Superposition – Sydney Biennale Pt2

GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

The Gallery of NSW is a classic gallery/museum exhibition space built in 1871 and evolved over time to work with contemporary needs.

Vic and I spent lots of time sitting with Samson Young’s (2018) “Muted Situations #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th” surround sound installation. Young created “Muted Situations #22” as part of his series of ‘muted’ works that reveal the unobserved or masked moments in everyday experience. By muting the sounds of their instruments, the orchestra reveal the underlying susurrus of their movement. Sitting within the installation you can hear the orchestra around you while watching them ‘play’ on a visual recording of the event. There were many times during the performance where the music can almost be heard through the movement of the players.

Riet Wijnen (2015 – ) “Sixteen Conversations on Abstraction: Conversation Six”

Riet Wijnen’s evolving work “Conversation Six” is curiously engaging and gets more and more interesting as you spend time with it and delve deeper into it’s complexities. The programme tells us that this installation is formed around a fictional dialogue between British Constructivist Marlow Moss and Australian artist and pioneer of modernist painting, Grace Crowley. This ‘conversation’ is explored in a diagrammatic sculpture as well as texts and photograms. The plans for the sculpture where fascinating with detailed notes on the thinking behind the structure. I have a soft spot for diagrammatic representations of ideas so I spent a lot of time exploring this work.

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Tuomos Aleksander Laitinen (2018) “Dossier of Osmosis”

Where Riet Wijnen’s “Conversation Six” is an exemplary example of structure and reason, “Dossier of Osmosis” is another ‘diagrammatic’ installation that is, in contrast, biologically chaotic and somewhat indecipherable. My love of all things diagrammatical definitely extended to this work which really drew me in. The structure of the glass tiered tables were much like a scientific or archeological display, with all sorts of pieces of text, notes, ingredients, biological and chemical processes and diagrams floating between layers like giant petri dishes. The work questions the disconnect between organic process and the structure that sciences imposes upon them that prevent ‘osmosis’ from occurring. In this case osmosis could be read not just as biological process but as the generation and integration of ideas.

Marjolijn Dijkman (2018) “Navigating Polarities”

There was something incredibly inviting about the large bowl into which the imagery was ‘poured’. Sometimes a vessel, sometimes the firmament, sometimes the ocean, the bowl acted as a sculptural object as much as a projection technique. Curved seating around the edge of the bowl is an invitation to sit and immerse oneself. The work investigates the history or navigation, of polarity and magnetism. It speaks not just to the physical but also to the socio-political implications that go with these themes through a gentle narration and soundtrack that, to me, alludes to narration on TV science shows. Vic and I had been talking about binaries and polarities as we were walking to the gallery which goes some way to explaining why we got so immersed in this work and had to go back to it a second time! On a purely aesthetic level I loved the way the work had been so perfectly crafted to the environs of the bowl and all the detailed visual decisions that had been made by the artist.

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Jacob Kirkegaard (2013) “Through the Wall”

This is one of those works that you sometimes pass by mistake in a large art show because it can become almost a part of the environs. Luckily I’d been reading the map and knew the work to expect in the space because accidentally missing this would have been a real shame. This work needs time spent because it’s not something that can be sensed immediately, but give it the time and the viewer is transported. This giant concrete monolith is a replica of the Israeli West Bank Barrier, it is inset with speakers projecting field recordings collected by Kirkegaard on site in Israel/Palestine. The recordings not only represent the ambient sounds around the wall, but also the resonances and reverberations of the wall itself. Sitting with the work – listening to the wall – encourages questioning without imposing any political weight on the listener. I particularly appreciate the fact that the artist refrained from expressing his personal political opinion in the work and allowed it to be open to the viewer’s experience. This is especially refreshing considering how so much of the media we currently consume is heavily politicised and our interpretation considered a fait accompli.

 

 

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Superposition – Sydney Biennale Pt1

I’m still digesting my thoughts around this years Sydney Biennale; three days of solid art is so exciting but it can make you go a bit strange! The variety and scope of work is overwhelming and I find it impossible to fully engage with all of it, so there are always interesting ideas that I miss. I thought I’d share some of the works that stood out to me personally in a two-part post.

