Sunday, October 29, 2006

some anonymous place between her legs

I got a promo email from the MCA about the Juan Davila show that's ONLY ON UNTIL 12 NOVEMBER 2006.

Apparently punter number have been down and the scarey old garde critics like Johny Mac and Smeethers have canned it, so the MCA are trying to flog the show off CHEAP.

Purchase a ticket to visit the Juan Davila exhibtion at the MCA, present the ticket stubb at the MCA store and receive a free, limited edition notebook or poster worth $19.95.

For the day of your visit only you will also receive 10% off any product purchased in the MCA store.
Offer valid only between 28 October and 4 November 2006.
The MCA store and shop is open daily 10am - 5pm
Admission: $10 Adult / $7 concession / MCA members free.
For more information about Juan Davila please see the MCA website.

I went and saw the Davila show a few weeks ago and spent a whole delirious afternoon staring, drawing and writing notes, sustained only by the odd pie from circular quay.

Since then I've found it really hard to put my sheer delight into words.

You know the tacit cultural myth that art critics are meant to review work in an objective manner? Well it’s shit. Davila is big and well known – and he’s one of the reasons why I decided to study painting. (Wendy Sharpe's Archibald winning piece was another). For some reason I came across the Fable of Australian Painting” and decided that if people could be that savage and delightful with the drippy stuff then that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Davila's works are about excess - a crazed prmiscuity of references - jumbling madly wildly within each other in the most deliriously libidinal wya imaginable.

If Immants Tillers is the Ozzie godfather of POMO - then no wonder people hate the stuff. I find tillers bloody dry! restrained pallets, restrained references, choice neat quotes.

Davila is much more me cup off Camp billy tea - for me the POMO condition is like the excess of internet porn pop-ups on my computer screen.... and this is what davila's work exudes. Insane, parodic libidinal excess.... you can pick it apart , pull it, run with it and be pulled by the multilayered connotations.

and Davila has that crazy condorito humour that reminds me of why I like chileans os much - and he infuses it with the limipid aussie larrikinism (TM) to push all our envelopes.

So. I laughed.

I also cried.

The Woomera pieces - were starkly, intenseley moving. but this raw middle aged panterley politess was nicely set-off by the owmmera condom vending machine print (showing a condom made form loofah fabric). do you see why I love the guy?

The catalogue is so big and comprehensive that I am reluctant to repeat most of the wonders of the show here. Davila gives me reason to live. to fight, to fuck & to enjoy life and to scream out its contradictions and my despair in crazy peals of laughter, anger and song.

He also had the scariest versions of vulvas I've seen in long time. It's enough to drive person to sodomy.

I know I’m going to sound like a wanker if I start talking about some nice course that I’m teaching at Sydney Uni, and name dropping dead French philosophers, but I’ve never denied my onanism.

I’m a wanker. In as many ways, forums and positions as possible. I do it alone and in company, and it is one of the main reasons I don’t get out to openings anymore.

One day, having left my bed of play, I attended an amazing lecture about place, territory, home and habitus, and how our bodies feel a landscape or a space.

Pierre Bourdieu’s word “habitus” gets bandied about a lot. And it sounds like habitat, and evokes some sociological version of a nature documentary here we see the subject negotiating their positionality in a complex world of shifting signs…” etc. – but PB (being a legend) and Ghassan Hage (also being a legend) takes the notion of habitus further.

Evoking habitus as the accumulation of bodily knowledges (how to walk through your house after dark, how to know when to cross a familiar road against the traffic lights, how to walk through a shop or a street), PB evokes habitus as a much richer, much deeper set of sensations and experiences. And it gives a damn pithy explanation for why tourists always look like such dorks.

“Memory is bodily sedimentation of tasks accomplished”

My copy of Gaston Bachelard’s “the poetics of space” is on a friend’s bookshelf so I can’t give you the page reference for some nice quote he had about the phenomenology of the encounter between our bodies and territory: not only are our bodies shaped by our surroundings – but our capacity to experience apprehend and render meaningful our surroundings as itself in relation to our bodies, and the way our bodies have been shaped by them…… space is a product of the body which is a product f space. Or place.

