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The peculiar things we do with technology

Ned Rossiter reads the fine print

Tee Ken Ng, Untitled Tee Ken Ng, Untitled
Part of the wonder of encounters with artworks is the juxtaposition between your own efforts to comprehend a piece, if that is what you do, and the intepretation presented in the ‘artist’s statement’. The disjuncture that can at times emerge prompts some questions. To what extent is an artwork independent of its accompanying text? (Can or should it even be thought in such terms?) Does the extra-discursive nature of experimental artwork sabotage the potential it may have to correlate with the logic of written statements of intent, flimsy as they often are? These are some of the reactions I had to two exhibitions that use decommodified and new technologies to explore both the place and use of technology in culture and society.

Electronic media are used by three of the seven artists in fresh, an annual exhibition at PICA where select emerging artists dialogue with a curator—PICA exhibitions officer Katie Major this year—as they develop their artworks for public display.

Tee Ken Ng’s installation Onto Itself makes use of reflective smoked glass to form a pane of illusion between two television monitors on which usually incommensurate subject matter converges: a running tap bubbles water over one TV surface; a suspended glass mug contains a straw of TV static; a digitally produced inanimate object contracts and expands its way into life as it passes, somewhat paradoxically, through TV static in an evolution of descent. While these arrangements do have a momentary fascination that comes with their peculiar form of presentation, they are less successful I think at communicating the counter-discourse on or critique of televisual discourses suggested in the artist’s statement.

Similarly, Neale Ricketts’ statement promises interesting things for Click, a large video projection of mostly indistinct images: “By comparing the nature of the format (film) with the essence of the subject (waste), I am hoping to encourage an exploration into notions of waste and its by-products, which thus recycled, are able to once again, be meaningfully consumed by our society.” Unfortunately, such ambition, important as it is, does not translate across to the work itself. Ricketts is also interested in issues of public surveillance by video cameras, and signifies this to a small extent by placing at the base of the video projection two video monitors with connected cameras, one of which transmits the image of the audience onto a monitor as they enter the installation space, while the other just points to the second monitor.

Part of the problem of employing new technologies in artwork as vehicles to communicate a critique of the technologies’ attendant culture, is that the capacity for dazzle tends to overwhelm the subject of critique. The artwork becomes a display of what technologies can do, rather than an articulation of, say, decommodification and cultural practices of consumption.

Across the car park divide from PICA, in the modest space of Artshouse Gallery, is an exhibition of sculptural works by visiting Melbourne artist Michael Bullock. Resting on cardboard supports poking out of one the gallery walls, are 10 cardboard scale models of obsolete technologies: TVs, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster, speakers, a tape player, an iron, a record player. Above each object is a typewritten text, usually a humorous anecdote of the artist’s habit of collecting and accumulating various mechanical and technological devices manufactured mostly in the 70s, only to then store them in a closet or back shed as a particular item fails to perform beyond its use by date.

Like Ng and Ricketts, Bullock too is interested in the kinds of peculiar things we do with technology in its stages of decommodification. Quite different though is his strategy of expression, avoiding the risk of the technology of production overwhelming its product, the artwork itself. His cardboard models, which could well have been pre-assembly line prototypes, stand somewhat pathetically as items once desired for their sheen and ‘new frontier’ domestic status. In some cases, objects like the record player or toasted sandwich maker have undergone a process of recommodification as the item attains a kitsch or cult value status. Bullock’s text and sculptures are mutually constitutive of each other, with the text situating the junk technologies in a contemporaneity that is both out of the closet and away from the ignored display shelves of manufacturer’s showrooms, if such things exist.

fresh, an exhibition of installation, time based and electronic media works, curator, Katie Major, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), March 26 - April 26. End of the Line, a project of sculptural works by Michael Bullock, Artshouse Gallery, Perth Cultural Centre, April 17 - 26

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 30

© Ned Rossiter; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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