JEREMY DRAPE . EMILY FERRETTI . VERONICA KENT . ANNIKA KOOPS
BRENDAN LEE . KIRON ROBINSON . NATALIE RYAN . UTAKO SHINDO
JACKSON SLATTERY . SALOTE TAWALE . GLENN WALLS
CURATED BY VERONICA TELLO
CARLTON HOTEL GALLERY
DECEMBER 4 – DECEMBER 20
In the past fifteen years, the Australian art industry has demonstrated a vigorous approach to immersing artists within the international networks of contemporary art. However, for the most part, there remains a feeling, or a concern, that we merely inhabit the margins of such networks. In such light, it is interesting to consider the aesthetics that shape or rupture our perception of Australian art and culture. This exhibition presents a part of the multitude of contemporary art practices and points of view in Australia.
Using strategies of response, appropriation, reenactment or mimicry, the artists in team australia present a variety of interpretations to the concept of an Australian art history. In the series Between a Rock (2008), Brendan Lee signals to a variety of iconic Australian symbols such as the gum-tree, a Chico roll at Cronulla beach, and cultural products such as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Frederick McCubbin’s Lost (1886) and Bruce Beresford’s Puberty Blues (1981). Lee’s Between a Rock places at its centre the artist’s pre-occupation with notions of place and its history, especially as it is produced and reiterated by popular culture. As Lee’s work demonstrates, such re-presentations of iconic landscapes can paradoxically bring about a sense of dislocation, or antagonism, rather than an association or nostalgia, for what can and does ensue is a negotiation of clichés about Australia, perhaps such as those gratingly provoked by pop culture products such Baz Luhrman’s Australia (2008). In Natalie Ryan’s semi-precious (d.h skull) (2008), a lamb’s skull is used to appropriate the celebrity artist Damien Hirst and his diamond encrusted human skull For the Love of God (2007). Ryan’s work mimics the presentation of Hirst’s art as intensified spectacle, as evidenced by its price tag of US$99 million and the amount of security surrounding the object, which as Hirst’s business manager has stated is “more synonymous with an international airport than an art gallery.” With economic restraints, Ryan mimics Hirst’s work and its presentation, transformed of course by the decaying environment of the Carlton. Ryan and other artists in this exhibition formulate an aesthetic that is thoroughly intertwined with a sense of internationalism, where the overwhelming influence of European and American art is emphasized. This sense of internationalism can come in the form of artist-in-residencies and their effect on artist’s practice, as demonstrated by Koops who undertook a residency in Rotterdam’s Foundation B.A.D during 2007-2008. Her work for this exhibition, Untitled (2008) is a continuation of her research in the Netherlands, particularly on Dutch Renaissance painting, and is also an excavation of art historical resonances in current visual culture. Koops states, “By means of comparative analysis, my work examines the ambiguity of gesture, expression and contextual meaning…these images present altered and constructed states, which cross-fertilize and muddle meaning and status as well as the methodologies related to production and their perceived categories”. Within the context of this exhibition, it is also important to note the effect of artist-in-residencies on Australian contemporary artists, which has arguably given birth to a vigorous and focused approach to contemporary art discourse, and the possibility of interpolation within and outside Australia. This inside/outside dichotomy is also presented by Jackson Slattery and his small, detailed and engrossing watercolour works. Slattery’s Mistakes We Wish We’d Made (2007-2008) is a series of false representations of Russia, which have been assembled from a variety of image sources derived from the photo-sharing site Flicker. As such, they are reflections of an outward looking and perhaps omnipresent subject, who knows of the subject matter that he depicts through a series of assumptions. This outward looking mode of being is also found in Emily Ferretti’s Punching Bag (2008) and Training Curls (2008). An image of the word ‘training’ is placed parallel to an image of a punching bag hanging on a gum tree. The artist describes the combination of this text and image as a reference to a working class psyche of ‘training’ to better one’s economic situation and an obsessive form of discipline employed a means to reach a higher plane. The artist, as a marginalised figure within Australian culture is replaced by the allegory of the boxer.
