The sculptural work of Craige Andrae is gradually disappearing. Previously his practice has concerned itself, at least formally, with some of the 'traditional' concerns of sculpture. The large mechanical jaws and buckles that were constructed out of bent and rivetted galvanised metal, the spinning circular saw blade, larger than an adult, made out of expanded polystyrene, the large tube with the cigar decal affixed that was part of the Black Bud exhibition at the Bull Ring all used concepts of sculptural mass and scale. In doing so the works operated within the form and the tradition (albeit sometimes ironically) of the monumental and of the sculptural in a manner that would be recognised and comprehensible to people in the most reactionary sculpture faculty in the world, even if many of the other concerns within the work would entirely pass them by.
The monument (al) is based on and in presence, in something being so unapologetically there that it places us as a passing event in front of an unchanging other, be it Trajan's Column in Rome or a massive cube of Serra corten steel. The monumental and the sculptural takes on mass and weight to implode space and time into themselves so that the work becomes a fixed centre of gravity within the sphere of changing experience and temporal event. The stillness, the weight, the freezing of event into an enclosed event horizon of the object's 'now' is one of the reasons that we find sculpture so fascinating, as it places itself in opposition to our own states of being, and so throws these fluxing states into higher relief.
There was something both seductive and awkward in Andrae's use of sculptural mass, especially as it was used, as it were, in inverted commas - in a way that highlighted the presumption and the arrogance of the sculptural object, whilst at the same time a lot of the strength of the work came from the very properties that it was critiqueing. This often lead to curiously lumpy work in which concerns and ideas became petrified within the object itself, much as, platitudinously, the form is trapped within the raw stone waiting to be revealed by the sculptor's inspired chisel. Often one felt that there could have been a bit more chipping. The weighty feel of the work was also reinforced by Craige Andrae's considerable technical skills which were very manifest in his practice. Metal was bent, cut, twisted, punched and joined in virtuoso displays of skill and difficulty, fashioning and finish, as to render the object positively inert and mute under its own making.
So the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Centre came as something of a shock. I wrote the catalogue essay for this exhibition so I have to declare an interest here. However, the writing allowed me an insight into some of the concerns rather than necessarily the works themselves, as, in the way that most of these things are done, my ideas of the finished product were arrived at through conversation, sketches and small puzzling bits of stuff pulled out from the corner of a studio by the artist to be made more solid only through the power of suggestion.
The first work seen on entering the door could be a leitmotif for the exhibition itself, with shelves of bright clear empty bottles positioned in parallel lines like those upon a sheet of writing paper. The bottles themselves within these lines were organised into discrete groups, some of the constituent elements varying in size so as to irresistibly suggest upper and lower cases in the making of a word. We knew that we were presented with a text, even though the 'meaning' of the text was occluded from us even though the work was so transparent and clear as to dazzle the eye. All that was needed was the awareness that there was some organising principle in the work. It was not necessary to 'crack' the code of glass, even though this was possible through the use of an accompanying publication by the artist that provided all the keys required. The mutability and fragility of what we were seeing was made uppermost in our minds (as opposed to the weight and fixity of the 'sculptural') and that this message, these bottles of light were, to steal a phrase of Duchamp's, but a 'delay in glass'.
Andrae had conceived the entire show as an event. Everywhere we looked the impermanence of the organisation and installation was drawn carefully and consistently to the foreground. The way the speckled flex was trained (whilst making the electrical connection between a power point and a fridge) by means of scores of pins, to trace the outline of a cow amongst some mountains, highlighted how easily a tug would immediately erase this painstaking exercise, as did the visible blurring and erosion of carefully drawn chalk-lines that were part of the work Sounding Off, through people squeezing past it on their way down the narrow corridor that led to the back room.
This feeling of the works being only temporarily 'at rest' in a continuing syntax of organisation and re-organisation was reinforced both through the concerns of the works themselves and the ways that we interacted with and experienced the works. The constituent pieces largely addressed the idea of 'meaning' as being an ongoing construction, in which no moment or agreement can be seen as the final resolution. For instance Tunnel which played complex games with text, sign and object to make a fragile representation of a multitude of possibilities, or Paradise, with its coup de théatre of an illuminated vase of flowers floating in space and its concomitant concerns of actual and (Platonically) absolute form. These individual works (many of which required an active intervention in their physical rearrangement on the part of the viewer through the opening or closing of doors) then became moments in a journey - physical and metaphorical - that the viewer was making, with each part not so much an object, but an event within an event, the objects not only becoming physically more fragile, but dissolving and disappearing into event and time.
That the work is disappearing, does not mean that it lacks depth or weight, nor does it diminish the work's presence. Rather its dematerialisation and therefore its move into new, more variable temporal planes has allowed it to generate webs of allusion and play previously denied in its massive state, these webs containing meaning(s) of which we the spectators are both the discoverers and generators. As an artist, it takes a great deal of courage to 'play', to make work that is not anal in its determination to determine (or alternatively anal and sanctimonious in its self-important desire not to determine or achieve closure). This is particularly true in the current atmosphere in Australia where the (new) desire to be open-ended is really a bit 'serious' and certainly ponderous, as if there is an intention towards immediate consumption, and to simultaneously maintain the cake in its present matrix of organisationality.
That Craige Andrae's new work is playful, poetic, allusive, generous, etc etc - has been rightly noted in other writings about the exhibition. Losing mass and weight is never something undertaken lightly, and in the new lightness of the exhibition, there is an artist who is now playing, seriously.