As we walk through a place “the contours of landscape enter our muscular consciousness” and “its as if the street itself has muscles”. We FEEL our encounter with space around us as an encounter with another body. The ground touches us as we touch it. Objects are shaped and invested with our own fleshy affect…….

Such high falutin ponderings flooded my mind when I checked out Willurei Kirkbright-Burney’s video installation at Mori Gallery last week.

(its on until 4th November and you have to walk past the scary WA brothel photos by Karron Bridges – to get to a tiny little back room with kiddie chairs. )
both artists have used images of their own body – a common thing – and both works are nominally about body, place and culture. But I felt that “Peel” was a lot bigger, and more evocative of how a link between place, flesh and memory actually FEELS.

“Peel” consists of a lingering crawl over Willerei’s body, onto which transparencies of topographic maps had been projected. So the colour and space is already a bit weird, and adds to the dreamlike sequences of other splices in the DVD.

There’s a funny voyeuristic tease – but it’s more dreamlike and weird. Bits of rain like viola’s ascension series, a disconnected floating hand, and the close audio thrums bring us deeply into a space where our own body feels in contact with the projected flesh in front of us.

The projection presents a profoundly bodily encounter with flesh, space and territory. With kinaesthetic geographies, how place is embedded on bodies. Willurei's scarred, wrinkled pulled lines of flesh, her pores, and hairs are mingled with the raised ridged contours of the topographic charts. These are based on mapping of magnetic deposits around western NSW, with magnetic lines echoing the striated scars along the flesh beneath.

This use of video projection as installation, something we step inside, transforms the cyclopean disembodiment of the camera into a deeply visceral kinaesthetic eye. The piece is not about representation or decoding –but creating an experience, an affinity and an empathy. Seeing, sensing flesh, the mapping of meaning and place and territory onto flesh. Feeling our own bodies sway and echo projected vibrations within, sensing our own unfamiliarity with space, with place, and our vulnerability, is REALLY RATHER NICE.

I’d recommend people go and have a seat, have a stare, feel your body and have a ponder. Those who prefer disembodied thoughts to wordless ambiguities of visceral affect can think of nice confining categories and explanations; that part of Willurei's family are Wiradjuri, that her flesh is encoded with connotations of territory and colonial mapping in western NSW, that she’s creating a nice resistive rereading of the terms by which kooris get contained, confined, removed, categorise by place, time, memory and history. But because cultural resistance to genocide and political defeat always seems like such nice remote comfort, I prefer to imagine the trajectory taken by feeling, by association. Even honky white mongrels feel bodily attachment to places. Settler cultures mask our own strange connections to invaded lands beneath the nasty politics of guilt and denial, but maybe, just maybe, allowing some bodily affinities between indigenous and non-indigenous, (and I don’t mean a rootfest) – but a space where connections between land, place, memories and bodies meet….. well, hell, I dunno actually, but I liked the video.

O liked it more that the “Wik” video which was more of a straightforward documentary of a place I’ve never been in a language I don't speak. OK it was subtitled, and the food looked great and the lands are beautiful, but exoticism makes me feel ICKY. Looking at somewhere remote and beautiful, I feel cast in the role of tourist, and I imagine the heat, the mozzies, my own scratchy pale skin as pink and lumpy and sweaty, and purse my lips and think self righteous condemnations of honkies playing heroics in wild brown lands. But the WIK video is important – coz actually it’s all about to go pear shaped. Another two bauxite mines have been approved for the area, and environmental campaigners haven’t been allowed in to the remote areas to discuss the implications with the indigenous custodians. I kid you not. Bringing the video and the video makers to Sydney created a series of contact zones, between environmentalists and remote communities. Relational Aesthetics eat your bloody heart out!

Aside form Day street – I went and checked out Giacometti and the Dobell at AGNES and then had a longer stay at the MCA. (Giacometti is a famous artist and his work is great. Most of the works in the Dobell were a bit derivative of Kentridge, of Auerbach, and the new cool drawing school – but it’s free so worth having a gander)

On the way up to Davila which closes in 2 weeks – and which has a half price special on to drag in more punters, I checked out Primavera coz lots of people have said that primavera this year is shit.

