Monday, 13 July 2015

Already: Dave Attwood, Alira Calaghan and Nicole Breedon: Free Range: One Night Only.

The generosity of nothingness.
by Graham Mathwin

The first thing that I would like to mention about this show is that there is almost nothing there, and (seemingly) almost nothing to it. The generosity of nothingness is not, I think a paradox, but rather a field of potential, of what an absence, or emptiness can perhaps function towards. In this space there is a distinct sense of this emptiness, dramatically so: there are three Yogo caps stuck to a wall, and three small colour swatches, echoing Enya’s refrain of ‘sail away’ from her song ‘Orinoco flow’. There are two balloons, each the size of a fist, delicate purple in colour, bouncing each side of the entrance, and a piece of wet and dry sand paper half submerged in a glass of water.

It is an odd sensation, looking at a yogo cap stuck to a wall. You know you are looking at a yogo cap, but you really wish it were not a yogo cap, because this gesture is making you look a little silly. You don’t know entirely whether to take it seriously or not. Shall we glory in the spiritual aura cast by the lights over these small foil things? There is a sense of some kind of self-consciousness in looking at yogo caps–as-art. But the gesture does not seem that reductive. It would feel like I was treating it unfairly if I said so. And this work is quite fun, too – it’s a yogo cap! How could a yogo cap possibly antagonise you? A worthwhile contrast can be drawn to the epic wizard stick in FAC, that David Attwood made with Jurek Wybraneik  - Yogo’s play a game with the very spectacle that work seemed to involve. Yet I would call this work generous, though they are not generous in terms of giving you too much, or giving you an exact answer. Rather they give you space, and they give you simple gestures. They are expansive gestures if we care to look, and they include anything, clearly. The work also insists that we look at this diminutive thing, to insist that we engage with them, and pay attention to the minutiae actuality of things that have been appropriated from the wider world, in a word it valorises a treatment of the everyday that is involved and interested. Yet what are we to focus on here? Important to the work are, as the catalogue essay by Taylor Reudavey points out, relationships drawn through allusion to Gabriel Orozco and the domestic context of the yogo gaps themselves.

I was interested to learn that Orozco’s lids, for a show at Moma, were replaced with exhibition copies – as was his empty shoebox. This was most intruiging, a gesture moving into an artefact. Although perhaps unrelated to this show, does the movement of a gesture into an artefact destroy the gesture? Or does it amplify it? What exactly did the gesture try and do? Perhaps, at the heart of both Attwood and Orozco’s works is a play with the nature of, not the art object, but the exhibition format, the desire for spectacle that is entailed within it, the desire for incredulity. The links that are drawn in Orozco’s work is much more about the nature of materiality and spectacle to commercialisation, having presented those works in his first exhibition at Marian Goodman. The positioning of these Yogo Caps we can take to be something quite other, being absent from a commercial sphere, and rather partaking of the Artist Run Initiative circuit, it alters the content of the work – towards other ideas to do with context and material. The subject of the work is, however, still much more delicately conceptual than it is spectacularly visual. Clearly Attwood has not chosen to fill the space with anything like his previously spectacular work – like that wizard stick. The difficultly with talking about this object is really that the thing is not the subject of the work. It is in the allusions to Australian childhood, but in conversation with Orozco’s yogurt caps, that the richness of the work is revealed. The material alludes to a certain context, and a certain material history that is associated with it – the sticking of yogurt caps to things. There is however, something more immediate in the sensations that are given to you upon entering the space. Though the intelligibility of the show is revealed only through particular knowledge, there is something more immediate in the enormous weight of emptiness that is given to these caps. It makes the work disarming, despite the history of the readymade; the presentation of these works is so sparse, so much without immediate content that I am still taken aback. Still surprised and confused. In a sense, the success of Ororzco’s work in being irreverently humorous and yet almost entirely empty and stark is repeated. How long can the object hold onto you, when it is so reduced? How much can you draw in to it?

