Alex Wisser


Month: May, 2011

What Things Look Like

by Alex Wisser

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May 7–21 2011
artists: Adrian Clement, Dan Stocks, Yvette Hamil­ton, Tina Fiveash, Sue Storry, Peter Williamson, Lisa Mas­toras, Johanna Trainor, Iso­bel Philip, Ireneusz Luty, Iou­lia Ter­izis, Emily Win­don, Andreia Da Cruz, Kurt Soren­son, Alex Wisser

“What Things Look Like”was a group exhi­bi­tion of pho­to­me­dia to be mounted as a part of the Headon Photo Fes­ti­val.  This exhi­bi­tion asks con­tem­po­rary pho­to­me­dia artists to respond to Gary Winnogrand’s famous claim that he pho­tographed in order to see what things looked like pho­tographed.  Implicit in this claim is an under­stand­ing that by pho­tograph­ing a thing, you change it, you alter its per­cep­ti­ble being.  “What Things Look Like” cel­e­brates our abil­ity to change the real­ity we record, to ren­der it more human even as we ren­der it less real.

Review: Tom Polo “Hit and Miss” at Parramatta Artist Studios

by Alex Wisser

Tom Polo’s Hit and Miss at Par­ra­matta Artist Stu­dios presents a mot­ley of slo­gans and one lin­ers, often framed in the form of moti­va­tional posters, badges, but­tons, flags and pin­ions, arranged for the most part in the main gallery on a pow­der blue wall.  It looks a lit­tle like the fan­tasy of a small child who has cho­sen to wor­ship not sport or celebrity, but the moti­va­tional indus­try and has decked his bed­room walls with naïve effi­gies of pro­mo­tional mate­ri­als he dreams will beguile and seduce his friends into pur­chas­ing his over­priced books and cd sets as a side effect of the immense pop­u­lar­ity his clar­ity of vision and inci­sive turn of phrase would win for him.

There is no count­ing on how many lev­els such a child is dis­turbed and mis­taken.  If he actu­ally did exist, I would, for his own obvi­ously trau­ma­tized sake, con­tra­dict my usual posi­tion and advise admin­is­ter­ing heavy doses of both sport and celebrity in alter­na­tion in the hopes of shock­ing his sys­tem back… at least away from this dan­ger­ous turn of mind.  And still we have not yet plumbed the depths of his con­di­tion, because, when we look more closely at the works, it becomes appar­ent that this kid has got­ten some­thing else wrong.  Instead of fill­ing our eyes and minds with the resound­ing acclaim of absolute and uni­ver­sal affir­ma­tion, our imag­i­nary child has included expres­sions of many of the emo­tions that sur­round the pur­suit of “per­sonal ful­fill­ment”, but are usu­ally excluded from its pro­gram­matic con­tent.  Many of the slo­gans express anx­i­ety, self-doubt, self-criticism and self-deprecation even as they main­tain their brightly opti­mistic pro­mo­tional atti­tudes.    Polo has cre­ated a self-help phi­los­o­phy that pro­motes the neg­a­tive on par with the pos­i­tive.   When you think about it, that’s all that any self-help phi­los­o­phy does.

The result is an uneasy sense of ambiva­lence that draws out and empha­sizes an uncer­tainty at the heart of much of this lan­guage.  Pos­i­tive state­ments take on a more men­ac­ing, and self con­flicted aspect.  The phrase “Win­ning not Whin­ing”, begins to look like bul­ly­ing, posi­tioned as it is beneath the droop­ing words “Sad Sac”.  These con­flicts and con­tra­dic­tions mul­ti­ply, pro­duc­ing a field of dis­so­nance, each work dis­rupt­ing the smooth func­tion­ing of the oth­ers, until you can­not be sure of how to read any of it.   The result is a dis­cur­sive flat­ness that mir­rors the visual flat­ness of the paint­ings.  The reader, like the viewer, is unable to dis­cover any depths of mean­ing into which they can project them­selves and this lack of a coher­ent, uni­fied sub­ject leaves the viewer ric­o­chet­ing between the var­i­ous unten­able sub­ject positions.

It felt as though the flat­ness of the pic­ture plane had some­how infected the sub­ject posi­tion of the viewer, and that where I stood look­ing at the work was as lim­ited in dimen­sion as the pic­ture plane of the objects I exam­ined.    There is some evi­dence that this is exactly what Polo had intended for me.  The cover of the cat­a­logue, for instance, is a print of one of the works that has been made into but­ton.  You can actu­ally stand in front of the work, wear­ing one of the works as a (flat) badge of the sub­ject posi­tion it per­mits (and dis­rupts).  This is taken fur­ther in a side room, dressed up as a the­atre, in which round paint­ings of var­i­ous crude, flatly ren­dered faces are arranged in depth as though sit­ting in the audi­ence, all fac­ing a sin­gle red paint­ing with the name tony writ­ten in black that hangs on the far wall.   The para­dox of paint­ings of human faces fac­ing a paint­ing of lan­guage estab­lishes a mis en abyme, in which sub­jec­tiv­ity ric­o­chets between the two posi­tions.  Where does the viewer stand?  In the posi­tion of dis­course (and dis­courser), look­ing at the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of faces, or in the posi­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion look­ing at dis­course? Again Tom doesn’t allow us a com­fort­able place to sit and we are left float­ing, home­less between the two.

Review: “Intersections” at At The Vanishing Point – Contemporary Art, Newtown

by Alex Wisser

This review was originally published on DAS500 on May 04 2011

Intersections is not curated by Adrian Clement. This is a point he insists upon in his (not) curator’s statement. Instead, he considers the exhibition a single artwork made by himself out of the works of the other artists involved. As one of those artists, I have to say, the statement raises some mixed emotions.

Conceived as a challenge to the conventional wisdom that curators employ to isolate the experience of individual works from each other, Intersections is the careful combination of the experience of different works to produce “intersections” between them. These points of overlap create effects unintended by the original artist as neighboring works are brought to impinge upon each other.

For instance, the only illumination in the exhibition is provided by the several light based and projected video works within the show. A tall door of light tubes in the main gallery illuminates Kate Mackay’s large wall of colored cubes when closed and when opened it lights a photograph of a night seascape by Kurt Sorenson barely perceptible through the blinding you must endure to push the door open. On one side of the room, a polished brass mirror made by Tom Isaacs, reflects perfectly Adrian’s arrangement of Petri dishes containing dripped paint by Georgina Pollard on the far wall. The exhibition is full of these discoveries that make you wonder where each of the intersecting artists leave off and Adrian begins. The result is often a sense of elegant confusion and a heightened awareness of the relational nature of meaning. The unity of individual works is disrupted, pushing coherence back to the level of the entire exhibition so that in the end the viewer is brought indeed to consider it a single work of art. And this is the source of my mixed emotion.

On the one hand, Intersections successfully fulfills its original brief, mounting a challenge to the conventions of curation by grounding its “curatorial” practice in artistic rather than theoretical, or art historical concern. It was exactly this prospect that excited me about participating. On the other hand, there is a sense in which it has succeeded too well if the curator thus passes over the threshold being challenged to become artist – curation itself remains unscathed and we end with another monster altogether, the meta-artist, who uses other artists’ work as the raw material of his own. 500 words could never contain the maelstrom of implications that such a figure unleashes. It’s not surprising that he should appear here. Often, it is only through crossing a boundary that we come to understand why that boundary exists.

Once on the other side, Adrian deftly negotiates the ethical minefield he treads. This particular incursion is marked by the profound respect any artist worth their salt has for their medium, which in this case is the work of other artists. In this way, Intersections is as much about the relationships between people as it is about the relationship between things.