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Arlo Mountford, Or Nothing Arlo Mountford, Or Nothing
THE HISTORY OF ART WILL NEVER BE THE SAME ONCE ARLO MOUNTFORD IS THROUGH WITH IT. IN SIMPLE TERMS HIS OEUVRE IS THE FILM ADAPTATION OF ROBERT HUGHES’ THE SHOCK OF THE NEW FILTERED THROUGH THE EYES OF TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE OF SOUTH PARK FAME. THESE ARE WORKS THAT WOULD KEEP ANY ART TRIVIA QUIZ FAN BUSY INDEED, AND THERE IS A KIND OF DELIGHT IN TRYING TO ACCUMULATE THE NAMES AND IMAGES THAT APPEAR ONE AFTER THE OTHER AND THE CAMEO APPEARANCES OF SUCH ART STARS AS THE GUERILLA GIRLS AND JEFF KOONS.

But there is also a serious side to Mountford’s outlandish animations as he traces the history of modernism and postmodernism through the gallery system, wryly commenting on the roles of curators along the way. Nothing, or perhaps everything, is sacred in Mountford’s bizarre mis en scenes. His works balance on a razor’s edge between homage and slapstick, between a keen eye for the intelligent subtleties of contemporary art and the sometimes farcical nature of our genuflection before them.

Mountford’s truly unique animations have become increasingly well-known, featuring in exhibitions at the Adelaide Biennial (2006); Heide Museum of Modern Art (2006); MAAP (2006); and Conical (2006). For his exhibition at Gertrude Street, The Flux of the Matter, Mountford employed his trademark slapstick humour in a selection of new animation works, a live computer work, and a kinetic sculpture.
Arlo Mountford, Or Nothing Arlo Mountford, Or Nothing
Mountford appeared on the scene in 2006 with the extraordinary work The Pioneer Meets The Wanderer. The work begins with two simplified black figures on a beach. The bright ultramarine waves ebb and ooze in an hypnotic dance before something improbably emerges from the ocean depths; due to the bizarre context it takes a few seconds to realise that this is Duchamp’s 1913 Bicycle Wheel, the original of which is lost. But now we find that it made its way from Paris to the Antipodes, thus unleashing all sorts of hybrids and mutants. Unaccountably, when the sun-bakers get up to leave the beach they are transported into the interior of a museum where the real adventures begin.

While there are numerous references to international modernism, this is essentially Mountford’s history of Australian art. We travel from McCubbin and Bunny in the National Gallery of Victoria into the modernist interior of Heide, home of John and Sunday Reid and designed in 1963 by Melbourne architect David McGlashan. Along the way one of the characters exclaims “I feel awful”, referencing the character of Miranda in the 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. Along the way we bump into Tucker, Brack, Boyd, Hester and Nolan—all swapping heads in a wry comment on the incestuousness of the Angry Penguins. Towards the end we witness Mike Parr’s famous arm-hacking performance. There’s a kind of exhilaration to picking the references.

Or Nothing, the key work in The Flux of the Matter, takes us on a guided tour of the European and American avant garde. Duchamp’s renowned urinal adorns the wall while an Andy Warhol Brillo box sits on the floor. They become strangely contemplative images as a filmed human youth dashes about with a mobile phone, seemingly impervious to two of the more shattering moments of modernism.

The third icon here I managed to get wrong, convinced it was a reference to Joseph Beuys explaining art to a dead hare, but in Mountford’s notes it transpires that this is a reference to Martin Kippenberger who has oft been described as Germany’s ‘bad boy’ of contemporary art.

The protagonists of this ‘art tour’ are the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss and Mountford’s depiction of the artists refers directly to the duo’s 1983 performance The Right Way featuring the pair dressed in rat and bear costumes. Resembling Terence and Philip of South Park, Mountford’s figures engage in any number of interactions with iconic artworks, riding Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, wearing Paul McCarthy’s Santa and Chef hats, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s penis, Sarah Lucas’ finger, and shitting text in a reference to Guy Debord’s Memoirs. It’s all hysterically funny and strangely disturbing in its utter irreverence.

There is also a central reference to Chris Burden’s 1985 installation Samson, in which the artist installed a 100-ton jack in the gallery space, pushing massive hunks of timber against the gallery walls, threatening to bring down the museum. The jack was triggered by viewers going through a turnstyle—making the art-lovers complicit in the destruction of the gallery.

Mountford is doing something similar. While less visceral, he dissects the gallery, simultaneously treating the art works as indisputable works of aesthetic and intellectual value (simply by including them) and then allowing his simple black figures to run amok in the space, irreverently appropriating and recontextualising the icons as playthings, props in an ultimately postmodern comedy.


Arlo Mountford, The Flux of the Matter, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, April 13-May 12

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 46

© Ashley Crawford; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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