I hate to go against the grain of popular opinion – but I liked most of it. (Maybe I just need to get out more). I thought opportunities were missed in terms of the arrangement. I reckon pieces could have been brought together a bit more sensitively and explained more – coz some of the stuff was quite clunky and it needed to be inviting. Dragging work from artists run initiatives and site specific street scapes into a white walled clean floored cultural container

There was nothing really mind-blowingly brilliant – but I thought the show overall was a nice prelude to Davila. The most obvious connection was with David Griggs whose bright crude graffiti style paintings looked great embedded on a ‘site specific 2D work’. (In English this means that some bits were done on the wall and there was a red mesh curtain).

In the same room Peter Mackay had what looked like bland photographic stellarscapes – until you could see a shoe edge. Intriguing. Here I reckon a bit of actual agitprop site specific installation would heave helped. McKay works outdoors – placing glitter onto oil spills – trying to aestheticise the banal. This made a bit more sense with the photographs of glittered sprouting potatoes, emblazoned with banal mantras as “No Regrets”, “Save yourself”, “Keep Breathing” and the shrivelled bread roll with “Believe”.

Tres noice liminality award goes to Christian de Villiers – with recreations of the circular quay buskers and the morphing museum barrier-boat tie along the red carpet. I reckon a CD of the Jamaican guy would not have gone astray – but the whole ensemble was a nice site specific segue between touristmania outside and the sombre spectacling gallery public. (also tourist mania but a bit quieter).

Actually I reckon they should have stuck the galleries donations request bucket in front of the sculptures. Or had slots in them – made them interactive. But that’s just me.

Round the corner – there was, what I found was the least engaging piece (for me). The Wilkins hill duo – “plague of inheritance”. (Hell, and isn’t it just! ) seemed to reference the worst stereotypes of bad emerging art without enough other stuff to ground as effective irony or sheer sensuous enjoyment. A brief catalogue of offending aspects were: ‘deep’ title, referencing some essential Grande scheme of the human condition. 2. Gratuitous and incongruous reference to pop culture (the multiple screens of morphed Bart Simpson characters). The gratuitous but cold deployment of slick consumer objects as sculpture (the aluminium screens upon which the installation was mounted. Incongruous and banal video projections (of a running tap and a spa), and some scary references to subconscious in the floor sheets. Hill was quoted in the floor sheet as seeing the piece as a ‘platform for a decayed but muted expression”, but I reckon it was just pomo-pastiche lite, and way too ‘90’s for my liking. I hate to bag out work, but playing with a complex set of codes, smack bang in the middle of a thoroughfare, presenting a stylised self conscious spectacle of the alienation of everyday life, is, well, alienating. People do just go ‘err, that’s shit’ (I know coz I saw them do it) and walk away. I had flashbacks to the Palais de Tokyo before it got all relational and did the same.

Fortunately the wall nearby had charm, quirkiness, affect, humour all wound up in words and pictures. Chaynni Henri's series of cartoons were GREAT and reminded me of how much I miss TextaQueen. It’s interesting how the dumb drawing approach seems to be so appealing. Henri’s flattened distorted figures, outlined in black and with bold simplified planes of acrylic colour actually belie a strong and skilled pictorial ability. The cutesy kiddie style comments, and the pencil lines ruled beneath each line of texta written text reminded me of school project books. This sort of pop cultural reminder – actually worked to fulfil a lot of the claims of the Wilkins-Hill piece, but there was so much wit and warmth in the text. My favourite line of the week is “she grabbed his aviator sunnies and squelched them in some anonymous place between her legs and stuck them back on his head”. Maybe I’m just a sucker for redemption. Coz the Retablo piece, dedicated to the virgin of “Tiwi and Arafura”, thanking her for removing Henri's family from Palmerston, reminded me of the delightful capacity of imagination and play to transform banality and hell into something fun and surprising.

