Conceptual Limitations

When I was in my first year of undergrad studies at Sydney College of the Arts one of my favourite classes was Studio Concepts.

Studio Concepts was not a studio theory class where students learn about the conceptual history of their discipline, and it was not a studio practical class where students learn the specific techniques of their discipline. Concepts brought together students from the different disciplines, aiming to foster interdisciplinary thinking and to build relationships across studios. The year was divided into three projects with different themes; sound, space and light.

Considering that my own artistic practice already had a well-defined set of conceptual concerns, you could be forgiven for thinking that these projects would interfere with my work, but it had exactly the opposite effect. Working within the limitations of each  project’s theme forced me to innovate and consequently the works I produced in these classes were some of my strongest of the year.

In my second year at art school however I struggled to come to grips with a completely self-directed practice. I no longer had the limitations of the Studio Concepts class and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It took more than a year for me to get back on track, just in time for the undergrad exhibition.

Five years have passed since then and my work still has a very definite set of conceptual concerns. But, lately I’ve been making a lot of my work for group shows, often directly inspired by the curatorial premise. For example, In Exitu Israel de Egypto which I made for an exhibition in Rookwood cemetery.

I’m not sure how I feel about this return to working within external limitations. On one hand, I’m concerned about what it means for my “self-directed practice”. On the other hand there is the work, which I’m more than satisfied with.

Articulation

I was recently invited to spend two weeks working in the Articulate project space with the aim of producing work that responded to the site. I spent three days and nights in the space performing my new work Ruach. I have found this work particularly difficult to write about and take comfort in the words of George Braque, “There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”

A number of different cultures have all drawn a link between the breath and the soul. The Greek word ‘psyche’, the Latin ‘spiritus’ and the Hebrew ‘ruach’ all share the meanings of breath, life and soul.

In the book of Genesis it is the Ruach of God which is breathed into the first man, giving him life. Much later, the prophet Ezekiel witnessed the Ruach of God animating the bones of the dead, restoring them to new life. This Ruach is literally the breath of life. But the Ruach of God is also called the Holy Spirit which imparts new life to the spiritually dead, transforming them.

This performance is a documentation of my own ruach.

For three days in the Articulate gallery I practiced ‘mindfulness of breathing’ meditation while blowing up white balloons. My aim with this performance was to objectify the act of contemplation. By capturing each exhalation in a balloon I hoped to make visible the normally invisible and impermanent breath which is the focus of this form of meditation.

Kazimir Malevich claimed that nature is the materialisation and manifestation of a greater divinity and that the role of the artist is not to re-present the existing manifestations of the divine, but to create one’s own pure manifestations. In a way, it could be said that performance art avoids the problem of representation by working directly with reality i.e. the divine nature manifest. I wanted to go further than this, however. I wanted to objectify my ruach as a manifestation of the divine.

Malevich once claimed that “The field of colour must be annihilated, ie. It must transform itself into white.” This claim, along with his use of geometric forms, is echoed in my own use of white balloons. The Ruach of God gave me breath and life, but it also gave me my spirit. I was made in the image of God and, like Him, I have a spirit that is living and active.

When his audience asked him for a miraculous sign Jesus offered them the sign of Jonah. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40) Much later, Joseph Beuys gave the world his own sign when he spent three days in René Block Gallery with a wild coyote.

Jesus Christ and Joseph Beuys both offered healing through their intercessory acts, Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross and Joseph through his art. What efficacy my work may provide does not stretch to miraculous raising of the dead and I believe it functions most strongly as a sign. I do not say this to rob the work of any power; on the contrary, as an artist I believe  wholeheartedly in the power of signs. The sign of Jonah was a profoundly important and powerful sign, because of what it pointed to.

This sign/performance is profoundly important to me because of what it points to:

I was created by God in His image and His Ruach lives within me. And for a time it was in the Articulate Project Space, 497 Parramatta Rd, Leichhardt.

