info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

putting the work back into networks

lisa gye: networks (cells & silos), muma, melbourne

Lisa Gye is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne

Kerrie Poliness, Blue Wall Drawing #1 2007/11
Work in progress, Monday 10 to Friday 15 January 2011 Kerrie Poliness, Blue Wall Drawing #1 2007/11
Work in progress, Monday 10 to Friday 15 January 2011
photo courtesy of the artist and gallery
LANGUAGE IS NOW LITTERED WITH WORDS WHOSE STATUS AS NOUN OR VERB APPEARS CONFLATED. TO ‘TEXT,’ TO ‘MESSAGE,’ TO ‘EMAIL,’ TO ‘GOOGLE’ AND EVEN TO ‘FACEBOOK’ ANOTHER PERSON DESCRIBE ACTIVITIES THAT MOST OF US PERFORM EVERY DAY. THE SAME COULD BE SAID OF THE WORD ‘NETWORK,’ WHICH LENDS ITS SEMANTIC LOAD TO BOTH THINGS IN THE WORLD AND ACTIVITIES THAT WE ENGAGE IN WITH SEEMINGLY INCREASING FREQUENCY. HOWEVER, AS THE WORKS IN THE MONASH UNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF ART’S LATEST EXHIBITION DEMONSTRATE, DESPITE THE EFFICACY WITH WHICH THE WORD PERMEATES SOCIAL DISCOURSE, NETWORK IS A COMPLEX, SLIPPERY TERM. AS A DESCRIPTOR, ITS USE IS SO WIDESPREAD THAT IT ACTS TO EMPTY OUT MEANING RATHER THAN CREATE IT. ‘WHAT IS IT?,’ ‘OH, IT’S A NETWORK.’ BUT WHAT EXACTLY DOES THIS MEAN?

What is often obscured in the use of the word ‘network’ is the important role played by the work in the network. It is the work that activates the net and creates a sense of dynamic tension—of being caught up in a net and working to making sense of one’s place in the structure of it. Of making connections or resisting connections or playing against those connections. And there is no connection without activity. The net will catch nothing if there is nothing against which it can work. It is this dynamic property that makes the network difficult to visualise. Its translation to the visual most often ends up as a form of aesthetic cartography, like a family tree or a data map. The rhizomatic territorialising energy of the network gets lost in what Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter describe in their catalogue essay as the “ever-present Will to Visualise.” It is against this drive that the exhibits in Networks Cells and Silos have to operate. Some manage it more effectively than others.

Kerrie Poliness’ Blue Wall Drawing #1 dominates the back wall of the exhibition space and could easily be dismissed as an attempt to map the geometries of networked space. However, understanding how the work has been constructed reveals an engagement with the conundrum of invisibility of the work in networks that is far more interesting than the finished work itself. The artist works by establishing a series of laws or principles that serve as a guide to a team of agents who construct the drawing through collaboration. To the gallery visitor, this work is invisible, having taken place in advance of the viewer’s engagement with the drawing. In this sense, the work as a whole only becomes available to the viewer who is willing to do some work, to activate a connection that is off screen, so to speak, and become in turn a collaborator in the network of agents involved in the construction of the work.

Mikala Dwyer, Outfield 2009
Installation view, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Mikala Dwyer, Outfield 2009
Installation view, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
photo courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Similarly, Mikala Dwyer’s Outfield forces the viewer into an active relation with the work by bringing together a strange array of objects whose own relations to each other are only made obvious by their placement in a circle, the metaphoric symbol of unity. The totemic qualities of many of the objects suggest ancient rites and cosmological significance while simultaneously resisting categorisation, forcing the viewer to draw on their own connective strategies to generate meanings.

Heath Bunting, The Status Project: A1072 Able to provide a natural person date of birth 2010 Heath Bunting, The Status Project: A1072 Able to provide a natural person date of birth 2010
photo courtesy of the artist and gallery
Other works play with and disrupt the drive towards data mapping which characterises the aesthetic visualisation of networks. Heath Bunting’s Status Project 2006-2011 is the visual realisation of an ongoing project aimed at charting the relations between characteristics of “natural” and “artificial persons” and their characteristics to produce “maps of influence.” These complex maps chart such webs of data as religion, political identification and ability to provide a current postal address to produce maps like ‘A terrorist 2010.’ Their complexity reveals the absurdity produced by the abstraction of data from actual lived lives, tapping into the empty zones of audit culture that dominate modern bureaucratic life. Printmaker Justin Trendall’s ‘Darlinghurst 1’ weaves together a textured space of actual sites and their semiotic traces into a map that looks uncannily like embroidery while Sandra Selig’s contribution, titled heart of the air you can hear, protrudes from a corner of the gallery like gossamer macramé, a wistful reminder of the fragile temporality of the networked connection.

Tjaduwa Woods, Ilkurlka 2010 Tjaduwa Woods, Ilkurlka 2010
photo courtesy of the artist and gallery
In all, 20 artists are represented in the exhibition and their inclusion is itself a commentary on the nature of networks. The variety of mediums used, from the screen based work of Natalie Bookchin’s Mass Ornament to the paintings Ilkurlka and Kamanti by Indigenous artist Tjadawu Woods, demonstrates the promiscuity of the network’s effect on artistic consciousness. The inclusion of older works from the MUMA collection, such as John Dunkley-Smith’s Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life #5 (1990) and Roger Kemp’s Metamorphosis (1973) attests to its longevity. Curator Geraldine Barlow’s choices help us to draw unexpected insights from unlikely juxtapositions both within the individual works and from their eclectic correspondences with each other. The exhibition is also reflective of what Director Max Delany has described as MUMA’s curatorial focus, “the unfinished business of modernity and historical reconstruction, as well as the direct experience and creation of our contemporary condition, in all its complexity.”

This theme plays itself out in the architectural design of the museum itself. Occupying the ground floor of a curved 1960s era educational building, the museum is a combination of existing structures and new purpose built gallery spaces. One of the more intriguing aspects of the design is the exposed support structures between the gallery spaces, giving the visitor the sense of ongoing construction, like being behind the scenes on a film set where one is unsure where the real action is taking place. Rather than acting as a distraction to the works, the spaces between galleries work like interstitials on television, keeping up the sense of flow and contributing to the dynamism of the exhibition. The slightly curved walls and the rectangular spaces also make the visitor attentive to appearances, or rather the appearance of appearances.

Outside the museum, Callum Morton’s Silverscreen 2010 is wedged between the museum and the Art and Design building, its scaffold-like properties also reinforcing the sense of ongoing construction. This monumentally scaled steel edifice functions as both a visual connection between the two buildings and a passageway through them, leading from the bustle of adjacent Dandenong Road to the serenity of the internal sculpture garden. Its similarity to the rear side of a drive-in screen or a billboard forces us to ask—is it art or is it commerce?—a question no doubt familiar to the occupants of both buildings.

The co-location of MUMA with the Faculty of Art and Design makes a great deal of sense and on my visit the gallery was filled with small groups of newly minted art students, sprawled on the floor in front of works, talking animatedly about their relative merits. They too gave an air of construction to the scene, themselves works in progress, making new connections with the works and with each other. The networks that they will inhabit, create, resist and deploy will undoubtedly inform them and their practice as they develop their own creative sensibilities, the expression of which may well find its way onto the walls of MUMA some day in the future.


Networks (Cells & Silos), curator Geraldine Barlow, Monash University Museum of Art, Caulfield Campus, Feb 1-April 16; www.monash.edu.au/muma

This article was originally published online March 7, 2011

Lisa Gye is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. web

© Lisa Gye; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top