Curated by Mami Kataoka, Superposition has a suitably all-encompassing theme that borrows it’s name from the theory that any multiple of quantum states can be added together or ‘overlaid’ to produce another valid quantum state. In the context of the Biennale we are looking at antagonistic, conflicting, collision states, many of which reflect on our current socio-political and physical world climate. The programme states “…the participating artists in the 21st Biennale of Sydney have not been chosen in order to represent or symbolise a particular theme. Rather, many of the artists reflect multiple and sometimes opposing perspectives within their work…” so that leaves it pretty open. The programme also stated that the works were chosen to be shown in the various venues due to the loose links they hold with the history and characteristics of the buildings. I’m not sure I really saw that (although too be fair I don’t know too much about the venues), but the theming of works within the venues was successfully symbiotic much of the time.

CARRIAGEWORKS

I like Carriageworks as a venue. It’s spacious, airy and has historic industrial features that make for an interesting building without impinging upon the experience of the works on display.

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The first work that greets you when entering Carriageworks is Chen Shaoxiong’s “The Views” (2016) 4 channel video installation. There was so much about this work to enjoy! The painterly scenes with the subtly sporadic animation, the curved screens that can be viewed from both inside and out, the melancholy soundtrack, the monochromatic scenes that felt lit from within. The work evoked feelings of time and place without being tritely nostalgic, and somehow the images were more alive and real because of how understated the movement was. The scenes would appear still and then suddenly, out of the corner of the eye a tiny movement would be captured; a dog in the distance, a cyclist cross the tracks, the lights switching on or off in a building.
This work was one of the last Chen Shaoxiong completed before his death and captures the everyday views from his hospital window. There is a poignancy and resolution in the work that is difficult to describe.

Semiconductor have 2 pieces in the Biennale, one in Carriageworks and one in the Gallery of NSW. “Earthworks” (2016). This huge five channel video work uses a technique called analogue modelling where pressure and motion are applied to layers of particles to simulate plate tectonics. The data used comes from seismic data gathered in real world landscapes and terrain. The soundtrack is generated from the data and also controls the movement of the visuals. I enjoyed this work because, quite frankly, I always enjoy art/science crossovers! It’s immersive, it’s hypnotic, it visualises as undulating colour and form the kinds of processes that take millenia.

There were 2 works at the Carriageworks that highlighted the way the curation created an enhancing symbiosis. Firstly we watched a single channel untitled video by Laurent Grasso that explores the felt presences in the landscape around Yuendumu, Northern Territory using some of the imagery, such as floating light globes, found in his previous works. We then viewed the paintings of George Tjungurrayi with their rippling surfaces displayed vertically and horizontally. After watching Grasso’s haunting video we were primed to immerse ourselves into the outback landscapes of Tjungurrayi; the works enhanced and juxtaposed each other rewardingly.

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Laurent Grasso (2018) “Untitled”

George Tjungurrayi – various works

COCKATOO ISLAND

This island is an amazing site in and of itself. The industrial buildings with all their old machinery, the huge rock in the centre crossed by tunnels and topped by colonial buildings are all fascinating. But – and take this with a grain of salt – I don’t always enjoy Cockatoo Island as an art venue. I feel that for some work the classic “white cube” is a better display choice because buildings like those on Cockatoo Island can overwhelm. Very large works (Ai Wei Wei’s gigantic inflatable refugee raft) and site-specific (or site-modified) installations thrive in the Cockatoo Island spaces, but some of the smaller and more restrained works are hard for me to engage with due to the fact that there is so much going on in the environs. This might just be my tendency to get distracted and it all very much depends on the artist’s installation intentions too, of course, but there were some works that I felt might have faired better in a more traditional gallery space.

Two stand-out works on the island were Yukinori Yanagi’s “Icarus Container” (2018) and “Landscape with an Eye” (2018)

“Icarus Container” is a labyrinth of steel and mirror that reflects on humanities quest for power and advancement through the structure of capitalism and the folly of ego. A giant burning sun at one end references nuclear fusion, while a sky mirror at the opposite end pulls the viewer into the void. Much like Icarus, humanity strives towards self-destruction through unrestrained recklessness.
I enjoyed the texts etched into mirror as you advance through the containers, they were all references to the Icarus myth and to our unsatisfied quest for dominion. When walking one way down the labyrinth the sky was visible, increasing in size behind the etched mirror quotes. Turn around and there was the fire of the sun heading off into the distance. The roiling madness of the furiously burning sun with it’s thunderous soundscape contrasted beautifully with the cool blue emptiness of the Sydney sky.

