‘I’m sitting at the table one night after dinner, staring at the empty plate in front of me … All that’s left is a thin film of pesto and a series of expressionistic scrapings left by my fork … I was never one to leave food on my plate’. Vin Ryan’s arresting new series of photographs, Endless Days, reduces a sequence of mundane human gestures into raw, vivid and seductive experiments in aesthetic formalism.
Employing an uncanny selection of everyday objects – including chewing gum, hockey sticks and melted birthday candles – Michael Georgetti constructs a precarious playground of painting, drawing and installation. Imbued with human tendencies, inanimate objects develop unexpected relationships, perform new functions and enact their own failure. In Georgetti’s words, Arena ‘celebrates the loss of trust that occurs when things fall apart’.
Matt Coyle’s drawings are finely crafted dream diaries though nothing about them is suggestive of surrealism’s disjunctive strategies or tropes. The old joke of course was that the Freudians dreamed in Freudian symbols, the Jungians in those favoured by Jung. Noting that ‘what goes in must come out’, it was a remark that made short work of base structural theories in so far as the unconscious mind was concerned. Nowadays neuroscientists point to plasticity as the evolutionary strength of the brain, though looking at Coyle’s disquieting practice one registers also that the mind is a self-reflective beast and art its tool for self-examination. Whilst that which is gained is perhaps a space for personal resolution and change, Coyle’s complex and layered project is intended also for public debate. Knowing then that the images in his new body of works ‘The Shades’ are scenes from Hobart’s colonial Theatre Royal, and that the ‘Shades’ is the even older colonial pub that was once on this very site, a picture begins to emerge that is not entirely of the artist’s journeying in dreamland.
Knowledge of the past, whether personally, nationally or even globally conceived is a principal upon which identity is nurtured and enriched. Tasmania for instance has a history with which the locals continue to wrestle. Violence and brutality, the convict lash and genocide: all of these mark the island’s psyche and figure altogether hauntingly in its art and film and literature. What Coyle’s protagonist is looking for is something we will never really know. It is a journey that might be cyclically conceived or progressing as if without an end. Its stylistic allusions however, to film noir and graphical novels, alerts us to its position culturally in time. Certainly he is an artist of the current era, and this I feel is of note, especially in the context of Australian history painting. Clearly Coyle’s narratives are not grand; in fact they’re decidedly unsettling and weird (wonderfully so, in a way that anticipates their potential as cinematic feature films). I like this about his work – their refusal to adopt the clichés of Australia past, whilst abandoning nothing of its eerie, isolated ferocity. In this he bisects the personal with the historic and the present in a way that cannot be ignored.
Early psychotherapists would no doubt applaud the archaeological invocations in Coyle’s latest series. Digging through the floorboards, cutting through the earth, objects and found and examined, just as Freud had first predicted in his appropriation of the tomb-digger’s art. The discovery, for instance, of the tragedian masks is a sardonic passing allusion to the classical culture of Europe past; very old, but nearly as old as the earth through which the artist digs. From a post-colonial perspective the past is anything but a singular narrative affair.
The other thing that must be said of Coyle’s work is that their execution is masterful. Made of nothing but pen on paper they are painstakingly rendered pieces. In sync with the resurgence of interest in the medium, they stand out clearly from the crowd. The manner for instance in which light and shade is brought into play brings the painters art to mind, but not the draftsman’s linear palette. Exploring their creation is rather analogous to deciphering their bewitching content. One looks to understand but in the end, the elements conspire and one must finally give in to the work.
Damian Smith, July 2010
Talking In Tongues posits a familiar scenario: two people have a conversation. After the conversation each person recollects what was said and what was meant. Two people, two stories, common yet separate, simultaneously connected and disconnected. Dyer’s word-works forecast miscommunication in everyday, ordinary spoken and written language. Neon and LED words spell out possibilities – ‘softly screaming’, ‘and then’, ‘always ever’ – undercut by an intimacy alluded to but never directly expressed.
Dyer’s practice reveals an insistent fascination with the relationship between visual art and language. Found and made words, printed and imagined texts, constructed and borrowed messages formulate the core of Dyer’s opus. Her ambitious scale and concepts have resulted in installations where books spill from doorways, columns of books become architecture and identities of cities are mapped through individual stories. In this exhibition, for the first time, Dyer will be using neon signs as her preferred medium.
Michaela Gleave’s multi-media installations present naturally occurring phenomena that test the limits of everyday sensory experience. Utilising the natural elements of cloud and fog contained within incongruously artificial spaces, Persistent Optimism invites the audience to interact with these ephemeral materials. Gleave stages an epistemological enquiry into the relationships we have with our surroundings and the way we come to perceive, understand and ‘know’ the world we live in.
Julia Robinson’s most recent sculptural series unites alluring beauty with the grotesque in an exhibition that has more obscure and far-reaching origins than her earlier work. Gathering inspiration from sources as varied as biblical texts, mythological stories of beasts and medieval drawings of crocodiles, Robinson reassembles this intricate repertoire of motifs into a series of comically absurd creatures who twist and turn, spout multiple heads and morph into forms beyond their normal limitations.
The Sound of the Beast continues Robinson’s long-term fascination with the goat as ‘a vehicle for the Devil’ and indulges in the abject, the lewd and the lustful, without the heavier overtones of her previous work. Here, her goat-like creations are sites for playful manipulation, infused with an array of mythological allusions and yet somehow more closely observed from life, compellingly and unnervingly familiar.
David Palliser, Mauve Void, 2002-10, 153 x 112cm
David Palliser’s most recent paintings are vivid, dynamic monuments made from spare and simple gestures. Nerve Bangle began as series of loose gouache sketches made during a residency in Paris, from which each painting became a celebration in a manner that the artist compares to ‘a grand ceremony for a flea in a cage’.
At the heart of Palliser’s practice is the continuing exploration of abstract painting. Through the lively combination of different brushwork – from flat, bold fields and simple patterns of pure colour, to washes, splatters and fine lines – Palliser creates spaces that twist and turn, bend in upon themselves and finally bring disparate elements into harmony.
In Order Out features artists who, with reference to the geometric order of the page, screen or object, guide us toward an encounter with contingency. The elements of the works featured here – often abstract forms filtered through the lens of design, deconstruction, assemblage or conceptual art – are arranged so as to explore a state in which chance and chaos emerge out of order, rather than the other way around.
Here, the self-conscious release from the rigour of the formal languages of abstract art produces an openness that is welcome, but at the same time disconcerting. The meaning of abstraction is here defined more by how it connects to private concerns than by its relationship to a social world.