Small Words

My work Strange Bedfellows was recently exhibited in Small Works for a Large Universe at INDEX. It was accompanied by text explaining the work:

In my first year at SCA I worked with the bed as a metaphor for private and intimate spaces, be they mental, emotional or psychological. My lecturer at the time, Margaret Roberts, encouraged me to research work by other artists that worked with the same or similar motifs. Recently I found three slides, from that year, of artworks that contain beds, each by a different artist.

From left to right the photographic slides show the works ‘Die Frauen der Revolution’ by Anselm Kiefer, ‘WELL’ by Simone Mangos and ‘Le décor et son double’ by Daniel Buren.

Generally in my practice there is a drive to acknowledge my influences and my artistic forebears. Consequently, I quite like the idea of posting these small, rediscovered artifacts from my initial research. Specifically regarding the premise of the show, physically the objects are small but it is the infinitesimally small influence each of these works exerted on my practice that I am interested in. None of the works have ever been directly referenced in my artistic practice or my conceptual writing and yet they have never been completely forgotten either.

Intra-section

My work, Chashmal, was recently exhibited in Intersections for At The Vanishing Point. Due to the curatorial premise of the show individual artists’s statements were not included in the exhibition, but I would like to share an excerpt from my proposal of this work to the curator of Intersections, Adrian Clement:

The work I am developing is intended to speak to both my own body of work and your curatorial statement, much like my work for Abstract/Object. The reason I wanted to include a mirror is because I thought it was an interesting take on works that interfere with each other. Instead of the mirror imposing itself onto the audiences’ experience of other artworks, the mirror actually draws works into itself. It replicates and repeats works inside its mirror space.

But I have also written another text explaining the work in terms of my own practice:

The title, ‘Chashmal’, is a hebrew word, meaning polished or shining brass, which refers firstly to the material nature of the mirror. My choice of brass is a reference to Beuys’ totemic use of the substance with its imbued energetic and healing properties. Beuys favoured copper and brass for their conductive qualities and interestingly in contemporary hebrew the word ‘chashmal’ also means electricity. The prophet Ezekiel even used the word ‘chashmal’ to describe the likeness of the glory of the LORD which he witnessed in a vision (Ezekiel 1:25-28).

This brass mirror is an art object which offers purification through examination. Like the brass snake, Nehushtan, raised up in the desert by Moses, this artwork invites individuals to look upon it to receive healing. But as this object is a mirror, albeit made of brass, it also offers the viewer their transformed reflection.

In psychoanalytical terms, Lacan’s theory of the Mirror Stage describes the period of an infant’s life when they first recognise their image reflected in the mirror. Lacan hypothesised that this recognition could lead to a tension between perceptions of wholeness and fragmentation. Lacan believed that this conflict could only be resolved by the individual’s identification with their reflection. Similarly the apostle James writes in his epistle that “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

The artwork’s reflection also refers to the doubling motif employed by Joseph Beuys in his exhibition, ‘Show Your Wound’, intended to provide understanding through the re-presentation and re-experiencing of wounds. This re-presentation of our afflictions is characterised by its displacement from the original wounds, allowing for a therapeutic effect rather than a simple repetition of the initial trauma.

Ultimately the efficacy of this work is purely conceptual, but the ideas echo real truths, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Small Works For A Large Universe

I have a work in a group show!

Small Works For A Large Universe

The opening is on Friday, February 4 (from 6 – 8pm) at INDEX. The address is 60 Hutchin­son St, St. Peters.

The show runs from 4 – 19 February, I’d love for you to come along and check it out.

“An exhi­bi­tion of small art­works in our large project space as an exam­i­na­tion of the effects and sig­nif­i­cance of rel­a­tive scale on the mean­ing and pres­ence of the art­work and a reflec­tion upon our own place in a uni­verse so much larger than ourselves.”

Intersections

I have a work in a group show!

