Spring Has Sprung

Uncategorized Sep 15, 2004 No Comments

It’s that time of year again – you can’t choose the right jacket to go out in because the weather is always undecided and the Crested Pigeons are doing a dance on the roof next door. Yes, it’s spring time again and that must mean it’s Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

We don’t know how the MCA manages to find a crop of artists every year to fill up the galleries or what measure they use to decide which works are good enough, but this year’s show is unusually excellent. No crashed cars in the foyer, no fox tail strap ons and – heavens can it be true? – just one video installation and no photography! Things have changed.

The first work you see when you walk into the MCA is a piece by Nick Mangan called Forced Exposure, which is a photocopier with the glass shattered and arranged so it’s like one of those frozen moment sculptures from the 70s, perhaps the moment after someone has slammed their fist into the top and the force has blown the glass out and the work has caught the kinetic movement just so. Actually, when we saw the piece we thought, ‘yes, the frustration of the paper jam has lead to regrettable violence’, but after a few moments contemplation the novelty value of the piece wore off.

Another Mangan sculpture in Primavera is a step ladder called Untitled (Nest) where the aluminium legs morph into various kinds of wood like a three dimensional version a Max Ernst painting or some white ant infestation gone mad. Most young artists have no idea who Ernst is or what a Surrealist object might be, but the language of surprise combinations persists in a lot of contemporary sculptures and installations and Mangan’s work revives the methodology very well. The photocopier is a cheap trick but Untitled (Nest) and other works on display are much more persuasive.

Sharing the same space is Painting Machine by Huseyin Sami and it’s a knockout. Whereas Mangan’s work is an echo of some pretty familiar sculptural conceits, Painting Machine seems to come from a place that’s a little more contemporary. The artist has arranged a series of metal shelves with holes in them mounted on a metal frame that extends to about 8 meters high. Paint is poured over the holes and filters down to form pools at the bottom in a big square tray. How you get the painting out at the end is anyone’s guess, but the sheer aesthetic novelty of the piece works brilliantly – part sculpture, part painting, part bad dream, it takes familiar objects and does something completely strange with them. At the bottom in the tray, the house paint (Sami’s preferred medium) has congealed and crazed and we thought we saw a footprint as well. Perhaps someone fell in and was swallowed Le Brea Tar Pit stylee?

We thought Sangeeta Sandrasegar’s work in Primavera was the work of Stefan Safer who exhibited in the UTS Gallery’s The Line Fell Off The Page earlier this year as both artists work in paper cut outs. But they are different people and the works are different too, but who knew that there was more than one person in the world working in this incredibly demanding medium and that that person was not Gary Carsley? Anyway, Sandrasegar’s work is a series called 20 Works From The Goddess of Flowers Series and to call her works ‘cut outs’ is a bit like calling the Mona Lisa a picture of a lady. The works are fashioned from paper and use ink, glitter and pins and are incredibly delicate, erotic and dense. Like Safer’s work, it’s all in what isn’t there, the shadow on the wall as much a part of the work as the paper. Sandrasegar has made use of classic Indian patterns and introduced Manga style images as well. 20 Works From The Goddess of Flowers Series is breathtaking.

Next door Neal Smith’s Mobilefortune 2 and Mobilefortune 3 are a pretty neat segue from one room to the next. MCA Primavera curator Vivienne Webb should be congratulated on her segues – they are lovely. Smith’s works are wall pieces that look like drawings rendered in bas-relief. You can see machine parts, insects doing battle, Japanese comic creatures without the colour. The two works look great and would probably look even better behind a bar in a groovy nightclub. We try not to make a habit of reading the wall texts at the MCA but we were taken aback by the high falutin’ aims as stated by the artist himself:

“Relief cutting and the soft white colour accent the image with connotations of fossil or bone, with ancient sculpture and fine porcelain. They work to give the image the weight and beauty of time as well as to purify the pop images and give them a new kind of ambiguity and beauty.”

And we thought they just looked cool and they turn out to be about purifying pop images in the holy waters of high art… Take that, unconscious sublime! Doing battle with Smith’s sculptures is a segue to more wroks so subtle we had to check that the dozens of cardboard things stuck to walls were actually the work of another artist. It turns out that they are the work of two artists, Roy Ananda and Julia Robinson, and we have to confess we don’t know what they are. They look good, they have plenty of associations and are intensely detailed, but what are they? We don’t know. What do they mean? No idea. Answers in the usual place please…

There is no such problem with Sandra Selig’s work next door which is called Synthetic Infinite. The artist has taken some orange twine and made an honest-to-God Op Art piece in the gallery by winding the twine around a pillar and planting the ends into the walls. There’s a great perspective effect if you stand back and look at the work from the doorway. Actually, we had to make a conceptual leap and imagine what the piece would look like without fat German tourists walking around and pointing and saying interesting things in German. (The day we visited the MCA, the place was full of people walking around holding little Australian flags that they used to point at art works saying “look at that Mavis!” – but that’s another story).

Upstairs is a work by Tim Sterling called One-Two, One-Two, which is a couple of milk crates rendered in plastic with an aesthetic that seems to be a three dimensional technical drawing style. The problem for Sterling is that the sculpture looks a lot like contemporary art. That’s not a put down, as such, it’s just that the work, while nice, is completely unsurprising, something Ricky Swallow would have done for his Year 12 HSC art work. Another work that looks like art is the PVI Collective’s Pan Opticon Sydney, which is a very busy, very confusing installation that uses video projectors and umbrellas. Which is shame really, because the idea was such a good one – the collective did a performance where they escorted five people around the city using umbrellas to foil surveillance cameras in public places. The installation is a kind of documentation of the event that attempts to render the experience in three dimensions for the gallery visitor. In all of Primavera, we thought that this was the only piece that really didn’t work – too much information, too much going on and the relationship between the piece as the gallery visitor sees it and what it was supposed to be doing was exceedingly tenuous. We raise our fists in solidarity with PVI in their efforts bring down the dastardly society of the spectacle, but maybe they should just use Groucho masks next time?

Natasha Johns-Messenger has the best work in the whole show. It’s called Picture This and uses some amazing low tech materials to produce what has to be one of the best installation pieces we have ever seen. Compared to the overly complicated PVI Collective work, this is simplicity itself. Using mirrors, walls, angled viewing slots and a maze like construction, Picture This guides the visitor through a simple arrangement that is visually complex, creates staggering spatial arrangements and uses perspective to create mind bending effects. And it all looks so simple. As we walked around thinking, ‘ah yes,how clever’, and we thought we knew what was going on, we walked straight into a wall. Now that’s an art experience.

The Art Life

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