Mikala Dwyer @ Hopkinson Mossman 2016

Last Friday I popped into Hopkinson Mossman gallery to enjoy the Mikala Dwyer solo show – I’m a big fan of her work but had never seen an entire gallery install. On entering the gallery there are three of her robe costumes on the lefthand side, with one of her hanging ‘necklaces’ on the right. On entering the main gallery space you encounter three large painted banners, a hanging mobile-type structure and a number of of her fetishistic ritual objects. There was no one else in the gallery which was quite nice because I could spend time with the works and get up close for a good look at the different objects.

The large draped banners immediately reminded me of sacred geometric designs, of mandalas and of the Tree of Life. They changed an became more three dimensional or more flat depending on the angle they were viewed from. The sculptural objects that sat on them seemed like chess pieces waiting to be moved activating the composition. i felt they had a potentiality about them in the sense that they could be performed – the costumes also have this but in a more obvious way because the viewer is quite aware that they could be worn. Perhaps the positioning of the robes and headwear at the entrance to the ain space signalled that an initiate could don the robes and activate the space?

Between 2 of the banners hangs a totemic mobile. It guards the space and the viewer feels that even though they could walk through to the other side, they probably shouldn’t if they know what’s good for them. Maybe donning the mask and robe would make it a safer journey? The feeling of a gateway or passage to another space is amplified by the use of semi-translucent material, translucent gauze and reflective mirror. The mirror does the trick of reflecting back the shapes and objects as well as the viewer and bouncing you around between the structures in the space.

Dwyer uses some wonderful objects in her assemblages. The weirdness and clashing nature of them activate the ritual totemic urgency in the work, creating a dialogue between the materials. In her large necklace piece I particularly enjoyed the lumpy clay weights that hung heavily from the ends of the chain. They served to make the other elements on the ‘decorative’ part of the necklace seem all the more special, magical and precious. On both the necklace and in the main room assemblages there are some of Dwyers trademark moulded pieces; some with other objects embedded in – or more accurately consumed by – the malleable substrate. The multi-hued metallic glaze she has used is like an oil slick over their lumpy surface.

Somehow the install manages to be both noisey and quiet at the same time. You could very  well sit and meditate on the geometric constructs, but you have to be prepared to deal with the cacophony of bold colour and clashing objects.

Wonderful.

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Sydney Biennale Part 2

On the secondary Justine and I caught the train out to Newtown for breakfast and wandered back into the city stopping at Biennale venues along the way. The Carriageworks hosts the Embassy of Disappearance.

“The Embassy of Disappearance addresses themes such as absence, memory, history and archaeology, and concerns in relation to natural resources, politics of spaces and questions of ownership of land.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2384Gerald Machona (2012) Uri Afronaut

The Afronaut works but Gerald Machona were both amusing and poignant. We see the outfits the Afronauts wear displayed as sculptural relics, as well as their journey in the form of a video piece. The costumes made of decommissioned currency parallel the state of the disenfranchised legal alien adrift in their own land. The Afronaut characters reference ‘Nyau’, a form of ritual dance incorporating masks that originates in Malawi.

IMG_2385Gerald Machona (2012) Uri Afrinaut

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2016) Home Movie

Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates film and experimental video works that address memory and representations of reality. He describes the work ‘Home Movie’ as being a ritual space in a cave-like environment where spectators gather to observe the light of the fire. I found this work mesmerising probably due to it’s elemental and ritual nature which are themes that appeal to me personally. I also spent a great deal of time watching the work and thinking about the way it was made; a ring of fire surrounded by fans that blow the fire in gusts and eventually become consumed themselves imitating a dying planet. Jus and I discussed how dangerous this would have been to make what with the electrical-powered fans slowly being consumed by flame. I was thinking about the kind of studio set-up you would require, what sort of fire regulations would need to be in place etc. It was much to our amusement that we discovered the piece is called ‘Home Movie”!

The Embassy of Disappearance is a huge gallery space and I’ve only choose 2 works to show here, but we spent several hours there looking at all the pieces. I got really tangled up with whether certain pieces functioned effectively or not and Jus had to bring me back to the present so we could make it on to the next stage because we were both dying of thirst. After stopping for a drink and a sit-down we continued on to the Embassy of Transition which is housed in the beautiful Victorian Mortuary Station.