“Landscape with an Eye” is installed in a different part of the island and also examines humanity’s relationship with the harnessing of power through archival audio visual footage from nuclear explosions. A giant globe hangs suspended in the room with spherical projections giving the illusion that a disembodied eyeball is floating in space. The eye moves spasmodically, it’s iris expanding and contracting, blood vessels visible around it’s circumference. I found this work at once compelling and disturbing. I didn’t at any time feel that the eye was an observer of us, the viewers, but that we in fact were witness to the visions of the eye.

Dissecting symbolism and intention in my latest works

Often when I’m exploring new work I come up against questions that I struggle to answer. In the current series of photos and videos I have been creating I started wondering about some of the symbolism I was drawn to and also the intention behind the desire I have to use women as the protagonists in this particular set. I’m very lucky to have a wealth of thoughtful advice to draw upon in the form of my art peers who don’t mind sitting down with me and having a ponder. In this case I called upon the brains of my friends Justine and Anita to think through with me some of these questions.

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Mary MacGregor-Reid, 2018, Still from video “In the ash that lies at the bottom of the grave, there lies the king’s diadem…”

I have found myself fascinated with the act of pouring. In previous videos I have used the pouring of beeswax, of honey, of carbon and I still have a desire to work with this action. I discussed the symbolism of pouring with Jus and Anita who had some similar thoughts to my own and also expanded upon them with some ideas I hadn’t come to on my own – highlighting the importance of having other thinkers to talk with!

Jus related the act of pouring to having tea with friends, of pouring out a cup for a guest as an act of friendship, of bonding and of interpersonal ritual. She also related it to the act of her mother washing her hair in the bath as a child. I relate to both of these actions as I am an avid tea-drinker and my mum also used to rinse my hair in the bath by pouring water over my head in a sort of bath-time baptism. There is a connotation of caring to these acts and we both mentioned the release of scent and the experience of the sound of water rushing into water. They also seem to be quite feminine acts, things that are often done between women and in the act of caring for others.

The act of pouring can be a sort of gift, as the substance leaves one vessel to then be contained in another, as in the pouring of tea.

It can also signify blending as 2 or more elements are brought together to create a new substance, as when cooking or in chemistry.

There is the cleansing or consecration aspect, as in baptism or ritual anointing.

There is also an idea of a substance transforming, which I think is particularly experienced in the release of scent through the movement of the substance from one place to the next. When pouring non-liquid substances like ash or carbon there is an explosion of dust that comes with the action.

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Mary MacGregor-Reid, 2018, Still from video “In the ash that lies at the bottom of the grave, there lies the king’s diadem…”

I talked to Anita extensively about my use of women as the protagonists in these new works and why I felt that it was important to the work, but could be a problem. This work is not specifically about gender, it isn’t a political statement, but at the same time I felt that my use of female characters could be interpreted in that way, bringing in content that I didn’t really want to be there. This took us around to the symbolism of pouring again and whether in classical art this is seen as a female gesture. Outside neoclassical concrete garden sculptures, we weren’t really sure if this was true, but we were reminded of the fact that the cup is very definitely a symbol of the female.

Both water and the cup or chalice are recognisable as symbols of the feminine. This gives me a bit more insight into where the pouring symbolism along with female protagonists is coming together in this work. Now that I’ve unpicked my unconscious decision-making a bit it has made me very interested to go back and reshoot all the scenes with male protagonists once I’ve finished shooting with women to see how that would affect the work and the viewer’s experience of it. I’ve also started thinking about the sound and scent aspects of the action of pouring and how this could work within the context of these or future pieces. I’ve worked with both sound and scent previously so it seems quite natural to think about how these experiential elements could integrate.

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Mary MacGregor-Reid, 2018, Still from video “In the ash that lies at the bottom of the grave, there lies the king’s diadem…”