Many years ago when we were students we saw a video compilation of [then] recent video work from various well known artists of the day. One guy whose name has been lost to us was approaching the whole video-sculpture nexus in a very literal way – he was breaking down VCRs, cameras and video projectors into their constituent parts while trying to keep the machines operating even when they were in pieces. A video feed from a still working video camera relayed a jittery image to projector that threw an image on to a wall. Asked what he was doing with his ‘project’, the artist – surrounded by the gizzards of machines – fumbled for words eventually stating “What I’m trying to do is… I’m… taking it all back to signal.” The whole project was slightly crazed, as if the artist was trying to get down to electricity itself, imbuing crappy 1980s video tech with the same essentialist sculptural quality you imagine is found in metal or wood or stone. Beyond all questions of form, content, approach, language or narrative there lies the brave world of pure SIGNAL.
The work of Andrew Gadow at Firstdraft and his show Techne – Auxons deals with similar territory. Like that long forgotten artist, Gadow is working with feed as the essential element of his project, creating a three gallery daisy chain that begins with a vintage Fairlight CVI – an 80s era video synthesizer that creates patterns and distorts images – producing an image which then feeds the audio output of the CVI into an audio synth in the next gallery which in turn creates audio that in turn is fed into another CVI before going through another iteration into the final gallery space. The sound is like static and the images are a cold colorful blitz of shapes and patterns. Beyond the signal is the artist’s technological fetishism. Since this technology is virtually Stone Age Digital you really have to go looking to find it. Gadow’s been fishing CVIs out of skips, bargain bins, institutional rejects and EBay and god knows where he got the synthesizers from. It all looks kind of crappy, which is actually good too since that’s an aesthetic that really needs a light shone on it. After such reductionism, the question is – where to next? We predict an analogue cult around the Roland JUNO 6. [Remember, you read it here first!]
Compared to Gadow Sam Smith’s show at GrantPirrie [just finished] Scale Set looked positively baroque in comparison. Smith’s work over the last couple of years has investigated the spatial relationships between the virtual world and real world while trying to find conceptual cross over points between the two – sometimes in the form of 2001 style floating rectangles of shimmering green and blue. Many artists claim their work “investigates” this or that, but what they usually mean is that they are just playing on the edges of something probably more interesting than what they themselves are doing. Smith however has a much more developed sense of engagement, taking the aesthetics of signal [the blue and green colours being the Chroma Key process of removing backgrounds in video] and creating a Cronenberg-esque distortion between realties.
In Scale Set, the artist created an elaborate installation of an outsized camera body, a Plasma screen, a miniature set and a video loop on another screen. The loop was a single shot wandering around a street in Surry Hills in which bits of architecture [doors, windows, grating etc] had solid blocks of green and blue inserted electronically and made to look as though these digital invasions might have actually been there when Smith did the shoot. Although seemingly more elaborate, Smith’s work shares something of Gadow’s back-to-signal aesthetic but where Gadow has boiled one element of sound/video production to its essence, Smith was looking at the entire spectrum of broadcast as his play set. Much of Smith’s installation was constructed in beautiful IKEA timbers and it seemed as though the sculptures had taken on schematic, quotational qualities, as if the artist was saying “this construction here is merely a quote of other real world constructions” – and which, coincidentally, is where the solo work of Sam Smith meets the hyper quotational delirium of his collaborations with Soda_Jerk.
The cynical among our readers might claim that both Smith and Gadow represent a certain, how shall we say? – “boy aesthetic” – the makers of train set art that comes from brainiac kids with no dress sense but whose heads are full of amazing facts. Well, that’s just cynical, but it’s good to recognise such cynicism within yourself because it helps you attenuate your own reactions to things. Such was the internal dialogue as we went through Domestic Love, a group show at COFA’s Kudos Gallery. The gallery space is a church hall that has some walls put up for showing art and, as the years have gone by, we have come to love its low key approach to showing art. For some shows it works a treat, for others, not so great. For this full-to-bursting groups show, it seems to suit it very well indeed.
Domestic Love is a group show of work by artists who are exploring the parodic aesthetics of queer art. Straight society is a bunch of clichés too [you know] and how better to question, parody and undermine it than by taking those clichés and turning them inside out? Tina Fiveash has a photo called A Gay Morning Tea in which two women done up in vintage clothing have decided to skip the Arrowroot bickies and tea and get down to business with one woman mounting the other, her huge tongue on the other lady’s nipple. It’s like a regular morning tea, you see, only this one is gay. In another work by Fiveash, some ladies who have gone on a motoring holiday to Canberra are going the grope, one lady on the bonnet of an FJ Holden, the other between her legs. There are many works like these throughout the rest of the show and it makes you wonder why, in the course of this willful inversion of clichés, so few artists aren’t trying to undermine the hetro clichés of today. And it’s not as though straight society itself hasn’t woken up to the fact that the bloke in the cardigan and the pipe who stands in for the 1950s ear “father” probably isn’t in some torrid homosexual affair with his straight acting mate anyway? Hell, you can buy exactly that kind of campery on a postcard down at Ariel Bookshop. The problem with trying to deal with the contemporary world is trying to untangle the signifiers from one another. So it’s much easier to resort to clichés of the distant past to talk about the clichés of identification. It’s not exactly subtle. Caterina Pacialeo has a work [unhelpfully called Untitled] which is a naked woman lying on the counter of the Ticket Box behind a metal grill at The State Theatre. It’s an image that will no doubt come back to haunt us next time we’re there to buy tickets for the Sydney Film Festival – one for the stalls please!