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Simryn Gill, A Small Town at the Turn of the Century, 1999-2000 Simryn Gill, A Small Town at the Turn of the Century, 1999-2000
courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Three blonde-wigged miscreants, too fast-moving to be pinned with loitering, too low-impact to be considered vandals, and far too conspicuous to be running a covert operation, baffle the local police and media with a sticker campaign targeting the Ford Falcon, the Holden Commodore and the Mazda 626 in several Perth car parks. Somewhere between interpretation and the act lies True Crime for responsible artists, the PVI Collective, as each easy-peel sticker is printed with instructions on how to break-into and drive-away the car to which it is stuck.

On a larger scale, influencing the actions of others is a primary function of do it, the readymade concept exhibition initiated 8 years ago by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. At the Lawrence Wilson Gallery, the Perth version of do it is characterised by a kit logic that permeates most of the work on a number of levels, pointing to the necessity of expediency and economy in problem-solving and free interpretation at short notice. Comprising a series of instructions from prominent names including Mike Kelley, Dan Graham, Boltanski, Bruce Sterling and Diller + Scofidio, the do it challenge for each host gallery is to exhibit at least 15 existing instructions using local talent.

do it is quite pointedly the signature piece for Perth International Arts Festival’s (PIAF) visual arts program this year, though less of a mammoth undertaking than either Robert Macpherson at the Art Gallery of Western Australia or Stan Douglas and Bill Viola at the John Curtin Gallery. The involvement of Sophie O’Brien as both program manager and co-curator of this exhibition marks something of an ideological shift towards the inclusion of more discursive curatorial practice within the festival. do it is by no means new in this sense, but its placement in the Lawrence Wilson Gallery, an institution that has positioned itself rather conservatively for some time, is an indicator of change at a local level.

Of the 16 works produced, several dominate within the gallery space. Tremaine Egan’s response to Annette Messager’s Untitled (Signatures) (1996) is either a glorious celebration or a cynical tribute to the supremely vain. Egan’s interpretation is a far cry from the humble investigation of signatures suggested by Messager; instead a scaffold stands covered in streamers and confetti like the aftermath of a pep-rally. This cheerleader aesthetic is followed through with sequined college style t-shirts and jeans (designed by tsubi of Sydney) emblazoned with the artist’s name and strewn over the structure and the floor. Its soundscape, a looped phrase of a pop song drifts over the audio component of Jurek Wybraniek’s work, making for difficult listening.

Mike Kelley’s Untitled (Voices), instructing a recording and playback process for supernatural sounds, is pushed to an interactive outcome by Wybraniek. His audience has the options of dancing to the gathered noises on a constructed, green dance floor (with nasty yellow party lights), or noting on paper the presence of voices on the tape. The PVI (Performance, Video and Installation) Collective’s re-working of True Crime by the Critical Art Ensemble specifically locates the act of making “…an image of an illegal object” within the context of a very Western Australian media-fuelled, car theft anxiety.

As for critical anxiety, I gnaw my fingernails while watching the staged exodus of small things in Simryn Gill’s Roadkill. Something about the touched, greasy viscerality of this work and its reference to minor human addictions is a little close to the bone, compelling me to stop right away. An all-wheeled mass of objects, led by copper pennies, little brooches and ring-pulls, alights like a swarm from an alcove in the PICA main space. Followed closely by coloured bottle-tops, beer caps, plastic forks and crushed cans, these grubby remnants have passed effortlessly from hand, to mouth, to pavement and gutter after satiating at base level the cravings of consumer culture.

From an adjacent room, the smell of paper archives permeates the surrounding air. Pooja-Loot (worship-plunder) is an installation dedicated to obsolescing streams of knowledge and reference. Books including an Atlas of the World (circa 1950), Forestry for Woodsmen, a Heroes Annual and Pattern-Cutting Tips become frames for old, rotting plastic toys, ceramic ornaments and party favours. Ornamental windows cut away from their covers and pages nestle the objects that stand as sentries to nostalgia, or like a collection of relics where the Word, the bone and the gilded frame are replaced by trinkets and tales of the past.

Gill’s A Small Town At the Turn of the Century is a large suite of square-format photographs that line the walls of the PICA main space. The artist’s compositions take the many, generic forms of the family photograph, her subjects at ease in their numerous Malaysian environments. All, however, have their faces obscured by masks of exotic fruit; rambutans, mango skin, bananas and the ever pungent durien distancing them from the viewer. Gill’s reference to exoticism and otherness in these works draws further attention to a basic presumption that we can somehow gauge the personality of a person in the single moment they are photographed. Gill forces the viewer to look into their habitats, at their posture and gestures, for clues. Simryn Gill’s work is deeply engaging, commanding a gentle seeking of her audience, and a willingness to explore that is no less compelling than the immersive, sensory video installations of Stan Douglas and Bill Viola that I have been so connected to for the past month.

The surprise of the festival is Robert Macpherson at the Art Gallery of Western Australia that I admit to holding reservations about, having installed a major exhibition of his work at the John Curtin Gallery only 2 years ago. The exhibition is the triumph of a well-considered design and curatorial process on the part of the gallery, that Macpherson’s installations and predominantly painterly exercises occupy the entire ground floor in such a way as to completely own it. Chitters: A Wheelbarrow for Richard, 156 paintings, 156 signs, completed last year by the artist, is the most stunning work. Installed in a many-sided room, the black and white Dulux Weathershield paintings on masonite are mounted from floor to ceiling, filling the space and the eyes of the viewer with large white text, gleaned from landscape and a gardening supplier’s signage.


do it, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, February 9-April 29; A Small Town at the Turn Of The Century, Simryn Gill, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, January 26-April 3; Robert Macpherson, Art Gallery of Western Australia, January 25-March 18; Perth International Arts Festival, Jan 26 - Feb 8.

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 32

© Bec Dean; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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