2016: Issue 7: The list: 2016 edition

Of course it is not criticism. Of course it is not worth reading. Contrary to this, of course people read it (more than almost anything else I write), and of course it is fun to write: the list, 2016 edition.

Jennifer Moon, Felix Kalmenson, Yuri Pattison, Institute for new feeling, Julika Rudelius, Stefanos Tsivopoulos. No Confidence. Success Gallery. A declaration of intention, that flattened the competition at the Perth International Arts Festival, showed the direction Success would travel in, and demonstrated the gallery’s commitment to absolutely excellent global art. No Confidence was a show that I was ambivalent to at the time, but in retrospect it is the best show seen in Perth this year from the most ambitious and consistently bold and interesting space to show art this year.
Mary Reid Kelley. Priapus Agonistes. AGWA’s Screen Space. A strange video work, but one that managed to juggle the difficult history of art and cinema – stretching right from classical antiquity through modernist ‘Avant garde’ into the contemporary world without being boring or trite. Here at Number 2 for its breadth of vision, and its skilful literary and filmic execution, and humour.
Julie Gough. Collisions. Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. This artwork was an incredible one; you can read the long review here. But in essence, it was one that showed important contemporary art being made here in Australia, about important issues that need to be addressed, in an incredibly interesting and intelligent manner. Curated by Gemma Weston.
Nicola Gunn. Piece for person and ghetto blaster. PICA. This was a really wonderful performance, pared back to a single person on stage with limited props. A searching, didactic analysis followed by the most convincing finale of the year.
Chen Chieh-Jen. Echoes of a historical photograph. Success Gallery. Curated by Laetitia Wilson, this was another stunning work of art that I only wish I had have written about at the time. A good indication of the relatively unknown (or at least not previously exhibited here) and yet important work that success gallery was able to bring.
Megan Cope. The Blaktism. Spectrum project space. Part of ‘dead centre’, curated by Anna Richardson. A work that blew me away the first, second, and third time I watched it the whole way through. The full review can be read by clicking on the title.
Success Gallery. Kieron Broadhurst, Ollie Hull, Giles Bunch. An Event. Also addressed in this issue, the website was a fascinating part of the work, but there were few things this year as mad and involving as this strange artwork that transformed the space into a cinema set and a conspiracy theory all at once. There really was nothing else quite like it.
Shannon Lyons. A dead mouse and a Broken Coffee machine. Small things can often be the most important, and Lyon’s work continuously proves that the tiniest of interventions can often be the most important details.
Jacobus Capone. Volta. Success Gallery. Another amazing work, that took up the whole of Success’ main gallery space – a luxury that is rarely afforded, though Capone made a similarly spatial work that topped last years list with his involving work in PSAS. One of the most successful of success’ shows due to its engagement with the entirety of the space. The essay can be read here. While the writing about this show is quite critical, Capone’ work here was undeniably one of the most impressive things around. We look forward to his work in PICA for PIAF with great anticipation.
Peer to Peer. Benjamin Forster, Nicolas Maigret, Metahaven, Lance Wakeling. Pet Projects. Pet Projects was the second major ARI-sort-of that opened this year, run by Gemma Weston, Andrew Varano and Dan Bourke. The shows it put on seemed to be an intelligent counter-point to the overblown scale and effort of Success (not to say no effort was put in, but just look to the names: ‘success’, ‘pet projects’: there are two very different forms of irony at work here). It none-the-less presented some extremely important and engaging artwork: Max Grau’s craving for narrative, Kimmo Modig’s Express Yourself, CIOMA (I didn’t see these last two, but I heard about them – quite a bit.) Jacqueline Ball’s new (or rather, recently shown) photos and Dan Bourke’s more than impressive collection of mugs. Despite this wonderful list of works, the artworks seemed almost constantly to be undercutting themselves in an ironic manner, pointing up their problems and flaws; or the shows did it for them. This internal-critical machinery (That is often a good thing, but sometimes, unfortunately, like in the sixth year, it was merely art showing how shit art is) makes it difficult to place the space. I feel slightly guilty for putting their first entry on the list at ten – but really, it could have been any of their shows and gone anywhere on this list and been at home, so diverse and divergent was this gallery’s approach. Pet projects would probably hate being on this list because of this, and so I’ll end its pain by saying that peer-to-peer was great.
Benjamin Forster. An encyclopaedia of sorts. Success gallery. Forster’s show was an absolute joy to read through and spend time with. While Success’ video work could be overwhelming, Forster’s intimate and personal reflections provided an important counterpoint. I have never enjoyed didactic panels, but this show is cause for reconsideration of this judgement: and perhaps offers a model that moves away from the typically dull descriptions people give artwork.
James Cooper. Blend 43. Shopfront gallery. Not only impressive on the ARI circuit, but throughout the selection of professional galleries as well – no mean feat for some aquarelle pencil and white-primed board. Proof if ever we needed it that you don’t need a lot to make some of the best art around. Cooper’s work unveils a bizarre psychological world in its na├»ve-art-like sketching, and one that is happily distinct from the increasingly Richter-like work that seems to be produced in contemporary painting.
Sacred and Profane. AGWA. It is good to see the massive space in AGWA put to its full use, and Sacred and Profane did this in the best possible way. Few things this year were as wonderful as reading Jittish Kallat’s re-casting of Ghandi’s speech before the salt marches. I read it in its new form as a ray of hope from the largest democracy on earth.
Dangling in the Romp. Pet Projects. The second entry of Pet projects is here because all the strengths of the space were also in this show: its undercutting self-criticality, but it was paired with something more speculative and wild than its other shows.
Success Gallery. Bye. The best mini-golf course in town, while it could have been really silly, the miniature model of Trump’s mansion by Dale Buckley, the golf course of spiritual enlightenment by Lyndon Blue and many of the other holes proved that you could make a seemingly gimmicky idea into great art.
Rebecca Baumann. WA Focus. Art Gallery of Western Australia. A small show that functioned as a tiny retrospective, it was the best WA focus this year, and proves once again that Rebecca Baumann is one of our finest artists, and deserves the success she has had, and all the more that will come.

