*some text missing* Lora Patterson , Fiona Lee, Cath Robinson, Callan Morgan, Grant Stevens Curator: Sarah Jones CAST Gallery, Hobart 18 July – 9 August 2009
Curator Sarah Jones states: "This is a text-based show. But it is not about text, it is about un-text, non-text. Not text'". I found it difficult to agree with this statement as text and words are indivisible, but I could clearly appreciate that the intent of the exhibition is to address the things “we do not or cannot write about”.
The curator also invited five writers to contribute short pieces, one per artist, and this greatly adds to the experience and value of the exhibition. Grant Stevens' Like Two Ships (2005) is a short digital video loop which confronts the viewer on entering the space. It is extraordinarily hypnotic, initially on a purely visual level - black background, white sans serif text – neutral. The spoken text is comprised of familiar clichés which have been altered and even merged together so that they create a sense of familiarity which is then immediately undercut, allowing new levels of meaning to emerge. There is an apparent corollary between the spoken text and the words flashing onto the wall at a similar rate. But here too there is an inbuilt disjuncture as the spoken and projected words suddenly deviate from each other thus subverting the natural predictive impulse. Strange things begin to happen when two different parts of the brain respond simultaneously to similar input. This is a visually and sonically elegant and simple work but it is utterly compelling. Repeated runs through the loop reveal the wry heart confounding known and potential meanings over one another both defying resolution and promising new ones. There's the whiff of Dada at work in the amusing way this work resolves so beautifully in the conditional, and after all is not all verbal or written communication contextual and conditional?
Cath Robinson's Thought noise / wave form preludes (if played simultaneously) (2009) linked to an earlier work in which she asked thirty three artists the question: “What inspires your work?”. The recordings of their responses were stripped of everything except the sounds they made when thinking or preparing to answer. These were then interpreted as waveforms and plotted out onto long paper strips with tiny hand-punched holes defining the points of the waveform. These strips are mounted to run through a fixed music box mechanism to become a transposition of non language into musical form, still holding the hesitations and high and low pitches of the original sound. Thus the work effectively addressed the issue of the things not said, or the parts of conversation which form the non-text but still ascribe meaning to the whole.
Through its use of fine embroidered words on filmy sheer fabric Lora Paterson's Untitled (2009) reflected the difficulties of first apprehending words and potential meanings but also the fragility of our communicative processes. Each word is elusive and the cumulative process of reading involves the laborious process of apprehending each as a singularity and then holding the building set of words until they assume meaning as broken phrases. Again the frustration inherent in communicating deep and personal thoughts is made real as the whole threatens to float away from fixed placements, as the breeze may blow the key word, say a word like “love”, away from the ear of its intended recipient.
The usual street-based arts practice of Callan Morgan strains a little in this context, although clearly in Untitled (2009), the experience has extended his oeuvre to relate text and image in ways far more ambiguous and open than you expect from this form, unless you consider the accidental accretions of series of overlaid interventions characteristic of the street artist's context. The inevitable conclusion too is that graffiti itself is a language with its own grammar and its own idiosyncratic forms of reading.
Fiona Lee's The Board (2009) resulted from a request to the Board members of CAST to provide lists of books they were reading. These have been placed on a series of shelves as markers to what each person is engaged with or being conditioned by at a specific point in time. The implication is that the decisions they make must carry the imprint of the space their minds are moving inside. This is further articulated by an installation of words under the Boardroom table, also deriving from the members' anonymous contributions.
This exhibition contains a deeply satisfying set of various resolutions of an intriguing curatorial premise, and more importantly a highly appropriate use of contemporary art practice to address what is after all a complex set of psychological and philosophical conditions which direct the ways we attempt to communicate and to locate meaning through that act.