Ghost In My House

Uncategorized Feb 16, 2006 No Comments

You can tell we’re livid by our crossed arms and sour looks. Where were our invitations to Amanda Love’s super-exclusive Biennale bash last week? It’s not as though The Art Life hasn’t done anything to support the Biennale of Sydney 2006. Their super vigilant press office granted our interview with Dr. Charles Merewether last week on the basis that he’s a very busy man, and we agreed we wouldn’t waste his time with absurd questions, but we ask you – have you seen a single bit of Biennale coverage anywhere other than here?

Actually, William Petley’s column in the S section of the Sun Herald published photos of the soirée, including a nicely dressed Tracey Emin – and cryptic admonitions to his readers to not mention “ballet classes” to Sarah Cottier – while only tangentially explaining that the party was for Biennale bigwigs and potential sponsors. We assume that we weren’t invited because we’ve already done our dash and besides, they probably heard about us walking around drunk at openings saying “We’ve got a call for Amanda Love – hey everyone – we need a man to love!”

But enough of the “in” art world chatter – to more important issues – such as drinking booze under bridges. You may note below an invitation to an event that was held under a bridge on Barcom Avenue in Paddington on Wednesday night. The idea was that you went along, had a drink and checked out some photocopies stuck up on walls and telegraph poles. Now, you may think that The Art Life endorses drinking in the streets – we don’t – we deplore the activity [except as ‘walky talkies’] – or that we think that photocopy art has yet to have its day in the sun. Neither of those things is true. What we are doing is posting press releases and invitations that are sent to us for the information of Art Life members and their guests. There’s no actual “endorsement” of any exhibition outside of us wanting to encourage people to go along to shows that they may not otherwise hear about. With just over 2,000 people visiting The Art Life every week, it’s a good place to reach out – so we encourage people to send us their invites and we’ll put ‘em up.

Another issue that has come up in the last week has been a vigorous discussion of the pros and cons of Sydney’s artist run and other hire spaces. Is it right, for example, for an artist to pay a premium rental price for a two week exhibition, plus all the expenses of an opening, and then pay the hire space a whopping 30 per cent commission just for the pleasure of showing there? The debate has been quite heated. Always helpful, Margaret Mayhew suggested that concerned citizens should share information on an anonymous Wiki. A what? A Wiki is an online, cross referenced resource that allows contributors to add information, edit, update and correct each other’s efforts. The Wikipedia , a collaborative encyclopedia, is probably the best known of all Wikis. If Art Life readers are interested in building a Wiki of art world information, there is a free build-it-yourself site called Wikispaces . Or we could do all the work for you. Options in comments below please.

[The above two items were generated by our readers whinging overtime. As you know, whinging is the energy force that drives the wheels of the art world – “Why not me? Why am I not as famous and rich and beautiful as all the other people who are more rich and famous and more beautiful than me?” It’s a bit like steam engines, except the whinging goes in one end and nothing comes out the other…]

It occurred to us once that non-gallery people doing curated group shows in commercial spaces was something new. Apparently not. Sherman Galleries – who are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year – claim to have been doing them since day one – so this may only be an impression – but it sure feels like there are more and more of them around. We found ourselves arriving at Oxley Gallery for Rectangular Ghost curated by Amanda Rowell last week. It is by all measure an outstanding show of young[ish] artists. The title of the show – which for some reason reminds us of a song by The Fall – is a complete non sequitur. “The title of the show comes from an anecdote that Sydney artist David Haines told the writer after a performance by Robin Fox at Artspace in October 2005. ‘My mother told me a story about going to a park in London where she saw a rectangular ghost…” Pardon? Rowell’s show is much like that anecdote – we saw something and we can’t quite account for it. How did the curator came up with the artists she chose? We don’t know but damn it, it feels good – and that’s all that matters.

Newell Harry, My Changing Moods 3, 2005.
Pegasus print, 100x100cms, Ed of 6.
Courtesy Roslyn Oxley Gallery.

The artists in Rectangular Ghost – Robin Fox, Michelle Hanlin, Christopher Hanrahan, Newell Harry, Pep Prodromou and Jemima Wyman – share a consistent practice in the way the works conjour up something unaccountable, an uncanny other that hovers over the works defusing completely coherent readings. Hanlin, for example, paints heraldic symbols that incorporate the flora and fauna of this “wide brown land”™ along with elephants and other unlikely interlopers. Their colours – washed out yellows, greens, and pinks – suggest a kind of comic take on hereditary lines and royalty, yet at the same time their playfulness diverts a socio-political reading towards one of sheer visual pleasure. We’ve discussed Hanrahan’s work at length here before and the recent works on show in Ghost carry on the same kinds of opaque linguistic shenanigans as his superlative Esa Jaske show of last year. Of Hanrahan’s work Rowell says that he “creates an arid no man’s land haunted by figures of speech” which is so on the money we wished we’d said it ourselves.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Newell Harry’s name was back to front – surely his name is Harry Newell – but apparently not. Harry’s works are a suite of sculptures, three photographs and a series of text drawings on black paper. The sculptures are an actual putt-putt golf course complete with fake grass and holes arranged in what seems like random order. In the photographs, Harry balances on a barrel in what might be his studio, a bucket on his head with a crude representation of a face on it. The drawings are puns and almost-palindromes – ADONIS SAID NO. We’re in domain of linguistic uncertainty in Harry’s work, so it’s probably suitable that his name is so confusing. Pep Prodromou’s name probably is the right way around, but we suspect that it might also be a palindrome or an anagram, but our persistent dyslexia stops us from being certain. Her work takes up the complete smaller gallery of Oxley’s which is filled with plastic Xmas trees, in the dark, with just a single eerie light in the distance. It’s called The Séance and it is creepy on many levels.