“The Embassy of Transition is situated at the Mortuary Station, a former train station in Chippendale used until 1948 to transport coffins from the city to Rookwood Cemetery. Closely related to the Embassy of Spirits, this Embassy brings together two artists who each engage with cycles of life and death, and rites of passage more generally.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2417Charwei Tsai (2016) A Dedication to Those Who Have Passed Through Mortuary Station, Sydney

Charwei Tsai’s coils of incense have scripts written on them in different languages that contemplate the Bardo (the state between death and rebirth). During the course of the Biennale the coils will burn away and will not be replaced. Looking at photos of her incense coils installed in different environments I felt that the Mortuary Station was very ‘busy’ in its setting, it’s ornamentation and style so that the quiet contemplation of the installation was lost. The meaning was still there, but the feeling of that state of transition between worlds was nullified by the visual clutter of new-victorian architecture and the busy tiled floor. I spent some time talking to the woman who had been employed to look after the works in this Embassy (mainly as a zoologist to care for the birds in Marco Chiandetti’s works). Apparently the install had its own set of challenges that I was grateful to hear about; its easy to forget that well established artists deal with the same sorts of unanticipated questions and challenges that we do. Tsai had decided to install the objects lower than she at first envisioned because they would be lost in the rafters and it was definitely more engaging for us viewers to walk amongst them. There was also the challenge of the wind speeding up the burning process – will they last for the entire Biennale? The ash was being blown around the area rather than making circles on the floor, so the attendant was sweeping it up periodically rather than leaving it as it would be in an interior install.

IMG_2413Charwei Tsai (2016) A Dedication to Those Who Have Passed Through Mortuary Station, Sydney

Marco Chiandetti’s ‘The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends and the other begins?’ was installed but not yet active. The large aviaries and birdseed objects were in place but the myna birds intended to inhabit the installation were not yet present due to a hold-up with animal welfare permits. I would very much like to see this work progress over the course of the next couple of months.

We continued on the the Gallery of New South Wales to visit the Embassy of Spirits. Along with the Museum of Contemporary Art, this was the most traditional gallery space.

“The early twenty-first century has seen a dangerous return to fats-based political conviction, with various belief structures becoming associated with extreme views, and violent and harmful acts that impinge on our everyday lives. A belief structure helps us to define what we think and believe about ourselves and the world. It is how we connect to the external world and environment in which we find ourselves. The Embassy of Spirits addresses the place in our lives of belief systems manifested in the form of religious and personal rituals.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2424Mella Jaarsma (2015-16) Dogwalk

Dogwalk by Dutch artist Mella Jaarsma is a set of performative outfits and a video showing performers wearing the costumes within the bounds of a ‘dog walk’. Initially I found the outfits and the video deeply disturbing; I think this could be because I don’t eat meat and am very concerned about animal rights? The costumes with the calf skin trailing it’s legs along the ground (above centre) upset me the most because it seemed like a small animal being dragged to death. For me the ‘Dogwalk’ spoke of the different relationships humans have with animals that are considered companions and those that are considered food. Reading about the artist’s intent it is a similar idea from a different viewpoint; the animal skins are those that have been slaughtered in Islamic ritual, but are being compared to dogs that are considered unclean. There is also the juxtaposition between cultural relationships to animals; in the west we consider dogs companions, in Islamic countries they are haram. She also delves into the idea of the trickster in folklore, the shaman wearing the skins of animals, human-animal hybrids etc. It’s interesting because I’m not repulsed by shamanic characters in animal skins, maybe because there is a reverence at play? I saw no reverence in this use of skins which is perhaps what gave me such a negative reaction? The soundtrack music was jarring yet hypnotic and I felt it was very effective… I’m still not sure how to feel about this work, I think it was the one that affected me the most in terms of repulsion, but at the same time drew me in because I was fascinated by my own reaction.

IMG_2426Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (2016) My Sister’s Ceremony

Walking through the door from ‘Dogwalk’ you encounter Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s My Sister’s Ceremony which I found to be a soothing reprieve from the animal carcasses. A cool, dimly lit room is dappled with light and filled with a dream forest of marked and engraved wooden poles. She uses a meditative mark-making practice as a kind of ritual and an expression of the action of her hands.

IMG_2430Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (2016) My Sister’s Ceremony

IMG_2446Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion 

I enjoy experiential environments and I feel they are a successful way to convey the subtleties of ritual otherworldly experience. ‘My Sisters Ceremony’ did this with darkness and quiet, a womb-like ambience. Taro Shinoda’s Abstraction of Confusion use’s space and bright light together with the cool scent of drying clay to create an environment that conjures the tranquility of zen contemplation. This is a place of stillness, abstraction and thought. The coolness and smell of the space are soothing and work to quiet the mind and promote introspection.

