Article: ‘Longer Little Deaths: Moulds for anamonitored experiences’

‘Longer Little Deaths: Moulds for anamonitored experiences’ by Bill Sampson
La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre, Bendigo
7 May to 12 June 2011
Bill Sampson’s installation has three components: moulds on tall stands, crushed aluminium paintings, and a triple plinth. They all upset our expectation and startle our reality and, to various degrees, involve chance and alchemy. 
Sampson’s 2010 show ‘Little Deaths’ featured fantastic works on paper created in the marbling bath. In this process, the chemical reactions and combination of paints, bath surface and temperature make the outcome unpredictable. Yet, the sense we get from the finished images is that of determinism; the patterns appear to have a gravitational pull. It is as though, as Sampson has said, ‘the bath possesses an absolute intelligence,’ defeating his own desires and expectations. The paradox inherent in the marbling bath works is central to Sampson and to his latest work. The more he strives to achieve his desire, the more he surrenders to other forces. 
In ‘Longer Little Deaths’, the moulds are formed by pouring petrol onto polystyrene and filling the cavity with plaster, which is later torn off. This toxic and volatile process gives birth to surprisingly organic forms. They have legs and foetal-like bodies, and are covered in tiny crystalline hairs, like coral poodles or gentle amorphous creatures. They sit on long thin plinths of varying heights – like tall soapboxes, giving the ‘creatures’ a platform; each has a distinct aspiration. However, the moulds are mute, they do not have discernible mouths and therefore voices; this silence and implicit desire to be heard sets up a tension akin to yearning. The plinths too are set in rows, which gives them a monumental and perhaps funereal aspect. Again, at odds with the idea of individual voices, they are treated as an anachronistic family, one that is neither obsolete nor pure artefact. Perhaps rather than new creatures, these moulds are weathered or worn relics, hanging around as a memory trace, ghostly presences. 
The two faces of the very new or very old, of the stasis and the movement, make the work uncertain and suspenseful. The moulds aspire to become something, taking us elsewhere, into the land of longing. Perhaps they are casting space? The inversion hints at the something else, the paradox inherent in desire, in the longer little death. Here Sampson alludes to the ‘anamonitored experiences’ in the show’s subtitle; a world of vicarious pleasure, epitomised by reality life, where everything – sex, success, failure, disaster – is experienced real time via a screen. The view is toward a shifting topography from real world to cyber world, from real time to real time. Space and time can no longer be mapped easily, they have become slippery – the mould becomes the thing – the would-be object that never quite makes it.     
The experimental ad hoc processes used by Sampson have some basis in Arte Povera. His interest in materials and process, and a use of everyday materials, continues to break down the life/art frontier and lends the work an organic physicality and open endedness. This tradition too links Sampson’s work with that of sculpture Hany Armanious, but Sampson’s exploration is perhaps more oblique, tending towards an alchemic process and an emphasis on dissolving, coagulation and transmutation.
The marbling technique is again present on the large crushed aluminium paintings, their surfaces alternately marbled like boulder landscapes and ducoed in startling luminous colours. The paintings are balance on fine points; some shroud space, others entwine in twisted and gashed contortions, and all have an upward movement, appearing to almost float off the gallery floor. As we circle each work we lose our bearings – which is the right side up? Which is the viewing side? Again our expectations are undone: paradox is inherent in floating metal, in doubled sided paintings presented as sculpture. As with the moulds, chance too is intrinsic to the process of crushing the metal and to how the final enamelled and marbled surfaces will turn out. Again, our glance is taken into the space beyond the object, into a space created and shrouded by the paintings. Again there is a yearning to break through, to show true colours, to grapple with physicality.
The triple plinth consists of two replica plinths, the bottom one mirrored, and the one above in fake marble, and on top a third translucent yellowy-green Perspex mould of the plinth. The work has a direct lineage to Rachael Whiteread’s 2001 work that featured on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Here, Whiteread made a resin cast of the original stone plinth and placed it upside down, creating a mirror plinth, hence it’s name the Inverted Plinth. The contrasts created by Whiteread’s work – the heavy and the light, the opaque and the transparent – are again apparent in Sampson’s replica, only here there is a succession of cultural paradigms. The self-reflective mirror plinth and monumental marble plinth are subsumed by the luminous mould, again an inversion of all that went before, alluding to something that is no longer easily grasped, a precarious reality. 
The triple plinth too distils the idea of basic human yearning that pervades this show. The crowning mould is a beacon of alien light, the mould within as unattainable as the philosopher’s stone. Herein lies the human paradox; that birth inevitably leads to death, and that each little death is a reaffirmation of existence through a moment of surrender. 
Ruth Learner May 2011


By Ruth Learner

Ruth Learner

Ruth Learner is a Melbourne-based writer who has written about contemporary art for a range of newspapers and specialist journals, and authored two non-fiction books and a novel.