The Word As Art
Vol 27 no 1, 2007
How is it that so many artists continue to choose text as a means of communication over visual imagery? What do words in a visual arts context contribute to the nature of art practice, and where has this tradition come from? The marriage of image and word in the contemporary urban environment is only one aspect of a subject which goes back to ancient history and forward to mobile phones. Guest editor Richard Tipping and a raft of great writers survey the subject - from public art, slogan art, language, calligraphy, installations to artists' books.
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Nick Mangan's polemical sculptures stage a compelling performance of human exploitation and nature. For Mangan nature is not what it seems. In fact, it is quite the contrary, as he questions, fabricates, and disrupts what we identify as natural.
Distilling the turbulent nature of growth and decay, Mangan unifies the organic and the synthetic world, both in content and in technique, in an attempt to control and resurrect the natural. This collision reclaims the insistent origin and translation of the work, as each object remains victim to a social construction. Mangan transforms everyday organic objects into aesthetic sculptures.
Displaying a fantastical eroticism allied with form and trickery The Mutant Message installation contains a network of manufactured sculptures orchestrated to imitate a tribal ceremony. There is a strong sense of spontaneity in the arrangement hinting at inherent madness in both 'civilisation' and the 'natural' environment alike. This visceral and phallic site possesses a bodily, threatening presence.
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Nick Mangan Mutant Message 2006 installation and detail.
Mangan dissects the process of forming meaning from objects, culture and natural phenomena. The festering sculptures are suggestive of indigenous mythological artifacts, a twist which is ultimately the focus of Mangan's interrogation.
Disturbingly erotic and provocative, Mangan's vaginal slashed banksia cones, stained beeswax testicles and other termite-infested relics, erode, mutate, sprout fur-like hair, weed out and claim new territory. The surveyor's tripod and the jarring spears charged with blackened 'poison' ferociously barricade uninvited guests.
A war is at play as the artefacts extrude defensive barbs to shield from violation and interrogation, magnifying the concept of sacred land. From the artificial sounds of swarming flies to the native weaponry, every object in The Mutant Message symbolically perverts and mimics a culture sourced firsthand.
Reminiscent of a place described by Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness, this installation may well be a result of Mangan's recent expedition to remote Northern Arnhem Land in early 2006, to work alongside Indigenous artists as part of an artist's camp organised by contemporary art space 24HR Art in Darwin.
Mangan's experience with Indigenous culture must have triggered great alarm in him for the borrowing of cultural identity, the capitalist tendency of turning culture into a manufactured object or commodity for both political and economic growth.
Mangan's response is both oblique and loaded, suggesting his ethical and moral concerns for the way in which a culture is interpreted for tourism. 'I'm just dealing with notions of Australia, it is political, but not an aggressive statement,' he says. 'Once nature enters the economy, it becomes political. I look at the way banksias are being portrayed in tourist's shops and it bothers me.' Mangan's work questions what can remain untampered in an age of marketing 'fictionalised' cultures.
Since his first exhibition in 1999, Mangan has established a career as a challenging and exploratory artist whose concepts are saturated in a contaminated pool of cultural debate. This fascination impels him to create alternate worlds from existing realities.
The Mutant Message acts as a wonderful catalyst for the suspicions and restraints embedded in cultural difference. An alchemist at heart, Mangan, now the recipient of a 2007 Samstag Scholarship, articulates a prolific narrative from both natural and cultural detritus, thus hijacking the fictional to decipher the fact.
This review was written as part of the Gertrude Studios emerging writers program
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: artrave
- Editorial: Editorial
- Feature: A new alphabet? Guan Wei goes bush
- Feature: Emily Floyd against herself
- Feature: Fluxus and after
- Feature: Glory, glory, glory curated by Elizabeth Gertsakis
- Feature: Gwangju Biennale, South Korea
- Feature: In black & white: text in Indigenous Queensland art
- Feature: Playing with art & language: some personal memories
- Feature: Postcard from China: 900 years of kneeling - censored
- Feature: Sacred texts
- Feature: Skywriting
- Feature: Text-art and interactive reading
- Feature: The book, the poet, the artist and the breakthrough
- Feature: The virus and the oracle: words as signs
- Feature: Tom Muller: recent work
- Feature: Unreadable Writing
- Feature: Vivienne Binns survey at TMAG, curator: Merryn Gates
- Feature: Walking with letters: Michael Parekowhai, John Reynolds, John Pule
- Feature: Word as Image: Islamic calligraphy in contemporary art
- Feature: Words and things
- Feature: Words, words, words: Mike Brown, Ruark Lewis, Rose Nolan
- Review: Adam Cuthbert
- Review: Ann Newmarch
- Review: Anton Hart
- Review: APT5
- Review: APT5
- Review: Hiraki Sawa
- Review: Megan Walch
- Review: Michael Callaghan: a survey
- Review: Nick Mangan
- Review: Northcliffe Sculpture Walk
- Review: RAPT
- Review: Review: Visible Language magazine on Fluxus
- Review: Rodney Glick/Lynette Voevedin
- Review: Shane Forrest
- Review: The Other APT