IMG_2445Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion

IMG_2440Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion

IMG_2458Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

Finally, the ‘Liquidation Maps’ of Yin-Ju Chen. When Justine and I saw these we joked that they could be the unholy offspring of both of our art practices! We imagined my work and her work combining and giving birth to this show; detailed drawing, artefacts, alchemy, astronomy, macrocosm and microcosm, diagram-making and historical referencing all in one! In this installation Chen references important events in Chinese history then maps them as cosmic cartographies showing the position of the planets and the stars when the event unfolded. She references the interrelationships between cosmic events and human behaviour, the macrocosm and the microcosm. I appreciated how the works were displayed. Placing them in tables increased the cartographic and scientific presence, if they had been hung on the wall I feel they would have become more decorative and have held less weight.

IMG_2455Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

IMG_2454Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

IMG_2453Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

 

 

Matthew Barney: The Gesamtkunstwerk and Cosmology Creation

Gesamtkunstwerk: a total, ideal, comprehensive, universal work of art. A self-enclosed aesthetic system.

This term is German in origin and has been assimilated into the English language particularly in the realm of aesthetics. It can be seen in the work of artists such as Matthew Barney, who creates huge cosmologies from the linking, the relating and reimagine of concepts and mythologies. I think that it’s also easy to see this idea appearing within conspiracy theory where each smaller theory is added to the whole creating a continuous, seamless compound theory. Believers can be quite flexible in how their theories can mould and change in order to fit in with other, seemingly unrelated conspiracies. But it’s probably fair to say that those who are able to think in this way might not have a lot of practice with critical thinking.

In the novel, ‘Foucault’s Pendulum‘ (Umberto Eco, 1988) three publishers (Casaubon, Diotallevi and Belbo) become obsessed with reading about occult conspiracy theories. The idea of all the links and associations within the occult world is both fascinating and absurd to them so they decide that it would be fun to create their own grand theory (their gesamtkunstwerk?) which they will then release into the world. Unfortunately they become the target of some real occult societies who think they possess some secret knowledge (the whereabouts of the Templar treasure). The three creators start to wonder if their creation is not just something they dreamed up after all but have, in fact, stumbled upon a real conspiracy. Over time they become unsure whether what they are doing is just a game or whether they are in real danger.

The story looks at the links and associations that appear within occultism and how they can be manipulated to create new cosmologies. Seemingly absurd ideas and flimsy connections can be linked together to create new webs of meaning. In Foucault’s Pendulum the friends use a computer to create these connections in a way that they believe is completely random, but seems to create a cohesive whole that even the creators become hard-pressed to remember is a fabrication.

Matthew Barney creates huge, elaborate all-encompassing cosmologies with his long-running works “The Cremaster Cycle” and his latest “River of Fundament”. In River of Fundament Barney explores Egyptian mythology in relation to American mythologies (particularly industrial America) through the lens of Norman Mailer’s “Ancient Evenings“. The trials of reincarnation and rebirth are told as a journey down the shit filled currents of American waterways and the body of Mailer is reimagined as classic american cars whose bodies are pulled apart and reassembled, cast from metals and displayed as living sculptures. The work is huge in scope, incorporating live performance, video, sculpture, music, drawing and writing. His sculptural pieces for River of Fundament both appear and are created within the performance, are replayed in the video and displayed as sculptural artefacts (see previous entry on trace of performance). The richness and complexity of Barney’s cosmologies seems to allow them to take on a mythological position separate from Barnet’s narrative. Much like The Plan in Foucault’s Pendulum, Barney’s creations take on a life of their own which lives outside their creator.

6766994b-60dd-4442-ac2c-b7c379c6192f-2060x1236The Chrysler Imperial is dismantled (dismembered) and melted down to prepare for it’s rebirth

70e4e_nov21_ona_imgRouge Battery (2014) cast copper and iron

MB_Geuter_10_630x350_03Sekhu (2014) Cast sulfur, salt,copper, bronze and brass. These sculptural objects appear in the performance and film recording

“The melding of the self with the artistic figure, and the development of an entire complex of relations to the corporeal and the mythic, fit Barney’s retinue of allegorical codes.”
Enwezor, O. “Portals and Processions” in Enwezor, O. Matthew Barney: River of Fundament (2014) Neri, L. (ed) New York, USA: Kira Rizzoli Publications (P251)

