Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 8 - Totem and Taboo
Log 8 - Totem and Taboo

Sydney Roundup
Alex Gawronski


Standing under Merilyn Fairskye's neo-Gothic technicolour monstrosities I am becoming increasingly impatient waiting for a bus. Her public sculptures dominate the new central bus terminal like phallocentric totems dedicated to the glorification of Sydney's all pervasive gentrification. Here there is nowhere to even sit. An homage to the transitory Fairskye's pieces are nevertheless composed of the most lasting and monumental of materials. Apparently representative of the four elements they also represent the most innocuous of new age symbolisms. In this instance the only difference between the aforementioned elements is the arbitrary colour ascribed them. One is red, two blue, the other orange, yet in each instance their physical form remains blankly the same. Ultimately there is no difference as corporate expenditure seeks uniformity and compliance as we wait open mouthed with awe for the coming millennium. Under the awkward weight of these monuments, individual desire palls. Where is the fucking bus?!@#$*&!

Also transitory, Sydney's artist run spaces continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Some luckily reappear yet attrition and the obsession with New York-style loft apartments continues unabated. Exactly who will inhabit this multitude of domestic compartments I am unsure. Mainly tourists I would guess. I wonder then what will happen to these `living' spaces after the coming unmentionable sporting event. If your best-loved gallery isn't an apartment yet, it will be soon. Such is the case with one of my favourite spaces, South, formerly of Surry Hills. South promises to relocate somewhere in the future, but neither I nor its voluntary director, Simon Barney, know exactly when or where. I visited Barney's recent exhibition at South with enthusiasm hoping that the vaguely mysterious activities I had occasionally witnessed in his adjoining studio might once and for all be revealed. With this in mind I recalled glimpses of cheesily rendered bikini-clad women superimposed over references to hard-core Modernist painting with the occasional cartoon speech bubble bearing some drollery thrown in. Needless to say in this instance I was not disappointed. The most striking and strident image depicted in Barney's latest exhibition however was of a monkey headed sculptor and his equally simian offspring gathered around a Brancusi-esque totem. It was all pretty turgid and grotesque in an urbane and compelling way. Barney is fully and gleefully aware of his aesthetic transgressions. Sadly and unfortunately for Sydney's residents the previous artist is not.

Big Daddy and the Kids Simon Barney
Big Daddy and the Kids

Also at South Gianni Wise presented us with a set of cheeky concertina post cards. These ran vertically down the walls, arranged touristically and all for sale; get four for ten dollars or an entire strip of twelve for twenty-two ninety-five. Surely a bargain for high art! I was drawn to these images for their commonplace banality and repetition. Look there, it's the back of a Bondi bus and there's Newtown's local Turkish pizza parlour decked entirely in wood-grain laminex! Here, the luminous multi-colour `Map World' of St Peters, and there the silhoutte of an anonymous telegraph pole tethered with coiling electrical cables. Further down there's an image of a pile of tyres -- obviously a reference to that guru of tedious `60s happenings, Allan Kaprow. I'm not quite sure if I recognize the workman standing proudly atop a lurid red recycling skip. However I understand Wises' image of a herd of sheep trammelling dust clouds to be a tribute to our glorious rural and farming traditions. I'm keen to see more of this stuff. I like its discursive and textual qualities and its play on increasingly outdated representational modes. Wise however is no techno-slob! He has manipulated many of these images via Photoshop, in some instances pumping the colours to full saturation for their kitsch value whilst in others, colour has been completely abandoned and the images solarised to a state of precarious linearity. This is what our city needs more of, hand-made interventions dissimulated through references to popular culture. Perhaps this would provide some antidote to the tacky grandiosima that has befallen our economically obsessed metropolis.

Also hand-made were Simon Cavanaugh's suspended pumps at Project 11 (a.k.a. Window, a.k.a. CBD etc.) I arrived at Cavanaugh's opening early having bumped into him the previous week in the street. Here he informed me of the adhesive he was about to purchase in order to complete this particular work. It had some zany American name I have since forgotten, something like `Zippy' or `Zap'. He told me it was super-fast drying and even stronger than Super Glue. "I'll have to remember this for future reference", I thought. Occasionally though my mind is like a sieve. Like a dysfunctional piece of machinery and like Cavanaugh's sculptures, my mind expands and contracts, (metaphorically of course) garnering information, often unintentionally discarding it as quickly.

Suspended one in front of the other, Cavanaugh's sculptures are composed of truncated grey plastic plumbing pipes. From these numerous hoses protrude some trailing over the floor. One reaches as far as the gallery's shop-front window where a fleshy rubber bladder labours to `breathe' sandwiched under a fractured sheet of glass. I got really sick of hearing the word `Grunge' touted about like a reference to the holy grail of aestheticism. I'm glad people here have stopped using it. Cavanaugh's work nevertheless references the G word, defying it at the same time through its sheer attention to detail. I admire Cavanaugh's experiments and am convinced of his extraordinary patience as he scours hardware stores near and far to find exactly the right component for his non-functional functioning machines. In place of those components he simply cannot locate he substitutes disobedient parts whose purpose he distorts and adapts to his own ambiguous ends. Nothing will stop him. I can see him locked in his garage tinkering away, the intermittent respiratory and peristaltic sounds of his contraptions causing all manner of heresay to disseminate through the city, amongst his friends and contemporaries. He emerges at last to slightly suspicious greetings. Everyone is eager to see what these things will do! Having witnessed their motions, still no one is really sure. Some may doubt his sanity. At least they know Cavanaugh has a day job to keep him in line.

Alex Gawronski
Spring 1999



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room