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Level 2, Art Gallery of New South Wales
31 May - 5 July 1998

"Hey, I've got something I think you'll really like."

"What, a handgun?"

The inner-suburban social landscape with its mores, mindset, values and detritus, are the world of soft targets in the sights of Adam Cullen's critical handgun. On initially viewing this exhibition one is aware of a sensation akin to being mildly assaulted - like being jostled on public transport. And as on some public transport, the first impression is one of vandalisation, of lines, images and words out of context in the bland white space of the room. But closer inspection reveals consideration. There seems to be an unfamiliar kind of editing process involved here. Are these works the off-cuts, or the product; the meat or the bone? After all, meat can be consumed, whereas a bone can be fashioned into a weapon to obtain more meat. So which is it? It can all be utilised. Everything is real. Everything will be commodified, consumed, damaged, repaired and sold back to us as new. And it's perhaps this notion that begins to emerge when viewing the works of this artist. That they offer a glimpse of the mechanisms of free enterprise, small and temporarily exposed in a discrete space in the largest economic hub on this landmass.

My dad had sex with my mum(1)

Some of the works in this exhibition seem to be axiomatic. Others behave on a political level, as slogans. There are drawn texts. Look again. There are also drawings with text. The tone of some of the drawing is reminiscent of tattoos, blueprints, schoolbooks, and their shared character is somehow dark, playful, and on a subconscious level, known. The text is recognisable, everyday. But thehat surrounds and permeates us, is the minutiae of contemporary urban existence, the over looked and the depended upon.

These spent shells of visual language - the fact of text apart from it's content, the pattern or shading of lines of verse on a page, the semiconscious scribbling conducted during numerous telephone conversations - are the very modus ponens of twentieth century capitalist language and the currency of this exhibition. But this language is, after all, a found object. It is not the invention of the artist. Some of these works can be seen as a reminder of this - and of the tools we use to traverse contemporary existence and the way that these tools are a part of the educated structure of ones persona. They can also be seen as strategies and as battle maps of intimate and foreign terrain's - as both language observed and discarded. This is serious work.

Dee be dee be dee(3)

Adam Cullen is speaking in tongues, in a language that is on the tip of our own. Here we have images recognisable from childhood, made funny by infantile subversion - fairies vomiting and shitting, for example - that pull the viewer into the mindset and value system of the schoolyard. The image's pettiness is its power. It is perhaps this inversion - and the notion of the adult as a simplistic, diluted extension of the amoral, worldly child - which allows access to the work. After all, there still exists a certain thrill, often silent and denied, in seeing good things do bad things. Our attention spans are short and we are; as a consequence, harder to entertain, yet we can still be entertained cheaply. We are easily amused. And no where is this better understood then in the field of commercial media.

Commercial media as entertainment, as information, is education, as increasingly we see its intervention in our educational institutions through happy meals, sponsorship deals and the like. The time of the subliminal message is long gone. The constant, overt, saturation bombardment of contemporary life by these media is both ignored by us and yet absorbed at the same time. You can change the channel but you can't change the programming. We find ourselves confronted by a ceaseless heated tirade from advertisers, politicians, broadcast events, history in the making, and yet there is no right of reply. It is a given that must be taken, consciously or not. Honour the giver by receiving the gift. This cacophony of messages, all to be uncritically believed, becomes both background and foreground in the mind of the consumer and in the work of this artist. TV is king. And Benny Hill a close second.

It moves when you touch it.

Touch it. Go on. Switch it on. I dare you. Hey! Is that Pauline Hanson on the video? No, it's someone pretending to be her. No, it's someone who uses a curling wand and wants us to have one too. There is no soundtrack acompannying the image. The screen's flickering seems to animate the work on the walls in the same way as it animates our view of the world.

The video becomes visual muzak in a room of social muzak. The television becomes the point of reference in the space, as it has in our culture and our lives, and it emphasises the similarity between the static found on it's screen and that contained in some of the marks made in these works.

I've been alive for ages.(4)

The television, as the endless hum of the human world, provides the soundtrack of the suburbs, of our childhood, adulthood, dotage and death.

We accept you.(5)

This work is not radical. The only lesson to be taken from radical movements - in art and politics - this century is that they will be subsumed and assimilated into the fabric of the state. The periphery is drawn inexorably to the centre. I'm a rebel, so I rebel. (6) Yeah, right. Buy another Cadillac. The radical is made impotent through acceptance. So, if there can be no outside position, if the radical has become normalised, then how does one proceed? In the case of Adam Cullen the answer is excess - to push out the envelope, to try to take things too far, to concentrate this visual flotsam and context, of itself or through manipulation, shows a different meaning and brings to the surface subtexts, hidden agendas, and at times, small chaotic evils. Previous work of the artist has included the lyrics of songs written down, and through this action they have become simple lists; bad verse when deprived of their melodic accompaniment. Organisational charts become glyphs depicting the structure of nonsense. In everything there is an underlying sense of absurdity. Yet the viewer is never sure that they haven't missed something. The form is familiar and that is its authority. The media is the message. Cullen's work, from the spray painted texts, familiar from the walls and fences of suburbia, to his enlarged telephone pad appointment dates long gone, and his spreadsheets from some parallel universe, presents us with the visual substructure of our lives and to a large extent, the means of our education. It is a language so familiar and all pervasive as to be virtually invisible.

All these signs, telephone numbers, diagrams, speak to us of doing business, of tactics for exchange and furtherment. "Never lose sight of the big picture," proffer politicians and banks alike. There is a goal - move towards it and never take your eyes off of it. Our sights are firmly fixed on various outcomes, results, destinations, futures.

Try living in the present for a change.(2)

Yet all our concentration is on the target - we are there. We have already left the chamber. And the means of our progress, the charge required, t jetsam until they become dense enough to create their own gravity, to reach a critical mass. And this may explain the undercurrent of absurdity, both dark and humorous, contained in his work. This work is too normal, it is excessively normal, it is so normal it hurts.

Stephen Crane
15 September 1998

1 Adam Cullen, text from his work My dad had sex with my mum, enamel on board, 1997

2 Christopher Chapman, Zero to thirty-two in twenty minutes, exhibition catalogue.

3 Dancey Boy, an associate of the artist.

4 Adam Cullen, text from his work Actual Re-enactment, ink and enamel on board, 1998

5 Zippy the Pinhead

6 Public Enemy, Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, 1988