“There is something Houdini-like in the way in which Barney weaves in and out of his narratives: now an actor; now an athlete; now a dancer; now a performance artist; now a mythological figure. To see these transformations as the assumptions of “roles” is to miss Barney’s crucial insight into the way in which the artist is both internal to the meaning and making of the work, and as a shaper or builder, hovers outside and around the work. Barney suggests that many artists are conscious of “being simultaneously present and absent, and how that feeling manifests itself in an object”.
Bhabha, H. “On the Changing Space of Things: Memory and Cartography in the Making of Narrative Sculpture” in Enwezor, O. Matthew Barney: River of Fundament (2014) Neri, L. (ed) New York, USA: Kira Rizzoli Publications (P270)

The above two quotes have caused me to think about ideas that were hovering around the periphery of my research. I’ve found that in my work over the last year and a half there has been elements of the performative in nearly everything I’ve made. Many of the pieces have elicited comments to the effect that, as the artist, I was somehow a director or guide to the viewer’s experience of the work. This is something that was never explicitly intended at the time, but that has started to more consciously manifest itself, particularly in performance work or work that requires the viewer to interact with it in a performative manner. With the work “Hive Oracle” I took on the role of the character in the video, but more that that, I felt that the character was a part of me, as the artist, rather than purely a role I was enacting. Adding to that, it was far from obvious that I, the artist, was the one playing this role. I see this also in Barney’s work; with him being quite famous now, it’s usually obvious that he is portraying the character (or characters) in the work. But from my viewing of his work I have always felt that it was more than just assumptions of roles and that the creation of the characters was a manifestation of aspects of the artist himself.

In my current work in progress I’m working with performative video again as I feel there is a lot for me to explore using that medium. I’m also still very interested in the way artists like Barney and Dwyer create works that weave together performance and object, so looking at the role of object as trace or artefact is ongoing for me. I can see the work building upon itself and reimagining aspects of previous work within new work to create that layering and linking of meaning found within this creation of cosmologies.

“I think it is a fascinating model for object making; this way of working, where things that have nothing to do with each other are placed together as if a form of alchemy could happen and a material transformation could take place between the two states of material”.
Matthew Barney quoted in Enwezor, O. Matthew Barney: River of Fundament (2014) Neri, L. (ed) New York, USA: Kira Rizzoli Publications (p271)


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Horus

100 Images

Caroline gave me a very useful exercise to do which involves taking 100 images and sorting them. I had several folders of images that I’d been collecting from over the course of the last year and a half – some of them are images of contemporary art but a lot of them are just images I liked and felt drawn to.

I did a first sort where I used all of the images and found places for them.
Then I did a second and third sort where I looked for specific aspects relating to my practice and content for my oral presentation. I added in a few of my own works so I could find their place in the image groupings.

FIRST SORT

IMG_1810ARTEFACT


IMG_1808ENVIRONMENTAL

IMG_1806EXPERIENTIAL

IMG_1809DIAGRAMATIC

IMG_1812UNNERVING / OTHERWORDLY

IMG_1813COSTUME AND RITUAL

IMG_1811ANCESTRY

IMG_1807ICONOGRAPHY

SECOND SORT

IMG_1815PERFORMANCE

IMG_1816PERFORMATIVE

IMG_1817BOTH PERFORMANCE AND PERFORMATIVE (I actually wondered whether the Ren Ri hive work should be in this group because the bees themselves are actually performing while the viewer observes the work)

THIRD SORT

IMG_1818PERFORMANCE TO CAMERA

IMG_1819OBEJCT CONVERSATIONS, BOTH HETEROGENEOUS AND HOMOGENEOUS

I’m going to keep these images, add to them and continue my sorting process to distill further ideas. I find the sorting and thinking to be really useful and I wonder if I’ll come back and move some of the images out of the groups I’ve placed them in? There are a number of images that appear over and over in my sorts and I feel those ones are important to my practice.

Wunderruma

Anita and I visited the Auckland Art Gallery this afternoon to view the Wunderruma jewellery show. It was more exciting than I expected as the curators had chosen to explore the concept of jewellery in many interesting ways. Not only did we see many decorative, wearable pieces but they also provided examples of jewellery in and as image, jewellery as sculpture, as installation and as artefact.

I was particularly thrilled to see one of Mikala Dwyer’s necklace installations as I had been looking at pictures of them today in relation to the language of things. IMG_1793Mikala Dwyer, Methylated Spiritual (2012) photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery

Speaking of heterogeneous object collections there were several I saw in the exhibition. This one is a collection from the Randell Family cottage, discovered in a small hole behind the chimney.
Obviously someones little stash of magical objects!

