People who live in Sydney have a secret envy of Melbourne. It’s a place where sub cultures get taken seriously, where vast, glittering art palaces are funded by the public purse and art magazines are given away free to any who ask for them. It’s disturbing to discover then that Melbourne has been going through its own Sydney envy of sorts. The big event for June is the new show at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (it would have to be, judging by the caning ACCA’s last show, NEW05, received). ACCA has teamed Beuys wannabe Wolfgang Laib (a show bound for Sydney in August at the Art Gallery of NSW) with Sydney Grunge alumnus Nike Savvas, which sounded like an odd juxtaposition. Luckily for us, ACCA didn’t disappoint, resembling a rave with its own chill-out room attached rather than the highly esteemed institution it keeps telling us it is. Wooh, so Sydney!
The first room is devoted to Atomic: Full of love, full of wonder, Savvas’s massive installation of 100,000 variously coloured ping pong-style balls strung up to look like a cubic colour chart, with each ball jiggling on the spot thanks to heavy duty fans blowing a gale into the work. ACCA’s cavernous galleries are notoriously difficult to curate, with works tending to be dwarfed by the enormous yawn of the space and its 15 metre high walls that stretch back about 30 metres. What better way to combat the space than simply to fill it so that viewers are blocked by walls of balls, ranging from red down the bottom to blue at the top with the full spectrum in between? Standing back, we thought it was a cute touch, like remixing a pointillist painting through Photoshop or CAD to give it three dimensions. Up close, the bouncy balls brought on slightly less cute bouts of nausea, tempered slightly by nostalgia for early ‘90s dance parties when the pill kicked in and the eyesight started jiggling like it was money well spent and there was no way the come-down could be as bad as last time.
It’s apparently not the response Savvas was looking for, having made Atomic as a homage to the good ole Aussie bush, an exoticising nostalgia that only high-flying ex-pats can really lay claim to. Gone are those wonderful memories of traipsing new shoes through kangaroo and sheep shit, or getting sucked by vampyric leeches for the art world’s virtual recreation of same. We’re not sure that a wobbly colour chart quite fits our understanding of the Australian landscape, but it’s refreshing to see that artists can still invoke this hoary chestnut and not be embarrassed about it.
If your eyesight is still vibrating like a punching bag, we’d recommend shifting to the Laib wing for a transcendental moment in front of his yellow square of hazelnut pollen lightly sprinkled over a glossy metallic base. Having one’s vision dilate and fold into enviro-friendly op art might sound tweely retro, but it’s still more enthralling than Laib’s rack of beeswax boats, delicately scattered rice or a stone slab daubed with milk. Josef Beuys was one thing but anaemic Beuys is something else entirely. The ACCA staff were more than happy to chill amid the beeswax after spending ten hours a day stringing balls together, and who could blame them? But art as an analgesic against the daily grind seems an odd way to resurrect the Beuysian ghost.