A Biennale parallel event on until July 3rd is the show on at Performance Space called Interlace featuring installations by man-of-the-moment Shaun Gladwell, Emil Goh and Kate Murphy. Curated by Blair French, the show is also part of the gallery’s Video Spell program of video art that’s been running all year. You wouldn’t know the show was on unless you were on the gallery’s mailing list or saw an invitation to the show in another exhibition space because, according to the web site, the show by John Gillies is still on. Just as well there isn’t a huge number of international visitors in town here to see contemporary Australian art at the moment or this oversight could be quite an embarrassing oversight!
Let’s start with Emil Goh. We were talking recently to an artist friend of The Art Life who asked us if we thought that the number of exhibitions that Goh is in is, in general, a “good thing”. There’s been a sharp drop off of Goh-related events over the last six months as he’s been on a residency in Seoul – and as far as we can tell he’s only been in five or six exhibitions since he’s been away. There are three on now, the Mix-Ed video art show/conference being sponsored by Sherman Galleries, a drawing show he’s co-curated at The UTS Gallery and Interlace as well as a couple of group shows that he was in when he popped back to Sydney for two weeks in January. That would be enough for most artists but we know that Goh has more coming up overseas and what else has he got up his sleeve? Goh is the James Brown of the Australian art world, the hardest working man in the business. We told our friend that the thing that sets Goh apart from just about anyone else working as hard (and is there really anyone???), is the fact that his work is so consistently good. Better than good actually – it’s uniformly excellent – and it remains a mystery why this guy hasn’t been picked up by a big name gallery yet.
A case in point is his work for Interlace. Unlike his recent Remake series where he exhibited three versions of the same film (La Femme Nikita and Ring) simultaneously, his work in this show is a slight return to an older style. The piece is called Interlace-Between (Seoul) and features two shots where the artist has turned a video camera around 360 degrees and then stitched the two shots together to create a moving, rotating panorama. Although the two shots join together almost perfectly, there’s a slight visual disjunction in the middle because the shots were taken one after another and the panorama is an illusion created in post production. This disjunction between one take and the next creates a slightly cubist style shift where a person in a room can be seen looking in a fridge in one frame, while in the other, the person is laying on a couch watching TV. Goh uses the same technique in different locations and then edits them all together into a series of takes. The technical virtuosity of the work is dazzling, but it never overtakes the descriptive, reportage nature of the images, and feels perfectly in synch with the subject. Perhaps one day every show in every gallery will be by Emil Goh, but that would be a good day.
Do you suppose there’s steam coming off Shaun Gladwell? Do people touch him and go “OW! You’re so hot!“. Here’s a guy who hit the ejector seat and bailed out of dead-end Boutwell-Draper for Sherman Galleries – and he just keeps getting more famous, more everywhere, and he’s even credited with rebooting the market for artist’s DVDs – and he’s just a young pup with a skateboard.
His single channel work in Interlace is called Loco Tapes. There’s a lot to be said about Gladwell in a fine art context – there’s plenty of street-wise chutzpah and conceptual knowingness, a canny understanding of current debates about ‘authenticity’ and so on – but there’s also plenty to be said about him in the context of skate culture. His videos are part of an underground culture of lawless skate tricks and juvenile pranks – Jackass being another mainstream manifestation. Compared to the skate culture underground, Gladwell aint all that – his tricks and tropes pretty standard and by daredevil standards, pretty lame. His saving grace is that he knows he aint all that either and concentrates on a much more affecting diaristic approach to what he’s shooting.
In Loco Tapes, Gladwell and friends have spent a few hours skating and biking around St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hyde Park and the Queen Victoria Building, taping their adventures and meetings with an assortment of people – Mormons, fluffy dogs, little kids and people watching from afar. Intercut with all this are shots taken at home, on roof tops and in domestic interiors. The images are utterly banal – a bar fridge with a cheap statue of Death on a horse, a sticker that says Triple M Rocks Baulkham Hills, a guy walking through a rubbish strewn garage, up some stairs to gaze out from the rooftop at… nothing much. There are also images of a woman talking on a mobile (in slow motion) while on the soundtrack we hear another woman’s voice talking about something to do with Conrad Martens and landscape painting (the echoing room at The Performance Space rendering everything pretty indistinct).
According to the room notes Gladwell’s work is about “the interface of body and public space and explores the para-functions of urban spaces through figures such as the skateboarder or freestyle bikerider as contemporary flaneurs that (sic) seek to disrupt the social programming of constructed urban spaces.” Does anyone seriously believe that we can disrupt the social order by riding a bike or a skateboard through a shopping centre? Does anyone give any credence to the blatantly false assumption that an aimless walk through the city will collapse the dominant visual culture? It’s worth remembering that Guy Debord died broke and paranoid, believing the CIA were tapping his phone and that Situationism is now the provence of academics and romantic undergrads. The only thing you’ll get for riding your skateboard is a fine and big frickin’ deal.
This is the talk around Gladwell – that somehow juvenile stunts, no matter how fun and appealing, are a revolutionary gesture. What is really going on here is the diary of a slacker – an over-educated and literate depressionist, someone with enough nous to record their day to day life, the people they meet and the things they do. On that basis, Gladwell’s work is all in good fun, but please spare us the pseudo-academic clap trap.
Kate Murphy meanwhile has made a work called Pony Skate which we like straight away because of the mention of ponies. It also uses four screens (beat that!) and chronicles the lives of a family of children in a suburban house. The kids have been given cameras while others are fixed on tables or in bedrooms, creating, a bit like the Goh video, a fractured panorama. The extraordinary thing about this work is the intensity it creates – with no adults visible (at least in the long chunk we watched) and with the kids in control of moving the other cameras – you are immediately back in the world of long summer afternoons, in your pajamas before 6pm and early evening TV of cartoons and game shows. We found this piece hard to watch – it was all too real