Intersections

The opening is on Friday, February 4 (from 6 – 9pm) at At The Vanishing Point. The address is 565 King St, Newtown.

The show runs from 4 – 20 February, I’d love for you to come along and check it out.

What measures are taken by curators to erect barriers between individual works so that an audience can have the opportunity to experience works on their own without the interference of other works? And what conditions need to be arranged so that works can be experienced the way the artists have originally intended?

What happens to the experience of a work when we let our guard down, and forget about a particular barrier or requirement? For example, say we install a sound work in a gallery on speakers instead of headphones, and despite our best efforts, we can hear the sound throughout the whole show. Every time someone looks at a painting, they are also listening to the sound work. How does this affect the way we respond to both works? The experience of more than one work at the same time can be defined as an “intersection”.

Intersections, curated by Adrian Clement, involves firstly for the curator to install individual works, creating many different points and levels of “intersections” in the process. Subsequently, site-specific artists are invited to install works to respond to and “intersect” the way in which the show has been installed as well as the curator’s vision.

The premise of the exhibition is a hypothesis. The installation process is an experiment. And the result is an unknown.”

Black and White

When tumblr first became popular I didn’t see much need for it. Between my blog and my twitter account I was feeling pretty confident my needs were met. But then, after looking at a few image-based tumblr accounts, I realised they could be quite aesthetically pleasing. I was inspired by the arrangement of attractive and often quite abject images at one site in particular.

So, I created an account and now I have my own tumblr site.

As I state in the site’s description, “This tumblr is a repository for works that inspire me.” And unsurprisingly the art that primarily inspires me is the work of performance artists. There are also the occasional sculptures and paintings, generally with some relation to action or the body. Another similarity that was impressed upon me, not for the first time, is that the documentation of my favourite performances are almost exclusively in black and white.

I already have a relationship with the black and white dichotomy, partially inspired by these photos of seminal performances, but also by the work of other artists such as Kazimir Malevich. My own work tends to be quite simple and the colour schemes fairly muted. But now I am considering changing all my documentation, photos and videos, into black and white. Or at the very least choosing to work in black and white from now on.

The initial attraction is purely aesthetic, I like the way black and white images look. But I also enjoy creating links between my own work and the work of artist’s who inspire and inform me. Furthermore, I think that this use of black and white helps to drive home all the concepts and themes that these colours embody in my work.

Having said that, I hope I’m beyond the point in my artistic development where I make the mistake of limiting myself arbitrarily. If an artwork looks or works better in colour than so be it. Who am I to limit the work based on my own preconceived notions?

Still, it’s worth thinking about.

Abject/Obstruct

My work The Transformation Of Things was recently exhibited in Abstract/Object for At The Vanishing Point. It was accompanied by text explaining the work.

The idea for ‘The Transformation of Things’ came from the Ancient Greek word, ‘psyche’. Its first meaning is “spirit, breath, life or animating force”, commonly interpreted as the soul. But it is also a homonym for butterfly, leading to a number of representations of the soul as a butterfly, often issuing from the lips of the dead or dying. Butterflies can also be viewed as a metaphor for rebirth or reincarnation due to their period of metamorphosis in a cocoon. This transformation from humble caterpillar into beautiful butterfly speaks to a spiritual transcendence. My aim with this intervention is to highlight a thread of mortality and spirituality in the home and the gallery, and in this exhibition.

“Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakeable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called The Transformation of Things.”

Critical Tension

I recently exhibited a number of works from a series I’ve been working on. I began by presenting Hand Piece #1, along with video documentation of the performance, in the Living Space exhibition for At The Vanishing Point, which I also curated. I later performed a work called Chisel Piece for the actingUP exhibition also at ATVP. Finally, I displayed the whole series at ESP Gallery in an exhibition, with my good friend Sach Catts, called Critical Tension.

