1. Cows and sheep.
The 2001 exhibition of Masters students from the South Australian School of Art is called Winterbodies. The seven women artists have chosen to install their works at the Adelaide Showgrounds, in the off season, so their work inhabits the spaces usually used for displays of farm animals and cakes.
It seemed to me that while the works are generous and large scale, often composed of many elements, the work seemed somehow rehearsed, or expected. It was difficult to connect the intent of the works to their particular, and very loaded sites. Why show in these pavilions if not only for dramatic effect? I'm not dissing the work of these artists, but I think that issues of a practice, its presentation and possible readings could have been more carefully considered. Maybe the works are not to my taste (too much Ann Hamilton effect?), but the sheer quantity of salt used by Lisa Harms, or sawdust used by Julie Henderson (actually placed there for the next agricultural show), seems a kind of cliched act, one that induces awe and profundity without substance. I learned very little about the concerns of these artists. And using large amounts of raw and elemental material - salt, sawdust, straw, wool (real & synthetic) - isnt sufficient enough a strategy. The most surprising works were by Agnieszka Golda. Informed by Polish exoticism, they were devilish. A roughly carved devil head with a real cow tongue lolling from its maw was satisfying and spooky.
Overall? Installation and timid video. Multimedia blah. I wanted more. If one is to make site-specific work then make it. Memory and history resides everywhere, not just in the raw environment of the Showgrounds. Only Goldas work conjured some ghosts.
Okay. Henderson also showed an offsite piece in the downtown 200 Hindley space. That was focussed and weird enough: an edited projection of feet clad in ballet practice shoes repeating a little motion, a surround-sound element adding to the drama ("you dont have to do this"). But why the little pile of sawdust in the corner? Oh right, to connect it to the work at the Showground.
2. You gotta have faith.
James Cochrans recent exhibition at BMG Gallery in prestigious North Adelaide was even opened by the Anglican Bishop Ian George who threw some weird remarks in Jamess direction. Seems he was more interested in talking up the big-ticket stockroom items in the front room. Whoever bought the big impastoed self portrait had good taste according to George, who recognised the Francis Bacon affinities. Well, for the price it might have well been one.
James paintings were selected by the gallery and the selection focussed on his religious themes: Caravaggio transposed into Adelaides urban landscape; the conversion of Paul under disco strobes. James can paint a mean still life and he also works with kids to realise public murals in the suburbs. He was embarrassed I think when I brought a bunch of tulips to the opening for him. They were put near some paintings where the constellations were sparklingly apparent. James knows his astronomy, and maybe his paintings lack a particularly upper class finish. But the boy has heart, and he wears it on his sleeve. I reckon its okay.
3. Mission to Mars.
God, am I showing my true colours yet? Michael Newalls curated show of eight artists at the Contemporary Art Centre had a clarity and candour that surprised people. The opening (teamed with Linda Schofields weirdly authentic country barn jam session in the Project Space) was wild really. The CACSAs usual family/member oriented audience was augmented by some kind of other niche-culture mix, courtesy of both projects.
Newalls show is called Other Worlds and it was meant to be about artists whose practice is not just informed by stuff outside of art, but manifests it. Agravaine MacLachlans painting of her female kickboxing tutor is stretching things. Only two artists really scored on this premise I think.
Matthew Bradleys installation incorporated a customised hooded jacket and bike helmet made to fit a video camera. These were gaffered to the wall adjacent to the video he shot wearing this gear: an eight-minute illegal climb to the summit of a lighting tower at dawn. Jim Strickland had a video too, shown alongside his racing bike and shoes. Jims video is about his broken heart and its a lament on lost love and how that helps you find things too. Its mock realism is pretty convincing. And you get to see Jim cry and lift weights.
The thing about this show is that it pulled no punches. The artists used real stuff. I keep thinking about it as having a certain clarity and candour: Matts performance/sculpture: Kate Strykers photomural of spraypainted road markings; Jims confessional. Maria Bilske had a bunch of snowdomes refitted with lunar themes. Michael Newall made little classics of modern art (Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still) out of Lego, but the Lego exploding missiles were better (like the burning dumpster at his house), the flames and smoke formed by little blocks of red, orange, gray and white plastic. Peter Franovs paintings, which (among other things) depicted a dolphin snuggling its snout into a fleshy genital flower continued his interest in this area. Oh yeah, I was in the show too.
Coming up are a few things. The exhibition Thrash curated by Emma Bugden from The Physics Room will be shown at the Experimental Art Foundation. It includes work by Dan Arps, Julaine Stephenson, Nathan Pohio and Ella Reed. I think it will be sweet. And we are still figuring how to get TV reception into the concrete bunker for Ellas work.
To coincide with the play called Art - which is about these guys who freak when their mate spends shitloads on an all-white painting - is an exhibition of all-white art curated by Fulvia Mantelli at the Festival Centre Artspace. What else? Oh yeah, Im leaving the Experimental Art Foundation as director after three years (six and a half all up in Adelaide) and heading back to my hometown Sydney to see what happens.
One night, lately, me and Michael and Maria made this piece which is an upside-down air-cooler on a flat platform with wheels and a strip of wood with certain paperbacks taped to it. Its called DEMON and its for a show about the Australian actor Ben Medelsohn (DEMON is an anagram of Mendo, the name of the show). Last night we watched the Directors cut of The Exorcist, and luckily the thing stayed put.
Chris Chapman has been Director of the Experimental Art Foundation since late 1998. In September hell be going to his hometown of Sydney to live and to begin research on the interactions between art and other forms of culture / golden waves / in all directions / I could lose my soul right here / colour lights / on the runway...