As we traveled down to Artspace, we considered the fact that Tracey Emin is obvious. She makes obvious statements and we like that because why waste a lot of time trying to figure something out? We could just as easily pay someone to explain it to us if it was too difficult. The other plus factor for Emin is that she has virtually no subtext – it’s all WYSIWYG.
We are also pro-Artspace. Always have and always will be. But it’s just such an unforgiving gallery. Artists really struggle to work with the space and nearly always fail, those dammed pillars in the way of your sight lines, heavy roof weighing down on you, hardly any natural light and when you really look at it, not that much wall space. Art yes, space no.
Still, they try and we give them points for that
Let’s quickly dispense with the work of Adam Donovan, not because it was bad, but because it appeared to be broken. There were some gizmos in the room, a dish and a tripod and a projector throwing up an image of a mixing desk on the wall. There was an electronic whining sound as well, but we thought that maybe that was coming from our prosthesis. When we walked into the room, the dish moved a little bit and the sound changed. We moved again and nothing happened. We stepped back and forth for awhile and still nothing happened. We decided it must be broken.
Then we remembered Donovan’s work at the last Primavera show at the MCA. There was another darkened room and a 3D image on the wall of what looked like a window. There was a antennae array that tracked us as we came into the room but it didn’t seem to affect the image. Oh well, we thought, it’s busted. It was only later that we met a friend who told us we should have been looking at the work with Monster from The Black Lagoon 3D glasses on and it all would have made sense. We were also told that the MCA staff should have been handing them out. We remembered seeing some guy sitting in the corner of the room reading a paperback, but he wasn’t handing out anything, he just looked bored.
At Artspace, there wasn’t anyone around so we went into the next room to have a look at the work of Mark Titmarsh. In a show called The Thing, Titmarsh was doing an experiment in expanded painting. We read up on the work in the catalogue notes and discovered that what was happening here was that the artist was removing the limits of painting until “the withdrawal of painting leaves an open space in which all the unstated rules of the art world begin to become apparent.” What we had were coloured resins on the floor and orange and white string hung in big hoops from the ceiling.
Titmarsh is an avid theorist/practitioner of the old school and his work over the last decade has concentrated on the examination of artistic gestures – the sorts of things that make up the grammar of visual language. Where you might see three bottles of bleach stuck to a wall, we see a riff on repetitious gestures; where you might see a toy bunny stuffed in a box, we see sculpture at its essence. String? The outline of gesture. Paint on the floor? Pigment freed from the frame.
In many ways, Titmarsh embodies the yin and yang of the obviousness/ambiguous duality. His works skirt explication, only to dive down into a strange particularity that is hard to decode. His works have the frisson of visual pleasure, but the cloud of oblique theory. We “got” the work because we are familiar with the work.
What we didn’t know that there was another part to the show that wasn’t working. Idling next to the counter looking at the catalogue we noticed three portable TV’s. On two TVs were images of Titmarsh’s paintings and on the other some footage of the war in Iraq.
We asked a friendly gallery assistant if the TVs were part of the work and apparently they are. She explained that Titmarsh had planned to put them on the walls around the installation but the batteries ran out after two hours and they didn’t pick up the wireless remote transmission from the VCRs anyway bacuse, she said, “there’s a weird magnetic field in here”. And what was the deal with the Iraq war footage? “Oh, that was a mistake,” the assistant said as she retuned the TV so there were some pleasant orange paint just like the other two screens.
In the last room was a huge video installation by TV Moore. The only way to deal with Artspace is to dominate it. Fill it up. Moore’s The Neddy Project is a huge multi screen installation piece and even the occasional blank screen and DVD AV1REPEAT+PROGRAM text that popped up couldn’t detract from the sheer visual thrill of the piece.
Conflating the story of Ned Kelly and Arthur “Neddy” Smith was a stroke of eccentric genius. Now, we’re not saying we got it exactly or what, if anything, the artist was trying to “say” (as they say) but we instantly liked it.
A dwarf shaking hands with Neddy (not sure which one) against a line up of cops and a Tactical Response Group van (made out of cardboard) reminded us of some favourite scenes from Blue Murder. We were also reminded of iconic Australian paintings featuring Ned Kelly. There was also a very playful and effective use of mirroring and doubling as a visual motif throughout the works. Drawing together Ned and “Neddy” made for effective parallels without pedantically overstating the case. Is TV Moore a pseudonym? It should be. We want more TV more.
We began to put together a formula for the success of a work of art based on the artist (A), the work of art (A2) and the multiplication and division of its “getability” (G) by the skill of the execution (ske) equals the level of success. Just as we were imaging how you would write that down, a guy in a wheelchair and holding a video camera was wheeled into the room documenting the installation. We’ll have to leave these thoughts for another time.