Exhibition review Messy and Restless: Helene Czerny, Julie Duffield, Paul Hoban, Terri Hoskin, Derek O'Connor Contemporary Art Centre Adelaide SA 1- 24 November 1996
The title Messy and Restless was devised by Contemporary Art Centre Director and curator, Bala Starr, to describe an aspect of the lives of artists, that is they can be messy and restless. The eclectic five person show reflects the title. But the exhibition engages a broader context, the messy and restless world of art, its curators, practitioners, critics, administrators and writers, who all play a part in the presentation. The construction of meaning does not exist in the objects alone, it is offered through a process of cultural expectation, curation and juxtaposition of objects and sounds. Also the process of critique cannot be divorced from the exigencies of life (this writing is being edited in an airport terminal), it too can be messy and restless, no less than the "...peculiar but simultaneously ordinary relationship between an artist's work and their everyday life, and the sometimes fuzzy 'senselessness' of being an artist in the real world." (Words taken from the media release.)
The catalogue essay by Stephen O'Connell doesn't describe the work but sets a context, it too is part of the process of creating meaning, a mechanism to guide or direct towards the nirvana of understanding, or a state of contradiction and confusion. Essays appear to be essential in exhibiting contemporary art, a symbiotic relationship. Which would cease to exist without the other?
This exhibition is very much about materials, their surface and substance; conglomerate and individual identity is built on the minute particles of matter that are used to construct work, from paint fleck to the air particles that transmit sound. The term visual art is inadequate to incorporate the conflation of sensory stimuli within the exhibition space. The works of the three artists displayed in the front gallery contain sound elements that either compete with or complement each other. To isolate the sound only, to distance the visual, allowed the voice of Julie Duffield, the shrill chirping cicadas of Terri Hoskin and the mechanical beat of Paul Hoban's Breville Mixmaster motor to present an effective sound installation, additional to the individual elements of each work. A synthesis of sounds and sensations, intentional or random, and the term visual art becomes deficient, defective, defunct.
Terri Hoskin's work, packing labels attached to the wall, ceiling and floor with shoe taps, colonises space. Some labels are blank, others display text or images such as line drawings of topographic patterns or amorphous objects. Other patterns intrinsic to the gallery space such as the ceiling rose, light tracks and disused lighting clips intercept to establish a relationship with the artist's marks, intentional or not. Meaning is elusive, beyond its physical state.
The series of found object assemblages by Paul Hoban deny early meaning. The work hovers between a random convergence of materials, surfaces and textures and a collaboration of materials and ideas. How different are they to the plethora of found object assemblages that have preceded them? Several of the works were made over a period of years, the process of their construction speaks equitably with the resultant objects. What were the major or minor adjustments to an assemblage over a period of four years?
Two of the works present hieroglyphic systems. On the floor a Breville Mixmaster motor, attached to a thin length of wood, twirls a paint brush in space causing movement and vibration along the wood, an attached texta pen inscribes marks on a surface. Underneath are several sheets inscribed with previous marks, machine hieroglyphics. Nearby on a four legged stool inscribed "the chair beloved of philosophers" sits a book Geometrical Drawing - Projection and Sections of Solids, calculated and precise, geometric hieroglyphics. Dada lives.
Julie Duffield's video/sound installation Chinese Whispers comprises a video monitor at floor level draped in cloth, a cutout section providing a frame for the female face on the screen. The initial appearance is of Arabic cultures, the female face hidden by the veil, but here more than the eyes are revealed, we see the angst of a face disturbed, anguish and discomfort as water is intermittently poured over the head, Chinese water torture rather than whispers. A female voice makes seemingly disjointed statements "really terribly sorry", "when are you coming to stay with me", "go to the party". The work has to compete against the average seven seconds we reputedly allocate to viewing artworks in galleries. It requires attentive viewing over several minutes to delve below the surface and engage its nuances but unfortunately other sounds in the gallery distract and disturb.
The series of three dimensional paintings by Derek O'Connor present excellently crafted plywood boxes which either sit in their own right or contain paintings behind perspex fronts. The painted surfaces invite examination and reflection. One series Untitled Green 1995 -96 presents hues of green, sensuous thick oil paint, a deliberate dragging of the paint across the surface with a random outcome, its own life.
The installation by Helen Czerny Live Conversations contains several varying size bales of human hair. The amount of hair speaks of thousands of people. The work readily alludes to human tragedy, the remains, remnants of the victims of mass scale callous acts. One bale displaces this aura, although containing a segment of hair, it is predominantly of straw, introducing a farm context. Harvesting the straw, shearing, but here the product of the shearing is also the coiffure, the vanity or sense of self of the hairstyle, the attribution of a particular set or personal style. The work is tactile, it compels touching, coarse to smooth, soft but slightly irritating. To touch a lock of hair from a loved one can provide closeness, to touch hair outside of the personal context, the impersonal detritus of other human beings, potentially infected with head lice, to face and handle the hair of thousands can be repulsive, it is almost excreta.
In the end Messy and Restless draws attention to a concept of life beyond art, to other workplaces and homes and the physical objects furnish the gallery as a loungeroom of ideas.