In the work of Tawale and Walls, the work of the British artist Sarah Lucas and the Italian group Superstudio are appropriated respectively. Lucas’ autobiographic work suits Tawale’s own concern with her discomfort of the stereotypes that accompany the tags of identity – she is an ‘Australian-Islander lesbo artist’, a point that seems to be the relentless focus in the interpretation of her work. Tawale’s use of kitsch materiality (after Lucas) emphasises what she perceives to be an awkward stereotype relevant to her identity. Here, the ‘collaboration’ with Lucas, for the purpose of extracting an effective working methodology for Tawale’s artworks, is a case in point about the multiple influences on Australian artists. Likewise, in Walls work, the radical architect group Superstudio, which was founded in 1966 by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, plays a significant role in informing Walls production of objects, which he dubbs Prototypes for Sophisticated Living. In 1969, Superstudio presented The Continuous Monument project, visually defined by a series of grids, which form the material and formal basis of Wall’s presentation of mini-architecture or mutated commodities, such as the Adidas shoe. Walls explains “the apparently endless framework of a mirror or black and white grid - which was to become the group's [Superstudio] best known motif - extends across the earth’s surface in a critique of what Superstudio saw as the absurdities of contemporary urban planning.” This absurdity, and complex relationship to space is at the core of Walls own critical explorations of contemporary space and commodity culture. Veronica Kent’s work, Duck Traveller/Where Babies Come From (2008) is a development of her investigations into telepathy, bestiality, fainting and haunting and is also, as the artists says, a development of her explorations into “the stories and aesthetics of Greek mythology, Christian parables and 'new age' imaginings (along with the wilder assertions of psychoanalytic theory and metaphysics).” Throughout these works, the influence of Euro-American art history and discourse is palpable.
Kiron Robinson and Jeremy Drape utilize art as a form of critique, with a focus on Australia. Robinson’s work, I was asked to draw a map of Australia (2008), is a set of two drawings which illustrate failure. For this work, the artist attempted to draw a straight line – free hand – and then replicated this line. The process was done twice, for the purposes of constructing a false reflection (for the two works are unique). This failure, or pre-emptive failure, Robinson claims is “a very Australian condition.” As such, I was asked to draw a map of Australia is a thoroughly critical work, centered on the artist’s perception of a “shallow Anglo-culture”, which Australian’s persistently attempt to discard. Regarding the drawn lines in I was asked to Draw a Map Of Australia, Robinson states, they “act as a horizon line far in the distance, [to signify] a flat and featureless foreground, with little to indicate beyond a mirage, [an intent] created by the second line over the first line. Overhead is a big empty sky squeezing down on the land offering no respite.” A similarly critical tone is offered by Jeremy Drape’s work Untitled (Containment) (2008), an installation work wherein he has appropriated the work of three International Artists, Wolfgang Tillman’s, Jeroen de Rijke / Willem de Rooij and Jason Evans. With regard to Untitled (Containment), Drape states, it is “about my anxiety in creating art and the influence of certain artists on my work. The work also raises questions about ‘containment’ (in an abstract sense and with regard to the Australian art scene).” In this sense, there is a distinct sense of paralysis, an Australian art practice that is riddled by a sense of stagnation and anxiety, fuelled by a mode of looking outward which is somewhat critical and perhaps even cynical. Utako Shindo also offers a critical point of view on being an Australian artist. In the words of the artist, Shindo explores, “the duality of people’s relationship to place: belonging to somewhere and being longing for somewhere.” She goes on, “The Australian art scene appears to be constantly generating a new ‘image’ of ‘national identity’ from the chaos of meanings and values brought by waves of people and information from across the world. Such ‘images’ are, in fact, mere projections of artists’ personalized view of a ‘home-country’, corresponding to both international and regional art scenes and socio-political trends. While a world map, which is organized in terms of countries, influences our perception of place, can we engage with places without associating with a concept of ‘nation’?” Shindo goes on to say “I often fail to differentiate between my Japanese and Australian perspectives” and as such, the oscillation between what Drape would call ‘containment’, and an outward looking criticality, is re-framed by Shindo.
Veronica Tello, December 2008