IMG_1798

IMG_1800 IMG_1801Hany Armanious, Turns in Arabba (2005) Photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery

This Hany Armanious work has a fascinating collection of objects presented on an altar-like shelf and in various stages of creation and transformation. This work had me pondering around how it expressed the jewellery theme of the exhibition. Was it the casting of the objects? Their decorative shapes and method of display? The way they ornament their altar/shelves? The sound added an extra dimension to the work by seeming to fill the negative space around and between the objects.

Another thing of note was the very unusual display strategy of stacked perspex cubes for the smaller pieces. At some points I felt it didn’t work as the small items on the lower cubes got a bit lost and I don’t think it works to force a viewer to bend over uncomfortably when the intent is display rather than as a function of the artwork. But overall I found the display strategy engaging and interesting, it also allowed for the viewing of many small objects without breaking up the gallery spaces with standardised, waist level display tables.

IMG_1803

This exhibition appealed to me in particular because of my own interest in jewellery. I found that it opened up my ideas around jewellery and it’s possibilities in my art practice. The wide variety of objects and images allowed me to see the concept of ‘jewellery’ in more than just decorative of wearable terms, but also objects that can be brought into installation or sculptural conversations.

Mikala Dwyer and The Language of Things

“Walter Benjamin understood the true collector’s collection as a ‘magic encyclopedia’. Such a collection is animated. It acquires a life of it’s own. What is more, when objects are added to it they undergo a rebirth as they are placed in this new context.”
Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P26, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

“According to Benjamin this language of things is mute, it is magical and it’s medium is material community.”
Steyerl, H. (2006) The Language of Things, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0606/steyerl/en

Over the years I’ve had many collections; collections of objects that I felt were significant in some way, collections of images that I wanted to return to and put into order (these orders would change as I revisited them), collections of items I wanted to make something out of, to change into another object that becomes a new thing by the sum of it’s parts. In a way they were all potential collages, both two dimensional and three dimensional. Why do collections appear to have their own innate power? Adding or subtracting from them can change their very nature and the nature of the new addition or subtraction.

Benjamin suggests that objects have their own innate language that is expressed in their relationships to each other. (Steyerl, H. (2006) The Language of Things ). We, as humans, come along and name them, try to impose, vocalise, amplify their language with our own. Benjamin refers to this as the Language of Judgement which I suppose means that the Things (capital T!) allow each other to be content with their original thingness while we are unable to resist imposing our own language upon them.

I have seen these ideas expressed in the Mikala Dwyer’s ‘Additions and Subtractions’ works, the collections of objects that create a conversation between themselves and a magical space in which to exist and explore their ‘thingness’. The works are never the same and Dwyer is never sure what they are going to be, bringing large numbers of objects with her and then responding to the environment and the relationships of the objects to each other and their surrounds. The circles created in the ‘Additions and Subtractions’ works create an otherworldly space within their circumference that is created by their conversations with each other. Sometimes, as in ‘An Apparition of a Subtraction’ (2010) Dwyer will add other elements to the collections such as smoke and sound to create a ‘sonic object’ within the circle. She also utilises materials and forms that draw on her family history; blocks of stone from Cockatoo Island where her parents lived and shapes from her mothers jewellery making practice (see Goldene Bend’er, 2013).

Dwyer tries to limit her ‘language of judgement’ by allowing her Things to realise their own language.
“I try to get to a point where things can speak for themselves rather than having me impose my voice upon them.”
Mikala Dwyer in conversation with Robert Leonard. p57 Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

002Mikala Dwyer ‘An Apparition of a Subtraction’ (2010).

_MG_2803Mikala Dwyer ‘Goldene Bend’er’ (2013).
Objects reminiscent of the shapes of her mothers rings

I really enjoy the variety of size and materials in Dwyers objects. The same form may be repeated over and over but take on a completely different life depending on it’s dimensions and materiality. I also appreciate the way they create windows and vignettes for each other, giving the viewer new perspectives and insight into the conversations between the Things.