The quiet room on the right had a series of scary candle glass lady objects by Benjamin Armstrong. They reminded me of Hans Bellmer’s ‘poupees', but I had to admire the craft. I got down on my knees, onto the lino floor and prayed to Ricky swallow. I then saw what some sort of statement about installation, assemblage and the everyday – but Katherine Huang. I reckon her piece would have gone better next to Simon Yates in the next room. Just for fine reruns of the fun-plays of arte-povera (and not the kleenwipe version presented at the MCA 4 years ago) – but mad clunky clutter. Odd juxtapositions of alienated objects that are still contemplatably beautiful. Yates stuff tho – his balloon robot and mad little scruffy machines have far more grounding in Psycho-geography and Paraphysis. Hands up who knows what that means? Probably not many visitors to the MCA –and there was no mention on the floor sheets. This is a damn shame and I wish Rheuban Keenan was still at the MCA to engineer some gallery educational bit so the punters could see the connection. I took Yates’s transparent map – rewriting a derive of Sydney harbour as central Paris – and decided to go on a wanter and pretend I was in the 9eme.

This is one of the dilemmas of curation: coz art historians and theory nuts and aged art punters like ‘moi’ – know the work know the plays and see the possibilities of what the works are trying to evoke – but if the pieces are just objects or photos stuck in a white walled space – then most viewers will see them as ‘art’. A strange isolated enigmatic but probably pretty meaningless bit of ephemera. Damn shame really.

Fortunately the room was saved by a series of Rod McAffies’ Mr. potato head fine quirky paintings. I guess painting is officially back innit? Exquisite quirky eat your heart out.

Heading up the stairs – there were more random object stuff – Fergus Binns had an abandoned bag (Yeah… but I would have been more impressed if it was installed in a train station….. the gallery is such a safe space for arty agitprop pranks), matched by as series of vegemite paintings and assorted Aussie icons. I wonder if Binns wants to join CACA?

Koji Rui had a room like a coke fiends dream land. The guy has moved on from crystalline straw sculptures in to the pure snow magic of exquisite polystyrene. I loved this room –and then enjoyed the video of his tactile drawing experience. First I didn’t know it was his – (coz it shows the artist with a box on head). And to be honest I found the whole installation set –up a little pretentious and I wish I could have seen the drawings. Maybe they were shit? It was a nice idea tho.

The last room – a funny little site – had a STRANGE juxtaposition of the exquisite corpses (tiny mounted dead animals) by Julia Deville. These reminded me a LOT of the object designs by E. Armonious at Gaffa – so I dunno who is imitating who. Thing Del Catherine Barton as object design Small cute and quite creepy.

The rest of the room got taken up by a massive bong-nation installation by Mathew Griffin – that would have matched Griggs’ work far more than the quiet little creepiness of De Ville. I liked the raver stick figure and admired the skinny scoob-leg jeans. But its cheap and nasty, like the pollywaffle masquerading as a turd floating in a bucket of water. Bongs, puking, chocolate, greed, smoke, webs, raves. With a shallow smirk I headed up the stairs.

And on the third level I found redemption and life. “quell joie!” sang my soul as I peeked at the Arkley/Davila duo next to the stairs, and then it continued.


Lizzie said...

I was driving back from a weekend in hill end yesterday, and I was full of the land, the people, the layers of intrigue, the spooks and the stars. I was driving on autopilot through elizabeth bay replaying each point of view - the geologist, the miner, the farmer, the farmer's wife (therein lies a tale), the kid, the ranger, the artists, the landlord, the environmentalist, the fire chief. I was trying to process it all on my way home. My skirt and boots were covered in dust, my knuckles and nose were burnt from riding around farms on the back of a ute. I tuned in the radio and the first contact from the outside was you ranting beautifully about land and bodies, mines and people, how art and galleries can create encounters and synthasise experience. It was my route home and I couldn't have said anything I was feeling better than you did.

Skanky Jane said...

"You know the tacit cultural myth that art critics are meant to review work in an objective manner? Well it’s shit."

Your statement has inspired my risk taking digit. You write "I" all over the place and I agree with Ian Millis' comment that you write really very well.

I'm experimeting with styles (of arts writing) you see...(I tried the "objective" approach recently in a review of Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski's Seeker).

Maybe the 'objective' and 'subjective' approach to arts writing are appropriate for different media?

I love everything you wrote here about the relationship between space and the body.

I am curious about Karron Bridges' "scary" WA brothel pics. (I'm hooked on a line of enquiry lately re stories and the importance of them being told by someone whose story(ies) they are.(This is a question rather than a statement - for now!). I haven't had any success thus far in finding Bridges' images or bio.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece and I'll be back to reread it.

SJ xx