Plots from the Left A series of installations based on the notion of collecting and collections Penny Malone and Shaz Harrison-Williams Moonah Arts Centre, Moonah, Tasmania 1 - 14 December 2005
Although not intended to be a critically rigorous exhibition, the humour and historical dialogue that results from the art-intervention style of Plots from the Left raise some interesting questions about smudging the distinctions between art, design and collecting.
This exhibition is a testimony to an ongoing collaboration between Penny Malone's textile designs and Shaz Harrison-Williams' knitting and dressmaking. It also reflects their recent experiences: for Harrison-Williams as a collector and avid 50s fan, and for Malone, having spent the past year working with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Relocation Team.
The found/collected items become the basis for the new work of both artists, and determine the gallery arrangement. This fits into five thematic plots in which the artists respond to: seven shirts from the 70s; Edith Holmes' Self-Portrait in Sunhat, 1930s; The House of Silverfish - John Vella designs for the 10 Days on the Island Cultural Festival 2003; Aprons - Past and Present, and Ceramic log vases.
In the case of the 70s shirts, Malone loosely based her fabric designs on the particular motifs and colours on the shirts, adapting them in a way that reflected her recent work with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, rehousing the zoological collection – adding a Sea Life component. Similarly Harrison-Williams' beanies, bucket hats and matching bags match the shirt patterns but in a more direct way. With Malone's fabric as the backdrop, Harrison-Williams' accessories are arranged on seven valet chairs, (why did they go out of fashion?) which, because they're lined up in such a uniform arrangement, take on the appearance of comical guardians of lairy fashion.
Plots from the Left creates a jumble of categories, between installation (an approach to contemporary art exhibition that originated from the mid twentieth century avant garde), retail window display and museological tableaux – all of which have a theatrical element. These formalised methods of exhibiting are stretched to such a degree that they all become imbued with tongue-in-cheek humour. Exacting institutional categorisation is put aside in favour of the bastardised hybrids of such classification. These droll hybrids could be regarded as that which actually eventuates and that escapes regulation. For instance, the ephemeral site – and time-specific elements, integral to the original concept of installation, have become recognised as existing in all display and gallery presentations, quite simply through the subjective transient experience of all cultural staging from gallery to lounge room. So, in the strict sense of these terms, Plots from the Left is neither installation, shop nor tableau.
To identify with a certain period of history through the art and design it produced suggests either nostalgia or a more conscious affinity to its particular political or social environment. Such sentiments though, can only be antithetical to that period because they cannot be of its time. The 1950s are often associated with innocent post-war optimism, ironically with a rejection of traditional historical associations – the new of Modernism. Such contextual considerations position us in time and space through the anonymous course of fashion but does this anthropological objectivity, when it comes to matters of design aesthetics, imply a lack of conviction to the present, or is eclecticism simply a sign of our times?
In contrast to this cultural trail, John Vella's fashion house spoof, House of Silverfish designs, derived from the insatiable appetite of silverfish that have gnawed away the negative spaces between the raised patterns on flocking wallpaper. A curious culture/nature dichotomy becomes set up around ends and means; the repetition that creates pattern, the historical causes and associations that cling to design and the absurdity of chance occurrence.