The series of work exhibited in Critical Tension explored the notion of the physical evidence left over after a performance. It began with an investigation of my painting and performance practices and their interrelation, before moving into a more general investigation of my relationship to performance documentation and artifacts.

I was originally exploring the role that painting plays in my performance practice and vice versa. The method I began with was the production of paintings that were created as a direct result of a performance, so that they were simultaneously paintings and performance artifacts.

The two series’ of drip paintings, Hand Piece #1 and Hand Piece #2, were conceived with a set of performance constraints in mind. In the first set of six paintings, the performance brief was to dip my right hand in paint and then, with the aid of my left hand, to transfer as much paint from my hand as possible onto the wooden canvas without actually touching it. The second performance was limited even further by revoking the use of my left hand, so that I was effectively working one-handed. These performances were initially filmed, along with a third performance, but I found these videos detracted from the concepts I was exploring and elected not to exhibit them at ESP.

The brief for the third performance had me working one-handed again, dipping my right hand in paint and then transferring the paint onto wooden canvases. However in this performance the brief dictated that I transfer paint only through the contact between my hand and the canvas. The resulting paintings were considerably less interesting to look at when compared with the first two series’ of performances and so I decided to shelve them for the time being. Where the first two performances had benefited from a nod to Pollock’s action painting, this third performance was somewhat rudderless.

I have been interested in the creation of the line as a performative act for some time, including works by Nam June Paik, Piero Manzoni and Robert Rauschenberg, but I was particularly inspired by the performances of Gunter Brus. This Viennese Actionist painted a black line on his body symbolising a cut or wound. Drawn to the similarity in our use of black paint in performance I was inspired to literalise this black cut. For Saw Piece I dipped my saw in black paint and cut through a stack of six wooden canvases.

This cutting action reminded me of a performance I read about in Anthony Howell’s book, The Analysis of Performance Art, a text that has been influential in my artistic development. In Andre Stitt’s performance, Second Skin, he chipped away at the enamel of a bath with a hammer and chisel. I was inspired to combine this action with a regular theme of mine, removal of blackness (usually black paint). I took up the six painting artifacts that I had previously shelved and re-purposed them for a new performance. For Chisel Piece I attempted to chip away all the black paint from the surface of the six wooden canvas, leaving behind new art objects. While I was interested in the re-emergence of the removal theme, it was utilised more as a familiar tradition of my own practice than for it’s usual conceptual baggage.

The final performance, Ash Piece, took place on opening night. I collected ashes from six burnt canvases and wrapped them in small bundles of white fabric tied with black ribbon. This was another take on the removal of black theme, combined with the generation of art objects through performance, but was somehow more whimsical.

Abstract/Object

I have a work in a group show!

Abstract/Object

The opening is on Thursday, November 18 (from 6 – 9pm) at At The Vanishing Point. The address is 565 King St, Newtown.

The show runs from 18 November – 5 December, I’d love for you to come along and check it out.

“Abstract/Object is an examination of the object status of the artwork. By placing in the gallery space, the furniture, possessions, and other domestic objects of the curator, and then installing works of art in the space that this creates: Abstract/Object asks the question, what is so special about the art object, and how dependent is its value on the context in which it is displayed?

Throughout its history, modern art criticism has questioned the context in which art is placed and displayed. From a very broad perspective one might suggest that nowhere on this earth is there a space that does not somehow degrade, corrode, or diminish the artwork that it contains.

On the one hand there is the home of the collector, into which the artwork enters only through its conversion into a kind of trophy or decoration through the process of its purchase. On the other hand, the gallery space is perceived as a sterile, negative space, scrubbed of any reference to, or residue of, the outside world, even to the point of denying the bodily presence of the viewer.

Abstract/Object is an attempt to superimpose these two spaces, creating a third paradoxical space in which the status of the object is made uncertain: at once challenged by its placement in a context permeated by the every day world, and at the same time a space abstracted and rarefied by its gallery status.”