Home is Where One Starts From
14 Feb - 16 Mar 2013
318 Liverpool St
Close My Eyes, 2011
Silk, incandescent light
Acrylic on toughened glass, concrete
48 x 97 x 17 cm
Acrylic on toughened glass, clamps
63 x 179 cm
Spirit Level, 2013
Acrylic on toughened glass, g-clamps
92 x 150 cm
I am Still Alive, 1970
Ink on paper
12.5 x 21 cm
Necessary Protection, 1971
Charcoal, synthetic polymer paint on paper
45.1 x 59.6 cm
I am still alive on Kawau (necessary correction), 2011
Screen print50 x 35 cm
Cast pigmented polyester resin, 23k gold
12 x 10 x 14 cm
Home is Where One Starts From
The epoch in which human activities have a significant impact on the earth’s ecosystems, the one in which you and I exist, has been named anthropocene. Climate change is one feature of this era, the flag bearer of innumerable environmental crises and ecological anxiety disorders. These are particularly evident in Australia, where courtship of industry has come at the cost of the natural environments and the communities that inhabit them.
The neologism ‘solastalgia’, coined in 2003 by Australian environmental sociologist Glenn Albrecht, recognises the chronic distress suffered by residents of communities where extensive iron ore mining has severely devastated landscapes. So extreme is this depredation, that inhabitants experience a severe depression, an emotional displacement, a homesickness without ever having moved. A sense of estrangement through homeland is a guiding theme of this exhibition.
A rationalist separation between subject and object acts as a metaphor for a dislocation between homeland and individual. The subject in the Cartesian refrain, “cogito ergo sum”, is echoed, in differing inflections, through the paintings of Colin McCahon, the telegrams of On Kawara, the morse code messages and sculptures of Stephen Bambury and the cotton voile embroideries of John Barbour. A tension develops from their contending claims to identity and this invites response from the Sydney-based collective ‘Slush’, who offer a series of new sculptures and a text by member, Marian Tubbs. A document produced for the exhibiton includes contributions by author/poets Martin Edmond and Wystan Curnow.
This investigation focuses on the histories and works of a small group of artists from the Pacific who question identity in, through and beyond a plundered homeland. The problem here is of a subject divorced from object; at stake is the capacity for their resolution, a pertinent issue for an audience beneath a hole in the ozone, in a haze of solastalgia, at the infancy of the anthropocene.
Slush in ‘Home is Where One Starts From’
At sunrise in winter, the housing commission towers I see from the windows of my room glow an intense orange-gold. Large blocks of abstraction effervescing with warmth, they are more appealing than any techy lightshow. The alluring thing is that they fail to look like anything in particular to a mind and eyes just waking up, yet to piece the world together again with daily certitude. In warmer seasons trees covered by leaves mar this view so it is a reward for rising early only in the cold months. Why this phenomenological experience strikes me as something, is that it aligns most simply with my understanding of ‘affect’. A term that is used almost ubiquitously now in contemporary art speak. Before the trend took hold, however, philosophers Deleuze and Guattari positioned the sculpturally evocative statement, ‘affects are space-blocks of time’.
The towers, like giant sculptures against my eyes, turn abstract in slow wakeful moments. Affect here swallows me up, as the thinking I am doing is with my whole body and without language. Like the ‘new’, affect is fleeting, it is constantly slipping through fingers, as soon as it begins to be understood it starts to disappear. But if there is something latent, some content lying in wait, then there can be an edge that will refuse to be pinned down. This is one thing the art group Slush likes to work with, these unexplainable things that we hold onto unresolved in our minds. On perception Bergson noted, ‘the eye only sees what the mind is ready to comprehend’, Slush extends this thought to say, every recognisable signifier can act to reduce a ‘thing’ – in our case it is art - to commodity status with attributable value.
This is an undercurrent of our work, like our name the process of Slush is complicated and messy, concerned with what a collaborative material practice can say about the world. In the studio, leading up to this exhibition we talked about what ‘almost nothing’ might look like as material. We built a sort of house, that is not a house at all. There are panes of glass, clamps, bolts, and glistening ‘interference’ paint. Objects that are simultaneously paintings, sculptures, and screens are placed rhythmically in the gallery so when viewed from any angle there are always different colour compositions and relationships.
A theme of this exhibition is about persisting through transience, the reality of my short solipsistic story is that I will move out of my house before the trees lose their leaves again and the towers will come down for a lucrative development soon enough. For me, Slush is more permanent than housing, it is a process of losing the individual artist in a group, vulnerably committed to not knowing what will happen each time around. Our process of exhibition making is as fluid, confusing, and without words as a nascent state of waking.
The drawings Colin McCahon did for the Necessary Protection series are covered with inscriptions. Most commonly: Light falls through a dark landscape. There are others e.g. We are looking down to the Far North where my home really is (from one called Oaia sits and nibbles the sea); which drawing is really a map in which a stick figure sits on a headland with the loop of the tail of the y in my curling around his bent head. Another one ([Moby dick is (was) a volcano]) has a big black arrow at the top right of the drawing with the word Sydney beside it. This drawing logs, left to right, a series of geological features of Muriwai, thus: Mainland / The Cliffs of Fall / Rocks full of holes for birds to nest in / Sea wild & deep. Oaia, the island, and Moby Dick, the whale, are in this imaginary identified. Another has the title, and the words prominently inscribed, McLeavey Sat Here; Peter, Colin’s agent, is sitting, like the stick figure mentioned above, on what is elsewhere called Mainland. Yet another drawing, the most primitive of all, has the words Freedom Freedom / understand / necessary protection curving down the picture plane into the gap that is called, after the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, the cliffs of fall. The care of small birds is another inscription, or subtitle, on some of the later works. Many have rosaries in them: necklaces of beads looping down from the sky. Others have jet planes flying off . . . to some place else: Jump! They are what Tony Green called symbolic clusters. You are free to wander amongst their possible meanings for as long as you want. After a while you start to wonder about the way landscape forms translate into letters of the alphabet. How stratigraphy becomes calligraphy: mostly I and T but in these works especially I. Even here we are not secure: the figure / ground ambiguity reverses the compositions so that the negative spaces morph in to square eyes looking back at you like the lenses of those spectacles they issue when you go to see a 3D movie. In the end the base of the monad drops away, the I becomes a T, only the Tau of the Cross remains: freedom freedom understand necessary protection care of small birds where home really is.