And so the list did perform a function, at least for me: To remind me to be thankful of all that is good that has happened in Perth this year past. Here’s to 2016. Thank you to you all.

2016: Issue 7: Dangling in the Romp: Pet Projects

The Tromp family left home on the 29th of August, 2016. They were convinced that someone was following them and that they had to escape. Their strange voyage was subsequently widely reported in the media, and it was speculated that their paranoia could have been an extended form of ‘folie a deux’; a ‘folie a plusiers’, wherein a close knit community, particularly families and couples, fall into a mutual psychosis. This story forms a narrative through which to view the work in Dangling in the Romp. Every piece contains some allusion to the formative role of small (or large) groups in developing a psychological or actual reality.

The impact of small and isolated groups does not stop at families, though they exhibit perhaps the greatest potential to ‘fuck you up’ (Phillip Larkin, 2001). The insularity of our social circles, and perhaps even the insularity of a small art scene and small galleries, provide a context in which something supposed to be madness occurs beyond or protected from the broadening compromise of the larger networks of relations that formulate society. Doesn’t everyone have the fear that leads to strange behaviour? You might not get all of the jokes and be thrown out, away from the only people you love. This may cause you to behave in some manner deemed, in another circle, as quite mad (A partial photo is in the space of Brian Fuata, dressed in a sheet as a ghost, who lifts objects as if you could not see him. I, when young, once employed a similar technique on someone who had just emerged from a car accident: a highly ineffective strategy, but people dressed in sheets have since taken on some other meaning, and perhaps they are not so silly as one first thinks, but come from a real need to hide from the world behind them). Illusions and delusions are not so far removed from one another, and dealing in one can play into the other – and we are nothing if not traders in illusion in the arts.

Abandonment, though, is supposedly one of humanity’s prime motivating feelings – we stick to other people for fear of being abandoned. Another is apparently shame – and this I can relate to. The nature of shame and abandonment are intertwined, both imply that the person feeling this has done something, however slight, that broke some social bond. I only mention this as a way of saying: you can’t even escape social bonds when alone. It would hardly be necessary to have a sense of abandonment or shame if we did not long for groups.

The Internet, of course, opens the door to connections forming from within isolation. The Tromp family left behind all their connective technology, and the daughter was forced to throw her smuggled mobile phone out of the window. People aren’t always who they say they are online, everyone knows this, but it can induce a state of paranoia. Even if we understand this, it can be hard to undo the assumption that not everyone we are speaking to is the person we thought we were speaking to. The presence of twitter bots makes this situation even more pronounced. Care disfigurements (Brian Fuata), featuring the person in a sheet, and a script of an interview; is actually about the stealing of identities in the misuse of naming on twitter. The act of taking names and putting on masks opening up something different from a small group dynamic: a large group that is isolated from each other, hiding behind their masks. Scared of what repercussion there might be, sad in their loneliness perhaps, but excited by the psychological damage they can execute. The Tromp family are perhaps the embodiment of this peculiar feedback loop of media and terror. They have become the image of the fear we all have that we might very well lose control, at any point, of our sense of perspective over what we assume and what is true.

