Doc At The Radar Station

Art Life , Reviews Jun 23, 2007 No Comments

What a farrago. After our trip to Venice and the wonders of the art there our return to Sydney has been …well, difficult. The Art Life office was nearly blown away in last week’s storms and when we should have been out seeing art we were tag teaming it, cutting up tree branches, replacing windows and filling sand bags. But we got out, as we always say we will, and we’re starting to feel like we’ve stuck a small spike in a very large mountain… So we decided to get back into it a little slowly.

Newell Harry, Untitled (anagram) Che Fare / Her Face, 2006/07.
Neon, found vessels, spade, dimensions variable. [Detail]
Courtesy Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery.

Newell Harry’s show Views From The Couch at Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery looks like an accident in a font factory. There are words on the wall, on bits of paper, in a book, some words – fragments of phrases and word plays – are rendered in neon and have fallen into a bucket. After his Oxley debut in Amanda Rowell’s superb curated group show Rectangular Ghost early in 2006, Harry has made the transition to Oxley with confidence and élan.

The show is relatively modest – 18 works in total – and run the gamut of more or less familiar iterations for text based work. However, the main point of difference between Harry and all those other artists out there using text is his fascination with Bislama, the pidgin dialect of the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. The most interesting turn in the show is the inclusion of a series of hand woven mats – about 100 x 200 cms each – made in collaboration with the women weavers of Mataso Island. The mats, mounted on the gallery wall declare Cape Malays/Cape Malaise or Pick and Drive Pick and Play and Stone Cold Turkey Cape Flats Shacks – each presented with the vaguely studious air of an ethnographic museum display mixed with the mystery of a cryptic crossword clue.

Newell Harry, Untitled (gift mat #IV) Fuck Knuckle Uncle Pat, 2007.
Pandanas and dye,
111 × 210cm.
Courtesy Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery

There is also an air of comedy to Harry’s work. As his barrel rolling performance/photographs from Rectangular Ghost suggested, the artist likes to let the words do their own thing, small collisions of homonym, alliteration and metaphors. That the act of weaving also subtly suggests a material manifestation of the way language is constructed, and especially the way in which words and phrases from one language migrate across cultural barriers, Harry’s mats are concise little wonders.

Up the hill from Oxley Ms. & Mr. [a.k.a. Richard and Stephanie nova Milne] are making a commercial gallery debut of their own at Kaliman Gallery with a show called Heavy Sentimental. Long time stalwarts of Sydney’s artist run scene, the duo are a perfect example of the adage ‘the harder you work the luckier you become’. Each passing show by the pair in various galleries around town demonstrated that they were quietly honing their beguiling and romantic take on art making.

We remember well the Ms.& Mr. video piece in Turning Tricks at Firstdraft in 2005 and we were confused to say the least. Please no, we thought, not another quirky plasticine animated video installation, but despite an over familiarity with the style and the humour, there was indeed something there that we liked. We just couldn’t figure out what it was. Later in 2005 the duo won the Helen Lempriere scholarship and off they went to New York proving once again we don’t know what we’re talking about. So two years later the Nova Milnes are back from the family’s typewriter manufacturing business in Canada [makers of the famous ‘Beat Special,’ the Clark Nova] and have put together a show that significantly simplifies all of the artists special effects for something remarkably more straight forward but still containing a multitude of suggestive details.

Ms. & Mr., Videodromes for the alone: The Love Cats [1991-2007], 2007.
3.02 mins. Ed 1 of 5.
Courtesy Kaliman Gallery

The duo trade in a very a romantic and nostalgic depiction of their ongoing matrimonial love affair, imagining each other to be present at significant moments in their individual past lives – moments caught on tape and preserved in their personal archives. Videodromes for the alone: The Love Cats [1991-2007] for example, is a video of Ms. doing a dance routine to the famous Cure song at her high school, the event captured on crappy VHS tape. On the right hand side of the screen, Mr. is present via some basic special effects video pasting, dancing and singing along to the Cure song as Ms’s slightly clumsy yet adorable moment of fame reaches its climax. There is a undeniably creepy edge to the work that remains unresolved but adds a certain frisson to the whole experience. It’s a flavour that runs through the whole show.

Ms.& Mr. explore many different facets of nostalgia, ranging from the editing and temporal disruptions of the video works based on their own and family members archival material, to the creation of a massive VHS box lying in the middle of the gallery space. One work is a mass of home move footage stuck on permanent rewind. Videodromes for the alone: Grounded Encounters 1988/2007 conflates similar material with sound grabs from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and perhaps even a sideways reference to Tron.

The effect is disquieting, not so much because the cultural reference points come from a time when we were adults, but because despite this, the works still carry such an emotional charge. It can be extremely dull looking at other people’s home movies, but Ms. & Mr., with their freewheeling attitude to messing with their own memories, their pillaging of ‘precious moments’ for pathos and comedy, and the low key way in which the whole show is presented, this trip into their lives is worthy of more than just a passing glance. Got any more photos?!!

Andrew Frost

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