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the noise and feeling of thought

helen grace: wonderland: new contemporary art from australia, taipei

Helen Grace is currently Visiting Professor at National Central University in Taiwan.

Daniel Crooks, Static No.14 (composition for neon), 2010 Daniel Crooks, Static No.14 (composition for neon), 2010
courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery
EXHIBITIONS ALWAYS SEEM TO APPEAR MAGICALLY IN MUSEUMS, AS IF THE OPENING IS REALLY THE BEGINNING, RATHER THAN THE END OF THE PROCESS. THIS IS EVEN MORE THE CASE WHEN THEY ARE INTERNATIONAL SHOWS, THE RESULT OF INTRICATE PROCESSES OF NEGOTIATION—AND ANY CURSORY READING OF THE FINAL LIST OF ORGANISERS, PRESENTERS, PARTNERS AND SPONSORS, BOTH CORPORATE AND GOVERNMENTAL—GIVES US AN IDEA OF THE SHOW’S ‘BACK STORY’ AND THE CONSEQUENT MIRACLE OF ITS REALISATION.

It’s not easy to judge the effect of an international show in a local context if you come from the same place as the show itself because you are not seeing the show that the local audience sees.

So, in Taipei, I come as a virtually blind person to Wonderland: New Contemporary Art from Australia—in a situation not unlike that apocryphal story a prominent gallerist once told me of a blind Sydney art critic who took his partner to shows; together they would stand in front of the art and the partner would describe the work for the critic who would write accordingly about it. It seems like a good method, even more possible in the post-visual space of the contemporary museum, when work can be heard and felt and so I thought I would try it, if not with eyes shut, then certainly with ears open. Actually it is not such an outlandish idea but describes pretty well the process of having one’s eyes opened to work within the hermeneutic processes of viewing, experiencing, listening that interpretation always involves. And besides, all exhibitions now have ‘partners’ to lead us into the process, suggesting what we might see.

In my case, my guides are my very bright grad students, imaginatively remaking pieces from their own thoughts and feelings and transforming them before my eyes, and to walk with them through the spaces of Wonderland is to be re-enchanted. Although I am captivated by Martin Walch’s Mist opportunities (2011) that seems so much like a Chinese painting, my students are less moved by it. Perhaps this is because in March in Taipei it is already so misty every day that it seems too close to home. The pleasure really begins with Alex Davies’ Dislocation (2005) and loud shrieks of joy and surprise emanate from the room as viewers encounter uncanny shadows behind the images of themselves peering into the peepholes of the work. Already feeling a guilty pleasure in their voyeurism, they find themselves ‘caught in the act’—and want to go back for more. The ‘ghost in the machine’ finds an easy resonance in a culture where ghosts abound. This is a popular work and queues form outside it.

Cath Robinson’s Thought noise/wave-form preludes (2009) draws another crowd wanting to play the sounds of inspiration and to listen to the melodies of combination. It is a work that gains the particular and enthusiastic approval of the numerous school groups always visiting the show. The tinkling sounds of these delicious waveform preludes subtly score Matthew Gingold’s Flying Falling Floating (2007) effectively installed above the stairwell.

Audiences are drawn to George Khut’s work in droves, willing to wait for up to 20 minutes to experience it. Heart Library (2009) seems to be strangely effective, though to me it is not an especially visually satisfying work, and even the biofeedback process is a bit hit and miss. But the expressive potential of the work is effectively extended in the hand-drawn ‘body-maps’ that audience members willingly produce by the score. And they do so with the seriousness of purpose of the most serious artists, somehow impressed by this encounter with the nature of the creative process and its links with the moments of reverie that the bio-feedback technology produces in the tense or relaxed time spent listening to one’s own heart beating. Perhaps it’s also the empowerment that comes from having one’s work exhibited in an important art museum in a process of interactivity that somehow works because it has both a technological and a directly analogical component. And it plays to an audience embracing ‘user-created content’ in the real time of visceral experience, using old media forms—paper, coloured pencils, crayons.

Daniel Crooks’ superb Static No 18 (2010) benefits from its location alongside Khut’s Heart Library because the audience moves backward and forward between the two pieces, while waiting to experience the latter. This allows both an uninterrupted and a disrupted time for experiencing the former that seems just right for the particular temporality of the Crooks’ piece. The abstraction of the movement here captures the precision of the original action more effectively than either a real time viewing or a slow motion rendering would demonstrate, bringing us into contact with the particulate nature of space-time itself in a way that we can say is both true to the nature of the technology and the software deployed.

Kylie Stillman’s brilliant Flock (2010) impressed, as did Bindi Cole’s transgender photographs and Fiona Lowry’s spectral paintings. By the time it closed, the show had attracted record crowds to the museum, helped no doubt by the consistency of curator Antoanetta Ivanova’s tireless efforts to serve the work throughout the show’s duration. Nine official sponsors supported the 22 artists represented here but the greatest subsidy was clearly the curator’s own time and energy, animating audiences, engaging their curiosity. In the end, no-one seemed to notice very much that the work was from Australia; it just seemed to audiences to be a bunch of cool stuff to experience, coming from a curious place where artists spoke directly to an audience whose language they did not speak except through these encounters of feeling. This, in the end, is the best fate for a touring show: that it loses its origins and enters its destination as a welcome guest.


Wonderland: New Contemporary Art from Australia, curator Antoanetta Ivanova, artists Bindi Cole, Daniel Crooks, Anna Davern, Alex Davies, Elizabeth Delfs, Julie Dowling, Matthew Gardiner, Matthew Gingold, Chris Henschke, George Khut, Fiona Lowry, Jasmine Targett, Jess MacNeil, Jon McCormack, Cath Robinson, Julie Ryder, Kuuki (Priscilla Bracks, Gavin Sade), Kylie Stillman, Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski, Martin Walch, Yvette Coyle; Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan, Feb 10-April 15

Helen Grace is currently Visiting Professor at National Central University in Taiwan.

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 17

© Helen Grace; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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