Someone said we should check out Paul Ferman’s show Tubetalk at Room 35 at Gitte Weise. The word ‘on the street’ was that the show was 100 per cent found material and it was hilarious. Look, our excited friend said handing us the room sheet, it’s an article on Wolfgang Tillmans ripped out of Contemporary Visual Arts magazine with the name ‘Wolfgang Tillmans’ crudely crossed out and ‘Paul Ferman’ written in pen! Funny! We were shown some images from Ferman’s 2004 series Domestic Sculpture [photographs of junk left on the street for the garbage man – old TVs, mattresses, chairs and other detritus] and were told that the images were actually found images themselves, as though ‘someone’ had taken a photo of this junk and which had found their way into the artist’s hands. We jumped in the Art Life Action Vehicle and drove straight to Paddington.
Disappointingly, Tubetalk was not as advertised. The show turned out to be a collection of postal invitations to shows at galleries around Sydney with blobs of paint on them, presumably squeezed directly from paint tubes, arranged in a line around the wall. That’s your modern art right there, we thought, and admired the old school ‘everything is art’ ethos of Ferman’s aesthetic; crap is art, art is crap, even invitations are art. We read a review of a show of abstract painting recently where the writer asked, what does a gestural abstract work say about the artist’s world view? The writer claimed that expressionist painting was evidence of an attitude of muddle headed we’ll-struggle-through-this-somehow-make-do-ness. We couldn’t have disagreed more – we see gestural abstraction as a form of heroic individualism, a world view that claims specialness for the artist’s experience and a creativity that connects to tradition while positing a utopian future of self actualisation.
Perversely, Ferman’s small ‘c’ conceptual practice is directly related to this kind of world view where every piece of creativity, no matter how seemingly trivial, is evidence of a highly aesthetically aware existence. It’s a shame that Tubetalk wasn’t as focused and as pure in its execution as the fantasy exhibition that had been described to us. Art as an ongoing practice is one of refinement. It’s disappointing to discover that so many artists whose work has the outward appearance of being conceptually rigorous ends up as an extension of an expressionist self promotion. In regards Ferman’s work, the throwaway ease of the room sheet [exactly as described] didn’t really match the works stuck to the wall. If he could get that perfection in the small works, he’d be on to something interesting, but instead decided to let us see that not only does he have a sense of humour, he’s prepared to pay the big bucks for Room 35 as a rental space.