“The circle then becomes a defined space of activity in which the conversations between forms matter far more than the forms themselves. This reversal of focus, from the installation’s positive solidity to the negative spaces it leaves, is similar to the experience of a séance, which invites participants to believe certain arrangements of objects and bodies in space will create electrical fields that enable spirits to transform or reappear.”
Byrt, A. Prism Break. P12, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

I would go so far as to say that the above idea can be related to much ceremonial ritual practice, where the gathering of specifically chosen Things creates an energy between both the Things and the practitioner that enables the experience of the otherworldly. The language of the Things imparts an importance to the ceremony that enables the practitioner to believe in the ritual and remove the conscious (and skeptical) mind from the proceedings. Michael Taussig suggests that Mikala Dwyer exhibits both scepticism and faith in equal measure (Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P26, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.) and this is an idea I relate to in my own work and, indeed, my own life. I’m an entirely skeptical atheist but at the same time inexplicably drawn to the occult, the esoteric, the otherworldly. I don’t see these stances as being oppositional to each other, indeed the flourishing of occult practice in conjunction with the emergence of Modernism around the turn of the last century brings together metaphysical thinking with the western scientific worldview in a strange amalgamation of the rational and the mystical. Friedrich Fröbel’s rather mystical thinking produced the Kindergarten movement which exerted a significant effect on certain Modernist schools. And Dwyer herself utilises a form of modernist, esoteric practice in the way she assembles her Things, using a Fröbel-esque approach to uncovering the objects relationships to each other.

It seems that the interplay between the Things is strongest and most ‘electric’ when the collection is heterogeneous, when the objects clash, confuse and challenge. This can be seen in Dwyers circle works as much as on in the collections of magical practitioners. The image below shows a West African Voudou altar where Catholic icons sit side by side with jewellery, traditional pottery, stones, snakes and offerings of food and drink.

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When looking at Dwyers collections of Things it’s easy to see them reflected in the magical collections of both traditional shamanic ritual and of western ceremonial tradition, as well as their relationship to the ‘magic encyclopedia’ that Walter Benjamin describes. Michael Taussig makes a connection between Things and the human relationship to the otherworldly:

“Could it be that magical practice through the ages needs things so as to maintain a relationship with the non-human, thing world?”
Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P27, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

Maybe it does, especially if Things speak the language of creation, or as Benjamin described it, the residue of the word of god. (Benjamin, W. (1916) On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/chaucer’swake/LanguageofMan.pdf

Trace of Performance

In replying to a question from the crowd at a Tate Talk, Gabriel Orozco brings up an incredibly useful observation on trace of performance (Gabriel Orozco: In Conversation, Tate Talks, Oct 2014). He states that he tries to avoid any sense of the ‘relic’ in his work, he wants the work to be truly present, in that it is happening now, not that it has happened in the past. He feels that much of art is a residue of a performative action, but that is not necessary to show the performance. The discovery of the performative action can be found in what is created, but it should be an instrument that is of use to the viewer, not just the leftovers of a party that the viewer wasn’t invited too.

I’ve been grappling with this concept of performative trace and how I can work with it in my practice. It’s all too easy to create a situation where the viewer feels they’ve “missed the party” and the presented work becomes flat, dead and boring. What can a viewer take from something that has nothing to offer them? The idea that the trace is still vibrant, that it’s an instrument of action is quite exciting!

Looking at some pertinent works featuring the trace of the abscent artist has given me more perspective on what is successful and why. “Levitation” (1970), Terry Fox is a piece that uses the leftovers of a performance that stand as a work without the presence of the artist. Fox uses a mattress made of earth surrounded by a circle of blood as a bed from which he attempts to levitate. The process of attempted levitation is not witnessed by viewers as, although it is within the gallery space, it is behind closed doors. After the performative period the imprint of the artists body is visible in the earth creating an impression that would not have been there without the ritualistic performance.

largeFox-Terry-Levitation-Richmond-Art-Center-1970“Levitation” (1970), Terry Fox

Janine Antoni’s work “Eureka” (1993) is, for me, an even more interesting work involving the impression left by the artist’s body. She lies in a tub of lard, the lard that is displaced is the same volume as the artist’s body. She then uses the displaced lard with lye to make soap with which she washes her body. The trace left for the viewer is the bathtub of lard with the impression of her body and the body sized cake of soap that has been worn from use on the artist body. This work has a progression and transformation that make it very active, it has a narrative that can be grasped simply from encountering the static trace of bath, lard and soap. Lying in the lard = performance, the tub with the impression = bodily trace, soap made from lard = creation, washing with the soap = action, the display of the soap and the bath become sculptural.

1ff48e981Janine Antoni, “Eureka” (1993)

In contrast I looked at Anthony Gormley’s “Bed” (1981), a mattress of bread slices with the outline of two figures cut into the surface. This work is different to “Levitation” and “Eureka” in that the outlines have been carefully cut into the bread, not pressed by the weight of a real body. The outlines are not the trace of a body, they are a facsimile or performance of the idea of a body. This is obviously an intentional part of Gormley’s work, but when looking at my own work there have been times when I wanted to create the trace of an event but have ended up artificially staging it rather than actually allowing the event to be performed. This compromised the authenticity of the work, it made the event less believable, it became poised, staged, fake and lacking in action.

uk_whitechapel_1981_003_refAnthony Gormley, “Bed” (1981)

This brings be back around to Gabriel Orozco’s ideas about the trace as instrument. If the performance is not encountered live by the viewer I need to carefully consider the validity and interest of the performative trace and not allow it to be a diffused situation with no possibilities and no interest to the viewer.

