Review: bird girl

Click here to watch Video of Artists Forum

Bird Girls

"I'm no anti-feminist. I love women. Some of my best friends are women. My wife, indeed." (Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister). The status of women has shifted since Yes Minister first went to air in the early 80s. For all its problems, the art world is a fairly enlightened place. But I have heard comments by men in senior positions in government and the corporate world which are brutally misogynist. There is an anti-feminist streak which is deeply ingrained in our culture. Shows like this one play a crucial role in addressing this and should be repeatedly staged and re-staged.

Repetition is a form of change. 
Repetitive actions and processes are a link between the artists in this show. The show itself is a form of repetition - a form of re-staging - of the all female exhibition (e.g. "Bad Girls, "Subversive Stitch"). 
Athena or Arachne

The threat of repeated labour is tackled by Kate Just and Fiona Abicare in their knitted and embroidered works respectively. Just directly references mythology with an arresting knitted sculpture of Daphne. When it comes to weaving, mythical references abound. Just's video piece shows the artist in a knitted "boob tube and mini-skirt" to quote the artist, in a pop-video style performance on her knitting machine. This expression of the joy in the act of weaving seems to relate to the actions of the daughters of Minyas honouring Athena with their weaving rather than Arachne's defiance of the Gods in her presumptive pride in her woven accomplishments.
Perhaps Abicare's tapestry screen is more presumptive and more aligned to Arachne. In making a shop interior visible on the exterior through the action of stitching, she is privileging her craft. Instead of the normal role of a screen as a device to block sight, this screen provides a view of the shop as filtered by the artist and her actions. The work does not function in this way in the show, however, as it is removed from the site and represented functioning a way that is more typical of the form of the screen. This replacement foregrounds the object - the embroidered screen - ahead of the potential functions of the screen as either a means of preventing vision or of filtering vision.
Public or Private

In Kate Consadine’s “Traded”, traces of make-up smeared on the wall suggest that some violent action has occurred. There are visible remnants of some structure fastened to the wall around which the action occurred. This seems to connect the work more directly to the architecture of the space. Consadine has referred to the idea of “putting on” make-up in order to “pull something off”. With this reading, the work relates most directly to the actions and intentions of the person wearing the make-up (the artist, or in this case her collaborator). I feel that the relationship with the architecture pulls this closer to the idea of the boundary between public and private. An individual (private) has had an interaction with the architecture of the gallery space (public). An exchange has occurred where whatever was attached to the wall has disappeared with the individual and the make-up worn by the individual has been left on the architecture. Maybe it is drawing a long bow to compare the façade of make-up to a sort of wear-able personal architecture (see Bert Newton’s plastered face).

Angwin is something of an enigma. Her written pieces, presented here as book,  have a confessional and diary-like quality. Yet her true personality remains veiled. In her video piece, we are shown her gyrating, apparently newly shaven crotch. But her face is not shown. And from the text we know that she has undertaken this action based on another’s suggestion. The impression is that, despite the most intimate view, we are allowed to see her only when she is not herself.

Flying the Flag
Freakley and Tu’s are flying the flag (ha ha!) for representation. But even here, then end-point of the work is not the representation, but the process used to arrive at the finished work. Tu’s paintings draw on historical and cultural iconography in a way that suggests an un-closed string of images. This metaphor is reinforced by the strings of flags running through the space.

In Freakley’s work, the obsessional nature of a drawing practice is foregrounded so that the works presented appear as traces or remnants of the process. As with Consadine’s work, this work exists at the boundary between the private and the public. The boundary condition is emphasised by Freakley’s video “Drawing People on Public Transport”. Transgressions abound.

Slee and Serra, Failure and Success, Revolt
The show for me is summed up In Simone Slee's "Make a sculpture, watch it fall down" the (admittedly slight) labour of propping up the sculpture is repeated as many times as the sculpture collapses. Is this the repetition of futile labour as in the stone-rolling task of Sisyphus? The anticipated collapse and re-forming of her piece "Make a sculpture, watch it fall down" is less a reference to the repeated actions of craft or 'domestic' labour so much as a metaphor for labour in the broadest sense - the pointless action of any erection (excuse the pun) which at some point must fall down and either be rebuilt or abandoned.
Slee's piece seems to be a direct response to Serra's prop pieces. But where Serra's work is genuinely massive and has the all too real threat of death inherent in its failure. With Slee’s work the threat is only the repetitive work of setting up the sculpture again and again. Slee's wonderfully ephemeral work embraces the failure as a criterion for success. Faced with the absurd we must revolt.

This must make us question the criteria for success of the show as a whole. Failure is not the right term, but as a whole the show seems to avoid end-points. The work shown mostly seems to form part of an ongoing process for the artists rather than finished objects. To appreciate the work is to enter into a consideration of ongoing practice of the artists and to do this is to orient towards to future. It is no simple thing to undertake a survey show which looks forward rather than summarises past achievements. Revolt.

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