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.