Puff and Swallow at Phatspace is a Biennale parallel event – or more correctly, a series of events as a number of artists come and go, make changes to what the last lot did and generally make a mess in the name of art. The problem with collaborative events like these is that there is no real focus, it’s all about the event rather than individual works and while we’re – philosophically speaking – “pro-happening”, we still find trying to figure out exhibitions like Puff and Swallow quite difficult and tiring.
The last time we looked Swallow was in the big room at Phatspace which was painted pink with decorative rosettes stuck to the wall with goop ladled on the cracks. There were also various Christmas trees in the foyer and in one of the adjacent offices in the Phatspace building. It looked nice and we liked it the pink and the green and the yellow goop worked well as a colour combination – but it took us approximately .5 of a second to come to that conclusion. Now what?
The back room, Puff, was more explicable. It had been set up as a press room for the Biennale with tables and chairs, a bar fridge (empty, sadly), a toy gun resting on top of a TV playing footage of a party that was on in the space after the Biennale opening, a crappy typewriter and on the walls, some pencil portraits of the artists. Also on the walls were some really shit pictures – the kind you buy in framing shops of snow covered farm houses in the middle of pine forests – and they were on their sides mounted on hinges. If you swung the pictures out from the wall, you could see a collage of materials collected up from various Biennale venues. Behind one picture was a small photo torn from a magazine of a perky looking guinea pig under which was written FANTASY GUINEA PIG? Hmmm, we thought, fantasy guinea pig – what an intriguing idea!
On the opposite wall was a large photocopy stuck to the wall with a sort of manifesto on it called FANTASY GUINEA PIG MANIFESTO OF unBORING BEHAVIOUR. The artist had come up with 13 propositions for behaviour in public and a few of them were quite good, such as:
6. Must tell as many people as possible how much you love and miss them in a high pitched whining voice.
7. Must be in an exhibition in the loosest possible way.
11. Must mock art establishment as much as possible while simultaneously trying to belong.
The artist, whoever she or he was, had got the tone of the art world down perfectly – we want to belong, yet we are shallow and boring, we love to mock, yet we would like a well paying job as a minor functionary somewhere. For a show like Puff & Swallow to work, you really must be prepared to excavate to find traces of individual artists among the collaborative drift – and the anonymous author of the manifesto was the most clear and precise voice in the whole show. It’s a pity then that he or she had then chosen to leave copies of a zine lying around which in one they had written some truly execrable poetry and in another had a one page essay asking if Joan Grounds had always been cool or is she just cool now? (No, she’s always been cool.) Perhaps it was ironic – we hope so.
Did we also mention that in Puff & Swallow some of the artists have adopted alternate personas? That one is living in a corner of the gallery with a collection of spray cans and two video monitors showing his graffiti art handiwork? Did we tell you that there’s some sort of project going on where Puff & Swallow artists are hitting the streets with matching camouflage backpacks? Sometimes it’s possible to have too many ideas in one show…