Jemima Wyman’s work we saw in Primavera last year and really dug the psychedelic landscape she showed there with its wide screen, wrap-around construction. The problem with Primavera is that it often makes even the good works look crappy, which was a shame for Wyman. In Ghost she has a single landscape diptych based [it says on the notes] on a found image of the Venice Beach canals in California. You don’t really need to know that fact because the work is so saturated and intense you can now see why she was selected for that benighted exhibition. Imagine a whole gallery full of her work – yikes! Luckily, Robin Fox only has only one work called Volta, a video installation of an image of an oscilloscope reacting to the soundtrack, which is lots of low rumbling sounds and squeaky electronics. Rowell says “Fox makes us listen to image and look at sound” – the synaesthetic introduction and farewell to the whole show. It doesn’t make us do anything of the kind – except look away because of the nausea low rumbling sounds and blinking lights makes us feel. [Did you know Johnny Cash had synaesthesia? They should have left that in the movie].

Marisa Purcell, Clearance, 2005. Oil on linen, 150x120cms.
Courtesy of the artist.

In its last few days is Slowly, Slowly at Kudos Gallery in Paddington. Featuring the work of Marisa Purcell, Alexandra Noble, Melinda Schawel, Jacqueline Belcher and Anna Lisa Backlund, it’s an intriguing show of abstract painting, semi-abstract works and illustration. By far the most interesting works for us were those by Purcell, a painter working in oils whose ghostly images skirt figuration in a style we have decided to call The New Irrealism [for more on this, please check out the forthcoming issue of Runway which features a small article on this and other recent painting by The Art Life]. Briefly, New Irrealism is an approach to painting that is decidedly low key, deploying its effects without histrionic showmanship, while creating an eerie other world of ghostly images and abstract washes. Purcell, we have decided, is one of the key artists of this mini-moment and we love her work.

Noble’s works are also abstract, put together with fabric spots on paper, and create an odd continuity to Purcell’s painting. There’s an essay or perhaps a book to be written on the dot in art, from Georges Seurat to Yayoi Kusama to Indigenous art to a chapter at the end on Noble, because, well, it’s out there. Noble’s works stretch out along one side of the gallery, hot pink and blue dots on white paper, ending up at some sculptures called Lucky Lakshmi & You which are beautifully balanced cones of pigment on chinaware. Like the works down at Oxley, it seems to make an implicit sort of sense that says – this looks really good – and you have to agree. Not as convincing are the works of Schawel, a perfectly presentable series of mixed media works on wood, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi to lift them out of the ordinary. In complete contrast, Belcher’s works have a wow factor that is a real wow – you think, how the hell did she do them? Using cut paper, the artist has created mind-bendingly intricate patterns of swirling leaf shapes that spiral out from the centre of the page. In these works – like the cut paper works of Sangeeta Sandrasegar and Gary Carsley – it’s all about the shadow. Exacting, perfectly executed and pristine, Belcher’s works are things of wonder.

Backlund was one of the very first artists to have show reviewed here at The Art Life and it was with interest that we went to Slowly, Slowly to see what she was up to. In 2004, the artist was doing hard edge abstracts on canvas. Two years later it feels like the work of a different artist. Her works for this show are illustrative works done, we’re guessing, with a computer and remind us of something so primal it scares us. So let’s end with a very short story: You are 12 years old and you have just moved with your family into a new house. The cold rooms are mostly empty, just a few beds set up in the bedrooms and your clothes are hanging in a dusty wardrobe. You try to go to sleep. Your older brother stays awake late into the night reading a novel with the harsh overhead light beaming down. You can’t sleep. Maybe a migraine is on the way. Your mouth is dry and there may be sand in the bed. On the wall, right next to your pillow, is some wallpaper with images of old aircraft, toy soldiers, racing cars, teddy bears and chess pieces. It’s all a bit like the kind of thing you see on the birthday cards your elderly relatives give you every year, images from a childhood better suited to 1945. You reach out and, with a finger nail, cut into the face of a toy solider. Working a finger under the paper, you tear off his stupid face. It might take years to completely fuck up this wallpaper, but it’s a job you’re more than ready for.

The Art Life

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