My work Hypercubewas recently included in the exhibition Colour, Line, Form at Articulate. It was accompanied by text explaining the work:
Hypercube is a projection of a four-dimensional object which cannot be fully realised in three-dimensional space. By executing the hypercube in the style of Sol Lewitt’s open cubes I hoped to engage with his ideas about conceptual art and interrogate the primacy of conceptual thinking in art making. Four-dimensional space has been studied by mathematicians and philosophers for over two centuries and yet our attempts to accurately visualise or represent the fourth-dimension in Euclidian space remain ultimately frustrated.
The use of geometry in my work relates to the philosophy of Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician, who founded a religious movement espousing the belief that God created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles and thus to seek these principles was to seek and worship God. In the same way that Modernist painters, such as Malevich, Mondrian and Kandinsky, used geometric abstraction as a way of representing the divine through art, I am attempting to point to another reality by evoking the elusive fourth-dimension.
For Those Who’ve Come Across The Sea is an exploration of Australia’s troubled relationship to the sea and migration, particularly our colonial history, the White Australia Policy and our current stance on asylum seekers. For the duration of the performance work, Tom Isaacs will be boiling sea water and collecting the salt left behind. Sea water is toxic to those who drink it, but through the process of distillation it can be separated into more efficacious parts. Salt, water and fire are all common elements in purification rituals from various religious traditions. Isaacs’ position as priestly intercessor echoes the work of Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, in which he acted as a shaman-like medium for the purpose of inspiring social change.
I also gave an interview about the work which you can view:
Prima Materia is a performance piece that involves the simultaneous creation and destruction of the painting space. The old is continuously destroyed to make way for the new. The artist is painting in a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s action painting, dripping from above, but the use of body rather than brush hints at a connection to Yves Klein’s anthropometries. This work unites two disparate streams of the artist’s practice to create something new.
Prima Materia is a development of previous work by Tom Isaacs from the exhibition 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 painting and performance practices and their interrelation, before moving into a more general investigation of the artist’s relationship to performance documentation and artifacts. Prima Materia continues this line of thought by working within the tradition of abstract painting to create an art object which differs radically from the traditional painting.
Prima Materia is also connected to the more spiritual stream of the artist’s practice. In this performance the colours used, Black, White, Red and Gold, relate to the different stages of the alchemists Magnum Opus (great work). Alchemy is a philosophic tradition whose best known goal is the transmutation of base metals into gold. However, esoteric and hermetic traditions interpret this claim as a metaphor for personal transformation and purification, also known as ‘internal’ alchemy. Through his performance practice, Isaacs is proposing a similar reinterpretation of the practice of art making. Inspired by Joseph Beuys, the proto-typical artist-alchemist, and Alex Grey, author of ‘The Mission of Art’, Isaacs aims to promote and embody the dual-office of artist-as-alchemist and to argue for the role of spirituality in the creation and experiencing of art.
I was recently invited to perform All Creation for Cementa 13, held in Kandos, NSW. My performance was accompanied by text explaining the work:
As a Christian artist I draw my identity as a creator from God in whose image I was created. I believe that the true purpose of art is the same as God’s purpose for creation, to bring glory to His name. ‘All Creation’ is the next step in a series of works exploring this idea through geometric abstraction. The work consists of five limestone sculptures of the platonic solids, originally named for Plato who wrote about these shapes and their connection to the elements of the natural world and to the heavens.
The use of geometry in my work relates to the philosophy of Pythagoras which states that God created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles and thus to seek these principles is to seek and worship God. It is also a reference to the work and theories of Modernist painters, such as Malevich, Mondrian and Kandinsky, who employed geometric abstraction as a means of representing the divine through art. I have chosen to use limestone which serves as a link to the natural world, to classical sculpture and to the production of cement, once the main industry of Kandos.
My work Eat, and live forever was recently exhibited in Eat Your Art Out at Articulate. It was accompanied by text explaining the work:
In Greek mythology, golden apples were said to be found in the garden of the Hesperides belonging to the goddess Hera. These apples granted immortality to any who ate them, but the garden was guarded by a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon. Golden apples also appeared in Norse mythology where they belonged to the goddess Iðunn. These apples were the source of the gods’ immortality and eternal youth, serving the same purpose as Ambrosia in Greek mythology.
The title of this work is taken from Genesis 3, which describes God’s creation of the Garden of Eden where he first dwelled alongside his people. In the midst of the garden God planted the tree of life and any who ate its fruit would live forever. This tree and its fruit were available to all, but when the people sinned against God they were expelled from the Garden and their access to the tree of life was cut off.
However, in the book of Revelation John prophesies a time when the dwelling place of God will be with man once more and they will live together in the holy city; new Jerusalem. He describes the city as being a cube of pure gold, like clear glass, and at the center of this new paradise is the tree of life.
For this performance I stood in a glass cube, surrounded by smoke, with my face covered in gold leaf and illuminated by a spotlight. The title, Shekinah Glory, refers to the Hebrew concept for the divine presence or dwelling of God. This presence is manifested in a number of ways throughout the scriptures, most notably residing within the Holy of Holies.
Through this performance I was dealing with the intersection of the divine and the profane, partially inspired by the location of the Glass Cube within the Oxford Art Factory. I also aimed to articulate my own view of the artist as one who channels and reflects the divine light of revelation.
Covering my face in gold leaf was a way of engaging with the esoteric reading of alchemy which understands the transmutation of lead into gold as an analogy for personal transformation or purification. In biblical terms, being in the presence of the Shekhinah glory so transformed Moses that the skin of his face shone with light. This gilding is also a reference to a work by the German conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, who in many ways embodies the role of artist as alchemist.
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.
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.
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.
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)