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Great escape

Jena Woodburn

Matt Bradley, Ghost Gum Matt Bradley, Ghost Gum
Although presented as one body of work, the pieces comprising Matt Bradley’s Dark Crystal show each contained sufficient material to stand alone. Indeed, the series of suspended light boxes entitled Ghost Gum is the epitome of all that is currently favoured in contemporary art. Featuring the blue and white logo of the defunct airline TAA, its luminous arms were cool and aloof. However, its combination with the artist’s Cnr of Danby and Carlton, Torrensville and Giant, gave the exhibition a more experimental and nuanced effect.

Shadowed by Ghost Gum’s elaborate structure, Cnr of Danby and Carlton, Torrensville depicts a Qantas jumbo flying low overhead, lights blinking forlornly against a dim grey-blue sky. Printed large and cropped crookedly outside the image’s border, the still has been pinned upside-down to the wall. This isn’t, however, immediately apparent: the plane still looks ‘right’ and is instantly identifiable. So what gets thrown by this reversal? Not gravity—the plane is still definitely, defiantly suspended. Rather, the effect is reminiscent of a film in which someone has been shot walking backwards, but is then played backwards, so that they appear to be walking forward. Or when magicians Penn and Teller film themselves strapped upside-down, so when the footage is screened the ‘right’ way, objects released from their hands look like they are flying rather than falling. Despite appearances, we pick up from small cues that something is not quite right. The plane is flying, but according to rules of physics different from our own.

What would be the destination of such a craft? Maybe the realm of Giant, one of Bradley’s self-described alter egos whose world features in eponymous stencil works. The square-jawed giant—oversized by our standards but normal in his own environment—is one of the many fantastic dwellers in this blue-and-white-toned world of clouds, snow and castles. Presented on small, unevenly cut boards, the components of Giant are less finished works than works-in-progress, creating the sense that they might be documentation rather than the products of sheer imagination. Combined with the small photograph of a silhouetted tree branch, Lucy and the Apple Tree, and preliminary sketches for Ghost Gum, Giant is not so much a discrete piece of art whose meaning or purpose is at once internal and evident, or limited to itself. Rather, the addenda act as footnotes, annexes, yielding insight into an intriguing inner world. This is a relief from the pervasive self-absorption of so much contemporary art, and its charm lies in this turning outwards, towards fantasy, make-believe, other worlds. And all the works in Dark Crystal essentially offer this, via the airline that enables your getaway, the actual plane on which you can escape, and your other-worldly destination.

Dark Crystal, artist Matt Bradley, Project Space, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Feb 27-April 11

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 44

© Jena Woodburn; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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