same as an original? Well these  questions have been around for a few decades now, but this is a  novel presentation. And the new dimension Bond brings is that he is  doing this by hand. He is eliminating chance from his repertoire as  an artist and deliberately undermining his own originality. His  presentation of constructed books - hand painted covers which fool  all but the closest observer into believing they are found objects   - suggests an element of chance in finding a range of books across  numerous genres with the same title. But on realising these are  constructed books, the element of chance disappears. We are left  with replica books which are not replicas, but are in fact original  and unique items. And made with phenomenal skill. This too, must  have taken many, many hours of exacting labour.

Matt Hinkley is next, but I will skip out of order so that I can  finish with him since it offers some neat conclusions that way.

Paul Knight's room comes with an R-Rating - literally. This is  because it shows some erect penises. These are photos of some  ordinary, not ugly, not beautiful people having sex in one way or  another. These are large, sharp photos, well lit in a darkened room.  Along with the photos are some sculptures - what looks like a cast  of two people - from the waist down - having sex. And some concrete  tubes. Try as I might, I can't place the tubes and I struggle to  make sense of the work as a whole. The photos seem good - very cold  and objective while remaining human and engaged - a fine balance to  achieve. But the sculptures seem to suggest something else and  without knowing what I am left feeling baffled. Maybe the idea is  that ordinary sex is also mystery.

So back to Matt.  Hinkley also fools us with phenomenal skill. His  pencils must be the sharpest in Australia. These works initially  appear to be found items - posters, coloured or textured paper,  newspaper - with some fairly haphazard holes cut out. On closer  inspection, what appeared to be stains, are in fact minutely drawn  markings - dots, dashes and lines. Here again we have detail, a  certain coldness, formalism blended with something much less  rational, and a massive amount of work and care. The delay in  recognising how these works are made is important and delightful.  And there is a suggestion that there could be information coded into  these meticulous drawings. As with Argyle's work, recovering the  information is less important than the framework that allows it to  exist. Here's to the metalanguage.

By Sam Leach

Sam Leach

Leach is an artist living and working in Melbourne. He was born in Adelaide in 1973 and moved to Melbourne in the early 90s. Leach completed his honours degree in painting at RMIT in 2004 and is currently doing his masters. In 2006 Leach won the Metro5 prize and the Geelong contemporary art prize. This year he was a finalist in the Archibald. Leach shows at Nellie Castan gallery in Melbourne (show coming up in June) and Sullivan and Strumpf gallery in Sydney