After the strange story of the Tromp family, that is still only announced in its connection to the show via the cover photo of the facebook event and an ambiguous image of a ute (maybe the one the second eldest sister was found in, catatonic) in one of the artworks, perhaps the most effective key is the central plinth (or is it a wall?): Marc Kokopeli’s work. It is a chest-high, furry wall (or is it a plinth?), upon which two images hang on either side. They are black and white photos of children engaging in social interaction. They are apparently pedagogical images: intended to instruct on the proper conduct in social circumstances, for children who have difficulty with these things. They possess the stilted air of a set-up, the characters theatrically arranged for a camera. Apparently, the artist is one of the people in the photos, his mother being the photographer and social engineer of these fake situations of instruction. The furry wall/plinth is about the height of a child. It hasn’t quite learnt how to be a wall, its corners are turned inward, it hasn’t yet grown to reach the ceiling, and it maintains its downy exterior. The only similarity it bears to its grown up, mature, well-adjusted relatives are the understanding that it is as austere as the cousins that surround it: that it has been built in their model, even if not quite exactly. It is a copy of these forms; its soft, furry materials stretched out and pinned to a hard surface.

Perhaps the best reference to make here would be to Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. This film features a family whose parents teach their children that the rest of the world is very small and very dangerous, (airplanes are small models, cats are dangerous animals that kill their non-existent brother) and prevents them leaving the house until their dogtooth (canine) falls out. This results in acts of violence and peculiarity that perform for us, on screen, the bizarre and sometimes dangerous events that can result from extreme isolation and psychosis within small or familial groups. Similarly in dangling in the romp it is the strange and potentially dangerous influence of groups and isolation that seem to come to the fore. Society acts responsibly and educates people on what the appropriate action or gesture of emotion is in any given situation is one that forms a certain consensus. The waist high, white furry plinth offers us the intimate, tactile care of instruction, while enforcing a certain kind of austerity.

‘I hope that your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart.’ (Dogtooth)

The family does of course ‘fuck you up’ in some way, and perhaps the best testament to this in this show is Zac Segbedzi’s painting. It says: ‘grandpa left to escape the holocaust, but daddy abandoned me’ an image of Hitler’s face is here: beside a copy of a Jenny Watson image: a woman kneeling on all fours and forearms. A horse stands over her in a perpendicular manner, and the text lies across the scumbled faces of people I recognise, and some I don’t. This is the violence of the mass and the violence of small groups – violent together, and violent when they fall apart, perhaps inducing the feeling of abandonment, of fault, and of shame.

And what sense is to be made of this series of Amy Yao’s brains (This city is everywhere, this city is nowhere)? Here they are, scattered over the floor. Is this how big the human brain is? And look how they sit on the floor in the gallery space, they are like some other visitors, gathering, whispering, and looking at the art. A single brain sits on the floor away from the pack, an outcast perhaps, or maybe just in a wider orbit. Why only brains? The supposed seat of all our feelings and ideas, is there no body, no flesh, to the negotiation of these relationships – are relationships all we are? (It is turtles all the way down). It is within the nature of cities to contain more people than we could ever meet or know personally (Jane Jacobs, The life and death of great American cities). The relationships we form with this large, unknown body speak to a certain imaginary existence that has no basis in a physical actuality. The city of the artwork’s title is impossible to pin to the physical substance of a brain, a body, despite the organ’s resemblance to the organisation of certain urban centres. The city, this gathering of weird flesh, is just another psychosis.

One gets the feeling that, like the pins in a lock, Dangling in the Romp requires a particular key to come undone; but it is a show with a logic that is sometimes hard to see. There is presumably a text somewhere, not just the explanation of the gallery attendant or the artist, which will describe what is going on – it just hasn’t arrived yet, and so we are, much as the title suggests, left dangling. The peculiarities of ‘romp’ as a word are worth bearing in mind too: to have fun, of a rough sort, of some kind of sexual nature, perhaps somehow inappropriate – indeed a vague incestuous air hangs about the unaddressed narrative that frames the show, and the subjects of many of the works. So we dangle in the romp, suspended from any concrete conclusions, but forming ever more bizarre and playful and perhaps less than pleasant connections between the artworks in some game, the sort of game you might play with a television serial killer – a dark one, but one you can participate in from the imaginary but relative safety of viewing distance.

Dangling in the Romp is open 1pm – 6pm Saturday and Sunday the 4th and 5th of February at Pet Projects.