Work from September 2014

I realised that I hadn’t posted progress photos of my work from September last year and January this year.

Looking back on this work is curious… it’s interesting and it seems like a step towards what I’m trying to create, but just and experiment with materials and ideas. I went from the very clinical, minimalist object work in July to using much more natural materials and attempting a more active work. I say ‘attempting’ because it was an attempt and an experiment rather than a success.

I found a great deal of enjoyment working with wax, wood and resin. I also found that scent and some sort of sensual experience is an important part of the work I want to create.

Artist’s Statement:

 

“Examining the role of boundaries and thresholds in establishing areas of safety and discomfort.
Creating ritual ‘happenings’ that instigate a transformation and leave behind a residue or resolution.
I have started to push into areas I discovered in both semester one and two; working through viewers reactions to exclusionary subject matter.
When an event happens inside a performative space how does that affect the viewer? What if it breaks out of that space? What if the viewer has to step inside a delineated boundary? Can a threshold be captured inside a boundary and diffused or made ‘safe’?”

Holy Smoke: An Adoration of Our Star (2014)
(pine, copper, beeswax, glass, obsidian, charcoal, benzoin resin, kauri gum, frankincense, Abramelin resin, voice.) 

Fools Gold (2014)
(pine, beeswax, salt, pyrite, myrrh resin)

This work set me up to look at trace and residue of rituals or other performative happenings. It got me thinking about performance as a viable practice for me and it pushed me to acknowledge that my work was too ‘poised’ and therefore lacked the legitimacy of a real happening, even when one had occurred.  It also made me think about the positioning of elements within a space and how the viewer experienced them. Does performance occur in the space? How is it documented? What does it leave? Could the happening be about to occur rather than have finished? Could it be occurring during viewing? It also got me thinking about using the elements of esoteric ritual in a less obvious way; e.g. beeswax can say what it needs to say without being a candle.

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Holy Smoke: An Adoration of Our Star (2014)
(pine, copper, beeswax, glass, obsidian, charcoal, benzoin resin, kauri gum, frankincense, Abramelin resin, voice.) 

I constructed a natural pine platform/altar with an enclosing glass and copper box on top. Using the idea from John Dee’s Enochian system of using wax as an insulator I filled the base of the platform with beeswax and sat the feet on 4 beeswax disks to keep it from touching the ground. Charcoals were set on 4 pieces of obsidian and lit to burn 4 types of resinous gum. A ritual adoration for the sun was performed (necessity meant it had to be performed outside due to fire alarms which meant the ritual was not in the gallery space and also a lot of the smell was lost). The ritual was then enclosed in the box where the the smoke pooled and finally died leaving only melted wax, charred carbon and a lingering scent.

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The altar during the ritual adoration.

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A test of the work at home showing the smoke-filled case.

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Fools Gold (2014)
(pine, beeswax, salt, pyrite, myrrh resin)

This work was a broken ring of salt and basalt with a ‘popped’ box shooting resin crystals outside the confines of the circle. I used the same materials for this work as for the previous one, but although I really enjoy the objects  and the overall idea, I think this work mostly failed. It was a good test for me to experience what would happen if I made a work like this and let me see how much further it needed to be pushed.

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Sculpture for a possible future

Ashley Zelinskie works in a future where we have reached the singularity and machines live on par with humans. Her work examines the way machines and humans view the word differently and how works can be made that can be appreciated by both. Her laser cut and 3d printed objects are covered with hexadecimal code which, in the simplest sense, allows both human and machine to observe the object – if a computer were to read the code it would ‘see’ the object.

There are some interesting questions within her work around how to teach machines to see art, how to give them an appreciation of the subtle, the non-logical. But I’m not sure where the work goes from there? If this future she imagines is not reached then does the work become less? If machines do become able to read the work does it lose it’s place as an artwork and become utilitarian? What is the value in machines being able to appreciate art? Is it an attempt to make them understand the human experience? Why would they need to do that?

