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Next Wave

Minus the special effects

Christian Thompson encounters Next Wave Mind Games

Christian Thompson is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.

This year’s Next Wave was bursting at the seams with projects including a small show titled Mind Games at Conical Gallery. Curators Kerrie Dee Johns and Fiona Bate brought together a body of works in a collective dialogue to realise the overarching methodology of the project.

Mind Games is an interactive show, but in the most unconventional sense. It invites viewers to immerse themselves in an alternative, fantastical reality that nevertheless has a complex history.

In the work of Ry Haskings, everything appears innocent. However, his irreverent use of materials and composition introduce us to an illusory world. In his video, World Stab, we see a spinning globe stabbed with a knife, tomato sauce pouring from its interior.

There’s something melancholy and sarcastic about this work that comments on the superfluous structures that operate in the art world on a global scale. A distinct absence of special effects reveals Haskings’ sullen engagement with that art world: modular wooden hands giving the finger; a severed arm wielding a dog leash; an axe in the wall; a flaccid candle in its pseudo baroque holder; a drawing of a vacuum cleaner and easel mounted on giant balls of Bluetak. Commonplace art references and Haskin’s resistance to participate make for a unique work, pathetic and triumphant.

Sydney duo, Ms and Mr, share something of this absurd quality. These artists transport us into private worlds that contrast with the more familiar realms in which we digest contemporary art. Their irreverence to the outside world is tactical.

Ms and Mr make us complicit in Sensory Perception Experiment, their matrimonial collaboration cum carnival magic show. Works on paper against maroon velvet backgrounds see the artists acting out their experiments which, again, like Haskings, expose nuances such as sketching ‘no hands’ with a severed hand, or Mr donning a garment with the text, “I visited Salt Lake City and all I got was this Mormon underwear.”

Each of the works in Mind Games provides us with an internal reality through which we ponder our own. The work of Brie Dalton is like a family tree sprawling across the gallery wall. However, both the public and private worlds of the artist inform her characters. Dalton presents us with an intricate map connected by strings of plastic beads and pearls, glue, sequins and wire. We see a white whale constructed entirely of false fingernails, circuit boards rewired with gum and razor blades and oyster shells framing cutout portraits of teen songbirds, Beyoncé Knowles, Britney Spears and Pink.

Brie Dalton’s work highlights a lack of faith in the idea of aesthetic special effects in which art (so momentary in its superficial guise) is packaged and marketed as product, in which we are bombarded with images, each as shallow and fleeting as the next. Her genealogy unveils something of a tormented fusion of popular references and literary characters. Dalton gives us a real ‘feminist action’—the infrastructure but not the answers.

Mind Games suggests a real sense of possibility and enquiry. Gabrielle De Vietri’s Idea Catalogue Headquarters invites viewers to contribute to a document which includes ideas from de Vietri herself such as “Give people a government-funded holiday” and the Sorry Expo relating to the Australian ‘Sorry’ phenomenon—not such a bad idea!

Scottish collective, Something Haptic, disrupt the space with segments of a church bell mechanism placed in Conical’s rafters. The pieces offer an historical, structural reference, a mechanism usually of a swinging momentum instead becomes a juncture within the existing framework. This work reminded me of Terri Bird’s 1999 Melbourne International Biennale installation. It generated some of the same subversive power by intruding into the physical and historical timeline of the space.

Something Haptic offer a proposition and a problem: the mechanism is stifled in the rafters and, not unlike Brie Dalton’s self-portrait in Parade, constructed from what looks like left over feathers and balsa wood from a Mardi Gras festival, her image inscribed into a wooden panel as she prances in line, feathers spewing from her headress.

David Keating’s installation generates an austere presence with a series of works on paper splayed across a white MDF wall constructed in the space and, as with the work of Something Haptic, the internal workings are exposed. Keating’s drawings reference pre-fabricated model homes and juxtapose a sense of the possibility of the ‘dream home’ with the question, “Whose dream?” His voyeuristic exposés of formalized European architecture give us an insight into the world of his mundane characters, performing pseudo rituals in regimented lines and in gestures like the architecture itself. Keating allows his audience to peer inside his drawings of dream homes, his unlikely characters such as a green blob man and a native American totem pole suggest a time shift or perhaps a conflict between the conventional and spiritual worlds.

These quietly subversive works are gently loaded with ritual in aesthetic, spiritual and fantastical modes. Keating challenges the trite packaged designs of life, love and faith through the systematic adoption of the same tactics.

Mind Games challenges contemporary curatorial methods because it identifies the artist’s disappointment with the real world of art. It offers instead to the audience an intimate exploration of our own fantastic worlds, without the special effects.

Mind Games, curators Kerrie Dee Johns, Fiona Bate, Next Wave, Conical Gallery, Melbourne, March 10-April 2

Christian Thompson is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 4

© Christian Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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