Fuel for Thought: oil, energy, conflict and art
Vol 28 no 1, 2008
How are artists responding to peak oil, the search for alternative energy sources and conflict over resources? Artlink goes global in search of answers. The issue includes artists who have used alternative energy or whose work reflects the negative effects of an oil-based economy, with some powerful imagery by artists from the Middle East, East Timor, Iraq, the Philippines, Australia, California and Chicago. Burnt out petrol bowsers share the space with artwork which looks forward to a post-oil energy scenario. A video animation by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong offers a profoundly moving experience on mankind's disastrous love affair with industrialisation. Australian artists include Charles Green and Lyndell Brown as official war artists in Iraq, as well as Alison Clouston, Zina Kaye, Madeleine Kelly, Carmel Wallace, Pamela Kouwenhoven and more. Editor Ian Hamilton.
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It's a rare breed of artist that is capable of sustaining their practice while undertaking curatorial projects. Consuelo Cavaniglia is one such artist who succeeds in striking a balance between these competing interests.
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Anthony Kelly Overplan 6103 (detail) 2007, installation view. Photo: Eva Fernandez.
Cavaniglia's artwork focuses on relationships between form and function, often utilising domestic and architectural space to interrogate emotional and social structures. She draws material from a range of historical and literary sources, particularly the writings of Machiavelli, Calvino and Borges. Machiavelli informs an interest in power, structure and strategy, Cavaniglia's works are game pieces which enable her to explore larger systems. Calvino and Borges manipulate narrative conventions to create expectations in their readers, only to subvert them again and again. Similarly, while Cavaniglia's work speaks in materials of the everyday, she proposes unfamiliar ways of apprehending the matter of our daily lives.
This group exhibition is the latest of Cavaniglia's curatorial investigations, and considers efficiency as a tactic to deal with conflict. In a game of strategy, as in a military manoeuvre, the player aims to disarm their opponent through a minimal sequence of movements. Thus an economical approach to problem solving entails the smallest effort required to return the greatest possible outcome. True to Cavaniglia's characteristic game strategies of rule making and task allocation, Economy imposes a simple restriction upon the nine artists. They must construct a work that can fit into a 60 x 60 cm packing crate, a symbol of utility, thrift and movement. As may be expected, the artists resist Cavaniglia's dogmatic restrictions through the traditional tactics of the downtrodden: evasion, subterfuge and parody. Although effective, these strategies are anything but economical, as in fables, we see that it is the diminutive trickster who triumphs over brute force through a sequence of zigzags and deceptions.
The crate is utilised in a variety of ways: in Carlisle Buffalo project, Mark Parfitt has transformed the crate into a small garden station. The leather handled inserts in which unhealthy-looking samples of lawn grow, reference outmoded DIY manuals and practices of self-sufficiency. Brendan van Hek has broken down the crate to reveal a pink neon centre, referring to the covert but ever-resilient underbelly of polite society. Pilar Mata Dupont and Tarryn Gill have abandoned the crate altogether in their video work Heart of Gold Project 4, a fable of hunter and hunted performed in dance, alluding to Communist ballets.
Overplan 6103 is the latest in Anthony Kelly's series of covert tactics by the intelligence unit Central Bureau. The ambiguous organisation is a mixture of Cold War conspiracy and Masonic mysticism. Kelly furnishes this fictional universe with the Bureau's machinery: surveillance apparatus, obsessive notes, meetings behind closed doors, 'Public Oracles' and even an ancient Doomsday Device. It is as if enemies of the Bureau have cracked open the crate, leaking a flurry of handwritten notes and painstaking diagrams. The compulsive repetition of bees, hives and skulls rendered in red biro on blue lined paper appears to be an impenetrable code - however it reeks of a double bluff. By extending his work beyond the confines of the crate, Kelly resists the boundaries imposed upon him.
Anna Nazzari's untitled foos ball table investigates economy as a struggle for dominance between opposing forces. Economically constructed to fold in on itself and fit inside the crate, the table speaks in the luxurious language of the Victorian gentlemen's club. Sporting hand-turned handles, a parquetry floor, netted goals and drawers on either end, it refers to a highly ornamental aesthetic of male leisure. However, the conventional foos ball men have been replaced by identical articulated scoops which resemble tractor parts. Any player's attempt to score a point against their opponent is thwarted, the ball is thrown in unpredictable directions, making it far more likely for the player to score a point for the enemy side. The work proposes the absurdity of any quest for power. Through its materials and mechanisms it references the twin values of nineteenth century modernism - industrialisation and craft. The combination of opposing traditions, both utopian in purpose, cancels the legitimacy of either. Nazzari's response to Cavaniglia's challenge is fatalistic (the outcome is always mutual defeat) but diffuses the conflict once and for all.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Editorial: Editorial
- Featue: Writing images with words: an inheritance of ambiguous faces
- Feature: A rusty sign at the end of a bloody empire
- Feature: Chance encounters: Pamela Kouwenhoven and Peter McKay
- Feature: Conducting Mobility
- Feature: Hyperlexic, desalinated but not scary
- Feature: Obscure dimensions of conflict
- Feature: Power and art in East Timor
- Feature: Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh interview
- Feature: The error of our ways: Madeleine Kelly
- Feature: The revolution will not be televised: the changing landscape of film and video production in the Arab world
- Feature: The whistleblower of Discovery Bay
- Feature: The winding way
- Feature: Watching as the enchanted land meets its end: Qiu Anxiong
- Feature: World tree: sounds of a bigger picture. Alison Clouston and Boyd
- Preview: Biennale of Sydney 2008: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
- Preview: Handling the Adelaide Biennial
- Review: Economy
- Review: Fierce or Friendly: Humans in the Animal World
- Review: from time to time one talks to the moon: Aldo Iacobelli
- Review: Making it Modern The Watercolours of Kenneth McQueen
- Review: Migratory Projects: The Drive Out Cinema
- Review: Of
- Review: ON' n 'ON
- Review: Our Lucky Country - (Still Different)
- Review: Replay: Christian Marclay
- Review: Robert MacPherson, Vernon Ah Kee and Jeremy Hynes
- Review: The Road to Here
- Review: Wonderful World
- Review: [the space in between] Book project