On the way out of Danks Street and really needing a coffee, we stopped in at Stills South to check out their show. Featuring some older works by Trent Park and Narelle Autio and a piece by Anna Noble, the gallery is basically a stock room where Stills gets out some great stuff for the curious to check out. Luckily, this is worth looking at.
Across the hall is Gow Langsford Gallery, the Kiwi gallery originally from Auckland and who have staked a claim in the good soil of Redfern. Featuring a series of works by Xin Dangwen – who is featured in the Sydney Biennale with works from the same series – they are showing the entire dis + dup photographic series. The works are large scale photographs of compressed plastics, bits of computers and wires, dolls heads, dolls dressed as bears and toy guns from two series of works called disCONNEXION and Duplication.
Although we are starting to feel a little worn out by large scale photography – a sort of phonotony (photo monotony) is setting in. Everywhere artists are making lovely pictures with cameras and when they sit alongside other lovely images made from cameras (ads, movies, etc) we can feel our brains starting to go fzzzzzzzz. But there is more than enough in Xin Dangwen’s work to keep you going, pretty colours, interesting context:
“The disCONNEXION series was taken during Xing’s frequent travels to China’s Guangdong Province. Along the coast, more than 100,000 people and migrant workers make their living by recycling piles of computer and electronic trash, operating in rough environments and social conditions. This huge amount of e-trash is shipped from industrialised countries – Japan, South Korea and mostly from the United States, and dumped here. This trade is an economic boom to the province, but because of mercury in the machinery there are major ecological and biological side affects. The artist has written – ‘These machines (computers) become deeply rooted in our daily activities, replacing the old ways of doing things. Being confronted with vast piles of dead and deconstructed machines, the overwhelming number of cords, wires, chips and parts, with the clear indication of American company names, mode numbers and even individual employees, I felt shocked.’”
One of the problems with art works like these is that although they have a social purpose, they are also immensely attractive. The qualities of colour and composition – not to mention the way in which the works are presented in the pristine gallery space – seems to say, ‘you can have a social conscience if you buy this work, but it isn’t ugly’. Thinking back to our indoctrination into Marxist art theory in high school by being made to watch John Berger’s Ways Of Seeing, this feels somehow wrong. Things that are bad shouldn’t look nice, should they? OK, that’s the way the world is, so we can feel a lot better about desiring the art object. Interestingly, the Duplication series were shot in toy factories and Xing said of the production:
“…during the shooting [of the series], I observed the entire production process and was amazed at how the designs made for the market, match desires of people in every corner of the world. The toys are assembled with each part representing a ‘universal’ beauty that parallels the ways in which we strive for beauty in our own lives…”