Curator: Amanda Rowell Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney March 4 - 27 2010
Being a curator is a bit like being a magician. When the prestidigitation works nobody sees the smoke and mirrors. To the uninitiated, those not privy to the curator's arcane knowledge and specialised tricks of the trade, a successful show looks easy. Unfortunately, in Sydney at least, this appears to have spawned a contagious 'anyone can do that’ attitude. Suddenly it seems acceptable for any ambitious artist with an eye for self-promotion, an over-inflated ego and the requisite cash to rent space in an ARI, to hang their own work alongside that of a few mates and call themselves a curator. But this is not what a curator does.
For a start, no self-respecting curator with any sense of style or appreciation for boundaries would put themselves in an exhibition. And more to the point, the job is far more complex than the act of plonking a few artworks together in a room under a suitably ambiguous title. A good curator really does work a kind of magic, transforming a collection of artworks into something that is more than a sum of its parts. In the group show 'Everything’s Alright', Amanda Rowell shows us how it’s done.
One of the major strengths of 'Everything’s Alright', is that Rowell has fully utilised the potential of the gallery. This sounds utterly basic, like lesson one from ‘Curating 101’, but when you see it done properly you realise how rarely it actually happens. Under Rowell’s direction, the almost subterranean space (usually used for storage) plays such an integral role in this exhibition of works by Hossein Ghaemi, Andrew Liversidge and Yasmin Smith that it is almost like the fourth artist.
Entering 'Everything’s Alright' is like walking into a parallel world where anything can happen and the rules of physics no longer apply. The darkened gallery conjures up the atmosphere of a fantastical cave, a feeling which is heightened by the dripping, moss-covered rock wall visible through the window at the far end of the space and hammered home by Smith’s 'If I Could Come Near Your Beauty With My Nails'. In this installation, ceramic replicas of enormous nails seem to have burst aggressively though the ceiling and been pounded into the floor. Bent and mangled, they fill the space like man-made stalactites and stalagmites. It’s like being super-small and walking into the remnants of a craft project discarded by a petulant giant.
Drawn deeper into the exhibition’s mysterious space, visitors immediately seem to swell to towering proportions as they loom over the artificial landscape of Liversidge’s 'Nothing for Nothing'. This precarious cliff-face is constructed from stacks of trashy romance novels tethered to the ground with neon bright string and scattered bricks. It’s a sheer escarpment only Lilliputians desperate for love would attempt to scale.
Elsewhere, Liversidge seems to toy with time. In his DVD, 'Clearing the Mists', a tiny boat seems to inhale and exhale a billowing cloud of smoke, prodded by a bloke in a yellow rubber suit. The hypnotic hiss of the soundtrack and the mesmerising rise and fall of the smoke elicit the sensation of being slightly drugged: sleepy and susceptible.
In Ghaemi’s mixed media installation odd-shaped paintings document the antics of men in funny hats. They seem oblivious to the protruding propeller in their midst; it’s as if another boat has sailed right through the gallery and crashed into the wall.
Overall, the experience of 'Everything’s Alright' is reminiscent of a hard night in Wonderland yo-yoing up and down the size scale with Alice: tiny one minute, massive the next. But instead of asking gallery visitors to nibble on special cakes or slurp suspect potions, Rowell achieves the same effect using the tricks of a good curator: an awareness of physical space, precisely controlled lighting and the ability to create a synergy between carefully selected artworks. And like an accomplished magician, she makes it look effortless.