for our current show in gallery one, the group exhibition _utility, we've been able to wrangle the literary talents of local Kyneton writer and poet Angela O'Rourke into the mix. Angela was kind enough to come in to the gallery, spend time with the works and respond to what she saw and felt. this sort of engagement has always fascinated me because art is like a catalyst. it's something that triggers reaction. philosophers often turn to art to trigger their ideas about the world. for those of us who love art, the very act of going to a gallery, wandering about and casting our glaze over the artworks, is a thoroughly stimulating event.
Angela very generously took time out, set her mind to pondering, and conjured up these fantastic responses to works. our grateful thanks for her words. i'm going to leave the images off this post, so you can be free to picture your own interpretation of the art in your mind.
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An encounter with Ellie Mücke
and a man’s shirt backtucks become
a bodice pleat
easing into halter-dress cool.
Wool suiting has been invited
to extend its integrity
beyond men’s tailoring.
A shy leg over the shoulder
into a cap-sleeved crop top,
the waistband is the waistband upside-down,
the crotch – confidence now -
a sly V-neck.
Thomas Cook shirting surprises itself as
one-legged shorts, or a half-skirt,
the clipped-out fly placket neat
under drawstring casing,
the peak of a shoulder seam loose on the hip,
the drape, early Kawakubo.
Leather and buckles elsewhere in the show chime with Welfe’s evocation of ancient skills meet streetwear. The old shoe leather carries memories and past meanings of bodily adornment and protection. Pinned like viscera to the wall, the splayed shoe hide simultaneously brings to mind the Vikings’ butterfly cut and a contemporary delight in deconstructing the cobbler’s craft. Welfe plays with leather-as-idea further: approaching verisimilitude, silver represents a leather strap and buckle curled in the intimate dimensions of a ring. These opposites (destruction/making, hard metal/ soft leather) are continued in the vulnerable threads lacing the rings’ perforations.
Here the playfulness is located in the fact that these pencils are not models but the real thing, literally and believably extended by seeping graphite. There’s no slippage between an uncanny model and reality; the graphite seamlessly is the real thing, pooling, congealing, zig-zagging. I can hear the snap of the graphite core as the tradie makes his mark. These are absurdly fragile and funny - personal objects rendered surreal.
beakers, wine glasses, goblets,
the colour of tobacco stains
(cigarettes signifying glamour in the ‘70s)
have a democratic new life in these artful
still life scenes
shelf brackets are an essential element
relieving too much stasis, dancing into place as
cup hooks on occasion
brooks no hierarchy,
op shop finds,
perhaps Kmart dinnersets from the ‘80s
or coveted Finnish designs from the ‘70s
play out their equality of reflection and transparency
against putty-coloured shelves
a collection of shadow, lightplay
the un-ironic beauty of the mundane readymade
(probably not what Duchamp had in mind at all)
reminds me of living
with smoked glass over the years
(the inherited stereo cabinet
with magnet-catch glass doors,
the glass-topped coffee tables in aunts’ houses,
nan’s cheap dinnerset)
in her work elsewhere
Miles has made glass ring and reverberate,
but smoked glass seems quiet,
Speaking of Duchamp, Kris Coad’s vessels resemble the most elegant line-up of miniature Duchamp “Fountains” in translucent porcelain. Dotted with straining holes, with their shard-like lips attached with porcelain “rivets”, and lack of usable height, they don’t really cut it as beakers anymore. Coad makes vessels renowned for their purity of design, for the tactile simplicity of their throwing lines. They are usually pleasurable to handle and quietly ceremonious. Here she has confounded the usual expectations and bumped up against questions about craftmanship and the production of art that have been around for a 100 years or more. She makes reference to the shape and basic design of Duchamp’s urinal readymade at the same time as her finger lines are evident in the variable throwing ridges. This a small, personally laboured-over series with the evident hand of the artist, not mass production or found objects.
Next to Miles’ glass, the mercury tones of Akira’s pendant lamp remind me of the ‘70s again. So does the geometry, and the mirrorball quality. Lasercut stainless steel triangles clad a dense polyhedron that defies the concept of transparent light emission. The contemporary surface suggests contemporary approaches, unlike the leather and textiles and silver. It’s so stuck down, solid, sombre.
A series of vertical darts shape a leather doublet into a waisted garment. The dart segmenting is organic like a pumpkin. Straps and buckles stitched from the waist down could be fetishist but they give the air of protecting, girding. The bulk of the canvas skirt or jacket extension matches the leather in heft. This isn’t a commercial catwalk piece but a garment for the end of the world or for a time in the past when they thought it was the end of the world, for raiding, or war, or plague. The delicate threads on the unhemmed fraying edges of the canvas strips counter most of what I’ve just written.
Here’s another lamp: translucent cotton pants stiff with glowing latex, from a distance soft like an illuminated two-legged windsock; up close, durable and stable, just as it is as a concept - tight as if it had been a good idea forever, nothing thrown away.
This work is the disrupter in the show. I’m tripped up and concepts slip. There’s no contemporary virtue of upcycling old clothes or recontextualising found glass objects and celebrating the everyday, there’s no resonance of the age-old artisan, the silversmith or the leatherworker. Domestic, personal? No. Utility?
So I’m bending down to see if it is really the bland, branded rubbish it looks like and I see it is so nearly really rubbish - the “nearly” a kind of weird averaging out, a flattening of logo and printed complexity to a hollow simulacra. It’s in the grey of the “aluminium” cans (the matt off-grey that, unlike aluminium, barely catches the light) that I can see the jig is up but I keep looking, drawn in by the precision butts and the foamcore trickery. Like a model but then not like a model because it’s a model to exact 1:1 scale, like Borges’map. Is the real meaning the flatness, the distancing? Pointless cigarettes and branded packaging unable to achieve anything much like their originals in real life, unable to be smoked or contain anything securely? Or is it about my own reaction to the superficial fabrication of much of our world for us by corporations (and the waste!), on one hand, collapsing into a growing pleasure in the labour and precise making before me on the other? There’s a mobius strip of ideas here.
Is this what everyone else in this space is saying, but differently? Reclaim the handmade, reclaim concepts about the authenticity of our everyday wearables and vessels and homewares, meaningfully renegotiate your relationship with your everyday objects. Question what do we want from our art. Our craft. I can’t help be impressed by the crafted meticulous replication and assemblage manifesting the pointlessness of globalised crap. Kind of a wonderful paradoxical point.
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