There are also some questions for me around the use of laser cut and 3d printed materials to produce work that has meaning beyond being an aesthetically pleasing item. I love the aesthetics of her work, but being seduced by aesthetics is an easy trap to fall into. I feel like the use of these new technologies is a very tricky area thats more complicated than, say, the use of fabricated works by the Minimalist sculptors, because it’s such a seductive method that allows the maker to easily create things that would have previously required intensive labour. But like Adobe software doesn’t necessarily create good design, a method like laser cutting doesn’t necessity make good art and, as artists, we need to be careful of being seduced by new technological methods unless our work specifically requires use of those methods. It seems to work for an object that can be appreciated my a machine to be machine-made, but what if it was handmade? What would that mean?

An Overly Optimistic Take on Our Post-Human Existence

http://www.ashleyzelinskie.com

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From left to right: Ashley Zelinskie, “Octahedron” (2014); “Dodecahedron” (2015); “Icosahedron” (2015), all 3-D printed nylon, various sizes

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Golden Ratio 2013, 6.5″ x 4″ x 1″  3d printed gold plated stainless steel

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Ashley Zelinskie, “US Hexahedron” (2013), laser-cut aluminum, 5’x 5’ x 5’

Unmonumental – Object in the 21st Century

“Recuperating the tradition of assemblage and the prehensile alertness of collage, todays sculpture seems to be less engaged in interrogating its own status than it is over excited by the idea of annexing the whole world to it’s own body.” p65

This blog entry is in response to the essay;
Gioni, M. (2007) Ask The Dust.
Flood, R. Hoptman, L. Gioni, M (Ed.) (2007) Unmonumental – Object in the 21st Century. London, England: Phaidon Press.

I found this essay by M. Gioni to be a very good precis of the changes in sculptural practice from classical form to 21st Century object based works. It extends my understanding from Rosalind Krauss’s writing on the Extended Field into contemporary practice.

Gioni starts much as Krauss did, discussing the tradition of sculpture as tied to the monumental; statues of remembrance, funerary monuments, depictions of people and things past or legendary. It’s permanence and solidity was important, it was placed on a pedestal creating a separation between the place the viewer exists and the place the sculpture exists.

Modernism sees the sculpture brought down from it’s pedestal or the pedestal is incorporated into the sculpture itself. Both Gioni and Krauss draw attention to Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column” as a seminal work in this era. Not only was the work autonomous and free standing it also was non site-specific and was made a number of times in different materials and scales in different spaces; in several cases actually becoming hugely monumental.

The monumental was still present when sculptural work moved in the Expanded Field. Many of those works – particularly the site construction and marked site works – were hugely ambitious in scope and size. In the 1960s Minimalist sculpture still held onto the monumental through it’s extreme manufactured, artificial appearance and use of industrial materials. Gioni also includes installation work in his assessment of the monumental through it’s often grandiose experiential qualities.

He sees the emergence of unmonumental 21st century sculptural work thusly:
“… the emergence of this sculptural language has been rather spontaneous and disorderly, and it has only recently coalesced into a more recognisable pattern.” p65

It seems that this form of object-making has been born from an affluent world exhausted by commodity and filled with refuse. (Gioni points out that this art practice is mainly found in the US and Europe). It is not a collective or cohesive creativity, it is not concerned with relational aesthetics, it is brought together more by an interest in incorporating found objects, secondhand images, detritus and waste items. It has strong ties to the Arte Povera movement with it’s anti-establishment, nonconventional desire to break down the barriers between ‘art’ and common items.

“It is a profoundly modest, radically anti-heroic art…” p68

While reading this book I was drawn to the work of Matthew Monahan. His work incorporates plinths and glass cases that harken back to the classically monumental; the classic form of sculpture as artefact of remembrance and the plinth and case as display methods separating the art from the viewer. Monahan’s work defies the monumental in part by it’s use of material and in part by it’s quiet, reflective nature. I love the drywall used in the plinth-type structures, the way the edges crumble, the way it’s tacked together, the bright colours of the surface and the stark white of the interior, how it looks like it’s just offcuts from a building site that have been pulled out of a bin. I also love the rather random, found, broken nature of the objects that are ‘displayed’ upon the plinths and within the glass. Some of them have an almost traditional bronze, ceramic or stone sculptural quality but are distorted or broken, combined with bits of this and that, both venerated and degraded. They remind me of personal reliquaries where various treasures are collected and stored, they have private significance but their specialness might not be understood by anyone else.

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Matthew Monahan. Selection of work from Saatchi Gallery

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Matthew Monahan (2005) Guild of Mad Builders
Drywall, wax, pigment, metal, paper, 155 x 22 x 22cm