Pam Aitken, Sophie Coombs, Franz Ehmann, Lisa Kelly, Lucas Ihlein, Patrick Jones, Ruark Lewis, Jacqueline Rose, Alex Selenitsch, SquatSpace, Ania Walwicz
Curator Ruark Lewis places work by eminent language artists Alex Selenitsch, Franz Ehmann and Ania Walwicz alongside that of an emerging generation. The exhibition unites aesthetic sensibility and avant-garde traditions with a critical approach to the dissemination and display of art. The artists embed social concerns within larger ethical and aesthetic fields, building forms of local practice that are not overtly oppositional but which access and involve global public opinion. In this way their art functions as an alternative form of publication.
Why is this type of practice so relevant today? Because the working model it proposes, wherein ideas, experience and opinion are modelled in an art gallery or other public context, runs counter to the neo-liberal status quo of technocrats and closed doors, manipulated concerns and sedated villagers.
Most artists in the exhibition see language as a traditional avant-garde or experimental tool and relish its capacity for subversion. Sophie Coombs's work Piece and Lisa Kelly's sculpture Powerless Circuit use epigrammatic humour. Other artists, more sombrely, refer to classic modernist writers in a type of homage, paid, for example, by Pam Aitken to Samuel Beckett and Jacqueline Rose to Franz Kafka.
|Patrick Jones, A Temporary Autonomous Zone, February–March 2006. Roaming graffiti wall for duration of Comonwealth Games. Comprises stencils and graffiti found in Canada Lane, Carlton.
|| Franz Ehmann, Fourteen, 2004. Comprises 14 parts, gouache, black board paint on paper bags, 48 cm x 273 cm
|| Lucas Ihlein, Shelve, 2002. Hand-sawn found wood.
|Ruark Lewis, Banalities for a Proposed Museum, 2005. Banners, acrylic on cotton. Installed College of Fine Arts, Sydney, 2005.
|| SquatSpace, Redfern Waterloo Tour of Beauty, 2006.
|| Ruark Lewis, Banalities for a Proposed Museum, 2005. Banners, acrylic on cotton. Installed College of Fine Arts, Sydney, 2005, (Detail)
Others use performance modes as social commentary. Patrick Jones's roaming graffiti wall, A Temporary Autonomous Zone, slyly critiques the absurd zero tolerance laws forbidding graffiti during the Commonwealth Games. The artist group SquatSpace urges us to get a feel for the complex issues of state redevelopment in the Redfern and Waterloo area by getting on board a Tour of Beauty and talking to locals. Other artists show ongoing series of works externally, like Franz Ehmann's hand-painted roadside signage and Ruark Lewis's Banalities, protest banners which place obfuscating letters and jargon within their disputed public context.
After ten years in power, Australian Prime Minister Howard announced his victory in the Culture Wars over post-modern pluralism. In contrast, these artists are asking vital questions and looking for answers in discussions outside powerful institutions and hegemonies, in all forms of publishable places.
Credits: Project coordination Jaime Wheatley