Alira Callghan’s balloons are a delight. Their welcoming presence is a wonderful entrance into the space, and set the mood, and I would suggest, the conceptual register for the entire exhibition. They are perfectly approachable, almost sweet; yet possess the exacting distillation that is present throughout the entire show. Seeing them is quite an immediate thing, particularly in contrast to the ‘object-less’ nature of Attwood’s yogo caps, the balloons, although perhaps referencing Ulay and Abramovic’s performance, are interpretable without the allusion. There isdefinitely something intimate about them, in a similar way, but they are delicate and not bodily in the same manner as that performance. They are also not celebratory. There is something here that allows for a vision of the whole show – the removal of things from spectacle and entertainment, and their placement in a context that deals more explicitly with how we can come to understand these things differently. They are still celebratory in a sense, but it is a very pared back party we are here to witness. These small, thin skins, filled with air, bounce at the height of your stomach, and they frequently reach out and touch us in passing. Their diminutive size and delicacy indicates a separate interest in the nature of their content from the spectacular, once again. This is what I mean by setting a register, which seems particularly to be given by their placement in the door. The entire show is framed by an entrance through something of a conceptual celebration, pared back and petite, with a faintly purple hue. Conceptual art is often not interpreted through  its evocative content, though it is often the more important part of its execution. Logical systems and intelligible gestures are not devoid of beauty, elegance and sensuality. Balloons seem like a perfect real world instance, formal objects filled with material that is of slightly different density to the surrounding air, that is invisible but sensible. There is a metaphor in this work as well, that I am perhaps reading into it, about the very possibility of intimacy through the conceptual gesture. A potential for the performative action of Ulay and Abramovic to be undertaken by other objects in a much less overwhelming way, a much less whole-body manner, and much rather a kind and inviting allowance for your movement through space. The work is interactive without being interactive, and is also happily an intelligible discourse, it opens a space for understanding something more delicate than a spectacular celebratory air. It is far more a celebration of the materiality and the perceptible distribution of otherwise invisible forces in our world, in the most delicate way.

This is mirrored by Nicole Breedon’s Orinoco flow, with its cringe-worthy obligatory reminiscence upon the days we have (all?) spent listening to Enya (I thought I was alone, but apparently not).  It does seem like artists are fascinated that people put names to colours. I have encountered many works that deal with paint-names. There is something perhaps about the fascination of significations to perception in the production of these naming systems. That arbitrary chemical pigments with specific phenomenological affects are given simple, generic statements that are as saccharine as Enya’s songs. There is an interminable dissonance within colour and its names. Frequently we have no word for each one, though the computer now has a number, I am sure. It is yet the emphatic nature of humanity’s naming of phenomena that is contained within every name we give paint. This paint is not some numeric classification though, or whatever it could be. It takes on an associative meaning beyond its phenomenological. It capitulates into the systems of signs and meaning-making systems that also inform our lived experience. The nature of the readymade, in its kind of inadvertent investigating the systems that produce art, also functions as a kind of structural investigation, removing the artwork form the ‘optical’ and to the intelligible. There is an extrapolation of the same dissonance between paint and its names here, in that the experience of this artwork happens through a limitation of the visible and an emphasis on the intelligibility of its associations. In a way, I can perceive a double duality in the naming of paints, and in the history of the readymade being returned to talk about optical matters such as paint colour.


The whole body of work in this space contains something of the gesture to it – the intelligible gesture. I call it a gesture, as it is often quite personable and emphatic. The work is not a particularly political act, except so far as it is somewhat cheeky for those unfamiliar with the last hundred years of art. There is always the possibility, though, of misinterpreting the act. People consider the single act as somehow inferior to a multiplication of it, as if by directing some of the work to the gallery, and to the viewer, the artist has copped out. The power of a simple, simple, well-placed act is not to be underestimated, however, and those that would decry the apparent simplicity of this work perhaps miss the opportunity to be caught for a moment by the simplest of elements, all familiar to us, yet rarely thought through, and experience the very magic of this most generous and, I suppose, sweet, of conceptual arts.

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