2016: Issue 7: Kieron Broadhurst, Giles Bunch, Oliver Hull: An Event


Driving along Stirling highway, sometimes Rottenest Island appears in perfect Fata Morgana, transformed into vertical cliffs and high-rises. To those that see it, they know that this appearance, unlike many illusions, is impossible to resist. It is an optical event, and no rubbing of the eyes can dispel the perfectly vertical realignment of the island on the horizon, as if it sat upon towers. The mirage, in altering perception of the landscape, causes doubts and sows confusion, even when we know what it is. Similarly, the titular ‘event’ in Kieron Broadhurst, Oliver Hull and Giles Bunch’s show destabilises our vision like a mirage, despite the ready admission that it is fictional. Viewing it is similar to seeing a mirage: No clearing of the eyes dispels the vision. Like any fiction, it comes with a dangerous power of transformation. A peculiar accompaniment to this exhibition, and what will be the focus of this essay, was the website, that remains live here.

An Event inserted a fiction into peculiar and obtuse narratives of recent history. While walking through this space, where a desert and an office are compressed into a single gallery, it is as if one is traversing a variety of sets, or a delirious dreamscape. Several realities are pressed up against one another. I am reminded, in this speculative idea of an event, of J.G. Ballard’s Hello America – a future where the baring straights have been dammed, transforming America into a vast desert while a man who models himself as ‘Charles Manson’ rules America from Las Vegas with a set of nuclear missiles. The most important revelations in Ballard’s works always occur in a space that is seen as a parallel to the altered psychology of the characters. Hello America is as much a passage through the image everyone holds of this enormous imperial power as through the desert it becomes – ghosts haunt this arid land. In the extreme landscape, the mind’s depths are brought to the surface, like a bubbling cauldron from which the oil of hundreds of millions of years of extinctions comes to the surface. It is no accident that the old prophets go into the desert or the wilderness and return with the messages of divinity – or perhaps the messages of madness.

These slight alterations in the shape of the world: of America’s desertification, or the consideration of a fictional event in Australia’s desert; they offer us a new way of considering the perceptions and possibilities of these spaces. The wild science fiction splendour of Broadhurst, Bunch and Hull’s work proffers a vision of the altered psychological scope of the world when it is made strange. The work offers us a narrative too: of cool offices of anonymous government workers and farmers in the country with their strange diagrams and specific knowledges, looking out over a world that is half mirage and half real. It is also a vision of a psychological state we might have seen, or even experienced ourselves: an uncertainty regarding reality. This psychological state is reasonably pervasive, but also gives way to a more dangerous secondary reading, proven to be true in various Copernican moments: that common sense is the actual delusion.

There are various references to mapping and landscape in the website. It is crucially not an actual map that this website seems to represent, but the image of a psychological state, one obsessed with a paranoid vision of the world. Most usually these maps are empty of all content and merely stand as signs for the idea of traversing space, and they frequently interrupt themselves with idiosyncratic and incongruous content, such as termite mounds mushrooming and growing. The entire website is in the format of a maze, a series of cul-de-sacs and complex hyperlink chains that lead into each other and back into themselves; some objects can be clicked, others simply rotate as gifs. The navigation of this online space is undirected, without a clear organising principle. This confusing network of tributaries gives the impression of hiding the very thing it is trying to reveal – the fictional event the show alludes to.

One particularly interesting manner of navigating an image is to be found in the collages, which appear as if pressed onto the surface of our screen, presumably through the operations of a scanner. We traverse them while remaining close to their surfaces; we are unable to move back from them. While computer screens are typically used to visualise, to allow us a vision of the world that is uninterrupted, this image is instead one across which we must scroll without the option of zooming in an out. This inability to get a sense of the whole picture without investigating it, your face only several inches from its surface, resonates with the exhibition’s eponymous event that always seems to be occurring somewhere just beyond our comprehension. The images pressed up against our screens, across which we can only glide, offer us a variety of clues that, like a landscape rather than a map, we must interpret and piece together. Yet this method of operation is one that we are all familiar with from browsing Wikipedia or youtube or even google. The many-forked path of hyperlinks invites this navigation via connection, and from it we must attempt to form an image.

The website is an accumulation of ephemera – the Tokyu corporation’s plans for a north-west corridor of developments after the failure of Alan Bond’s sea world (of which they were part owners), a collection of rocks with faces labelled ‘my friends’, a fake censored document detailing the now-unknown specifics of the event and paraphernalia from the legendary Hutt River. Yet perhaps to explain these elements we need to look elsewhere in the exhibition: Oliver Hull’s drawings and book of birds flying in formations, for instance, point to a certain logic, one of coincidence and happenstance that offers a passage through the inexplicable. This accumulation points to fragmented narratives that often fail to make sense – or at least make logical sense. Aborted histories and derailed stories, they are pieces of a puzzle, but pieces of weird shapes and dimensions and that finally serve less to insert a fiction into the past or future than to show the weird and strange underbelly of official and important histories with the peculiarly local and absurd.

by Graham Mathwin


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