|Pie, spat+loogie with Willoh S Weiland|
image courtesy and copyright the artist
This held-together-by-masking-tape look is after all a signifier of our visual arts times but it hasn’t until now made much of an impact on the clean-cut Primavera experience. This year, guest curator Jeff Khan has conceived an exhibition that feels different from its predecessors.
Khan, who is known for his artistic direction of Melbourne’s emerging and experimental arts festival Next Wave, scattered around the city from underpasses to art spaces, has (not surprisingly) focused Primavera 2009 on interdisciplinary and expanded practices that engage social connectivity. But selecting artists for a major art institution exhibition who “propose a departure from fixed studio practices and exhibition-focussed styles of art making,” (Jeff Kahn, catalogue essay) can be as problematic as it can be progressive.
One of the highlights of Primavera, the performance project Pie (2009) by collaborative duo spat + loogie (Kat Barron and Lara Thoms) with Willoh S Weiland, serves as a key example. Dressed as waiters on the MCA lawn spat + loogie invite whoever is game to sit with various curators who have been recruited for the task, for one to one 10-minute discussions. The duo offer inspiration by providing a ‘menu’ of accessible and witty topics that invite probing questions into the nature of contemporary art, including “Is skateboarding art if you slow it down?” and “Are these tourists making video art.” Offering participants the opportunity to throw a cream pie in the curator’s face at the conversation’s conclusion, spat + loogie ensure that each pays the price for stuffy art-speak or meaningless waffle.
But blink and you’ll probably miss it. Taking place just five times over the course of Primavera and with only a few tokenistic cream pies and photos in the gallery, Pie raises the wider issue of how performative or ephemeral practices can sustain a satisfactory and much needed presence within the institutional sphere. The beauty of Pie is that it values its participants and engages art goers and random passersby alike, but it makes for a sadly disappointing experience for the majority of Primavera visitors who will simply miss out.
In contrast Christopher LG Hill and Andy Best both explore the social act of art making via collaborative projects that result in substantial gallery exhibits. Hill investigates ideas of value and exchange through collaborations with his art peers that often generate sculptural installations, such as Clique (2009) in Primavera. Clique consists of a democratically arranged ring of modified, almost anthropomorphic chairs interspersed with subtle sculptural assemblages. As if standing in for their makers they reflexively symbolise the collaborative process and open dialogue that created them. A reading bench covered by art publications completes the seating circle, implying that gallery visitors aren’t excluded from the clique but can engage in its ‘exchange’ of information, but with no way to respond this is a purely symbolic, one way system.
|Oom Unit (2009), Andy Best|
image courtesy the artist
The artists’ installations aren’t as compelling as the territory they explore conceptually and performatively. The symbolic ‘aftermath’ of their social connections—Hill’s mismatched chairs and Oom’s cramped sleeping arrangements—are tellingly empty.
|Autonomous Improvisation V.1 (2007), Wade Marynowsky|
image courtesy the artist
|Raining Room (Seeing Stars) (2009), Michaela Gleave|
image courtesy the artist
The remaining works in Primavera are comparatively unassuming but reward contemplation. The result of Christine Eid’s research into taxi-drivers in Lebanese-Australian communities combines the languages and methods of both social history and the visual arts. Wall-mounted rearview mirrors and taxi lights bearing drivers’ names verge on the literal, while the accompanying short film Transit (2006), is a sensitive and emotional account of Eid’s father’s experience as a taxi-driver.
Kinetic artist Ross Manning creates everyday automata from playful junk assemblages. Neo-Luddite Pyjama Party (2009) for example, is a mess of tangled wiring, barely balancing fans atop Jenga-like piles of scrap timber and precariously swinging projectors that, via a carefully interconnected system creates an alluring Aurora Australis-like visual effect from refracted and mediated light. Manning’s confusingly complex yet lo-fi constructions wryly invite us to question our reliance on the ‘invisible’ technologies that permeate modern life.
Rather more serious in tone is Western Australian artist Roderick Sprigg’s installation Mechanical Nuisance (2008), an investigation of masculinity within isolated farming communities. Using discarded safety mechanisms from agricultural equipment, Sprigg has constructed a dining table modelled on the one in his family home but that darkly resembles a sort of torture chamber. Together with video projections of himself at work and his grandfather playing the harmonica, Sprigg’s installation sombrely suggests that despite isolating and arduous work, these men feel happier out in the fields than in their own homes.
Jeff Khan’s signature on this show is clear in the strong thematic association between works, playful cross-contamination (between Hill and Gleave’s works) and the somewhat risky inclusion of performative and non-autonomous art forms. The show proposes an exciting new future for Primavera as a platform for dynamic practices—both artistic and curatorial. While overall the work in Primavera 2009 offers less of the wow factor than past shows (recall Soda_Jerk’s epic Astro Black in 2008, or Martin Smith’s achingly honest and delicately defaced photographs in 2007), this community-minded grass-roots Primavera is more of a grower.
Primavera 2009, curator Jeff Khan, artists Andy Best, Christine Eid, Michaela Gleave, Christopher LG Hill, Ross Manning, Wade Marynowsky, Roderick Sprigg, spat+loogie with Willoh S Weiland; MCA, Sydney, Sept 9-Nov 22
RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg. 53
© Josephine Skinner; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com