things that remain

5 november - 29 november, 2008

Work by steve cox, jessICA crowe, julia powles, greg pryor, leo zylberberg

Curator: peter westwood

What does remain? Soon I am to move out of my house. The house is rented and it has been sold. I realised the other day that I have no images of the outside of the house. Inside I have photographed my family. I’ve recorded the usual events – birthday dinners, Christmas and a visitor from overseas. One friend made a film in the bathroom and I made an artwork inside a bookcase. And yet I have no images of the house itself. I will forget the veranda with its particular posts and the slightly Art Nouveau fretwork and I will forget that it is only the front room that is brick. But I will carry the idea and the sense of the house with me.

I am reminded that the experience of place is often subjective and that the accuracy of observation can be fallible.

All places have general and individual associations. We know that places seem to change and stay the same between visits, and that one person’s recollection of a place will not be the same as another. Therefore any place, or all places, exist as psychological states regardless of their specific geography or identifiable and observed features.

Things that remain is about location and the documentation and translation of location as a residue. The work of each of the artists in this exhibition is about 'the idea of place' rather than the 'place' itself, and each artist deals with some or all of the things that 'place' may be. Each of the artists in this exhibition pursue various forms of hermetic logic to define the experience of 'place', translating culture, physical engagement, the marking of territory and the inherent psychology of self in relation to 'place'.

Something unfathomable
Julia Powles works with places that she cannot really know, places that can be observed or experienced but may not be fully understood. Her works focus on places that we may never come to grips with – a moving ocean surface that offers the sense of a formidable and impenetrable depth. And the site of a UFO landing that acts as the residue of a fleeting but significant event that may have passed, or may never have occurred. These are observations of places that are encounters with the unfamiliar.

Powles attempts to document the vast experience. In her work Drift she reminds us that the contemplation of water, of the ocean, is necessarily the contemplation of death. Water is our element. It is what we know and what we consist of. However, to know water correctly is to be consumed by it. And to drift is to play with risk; the possibility of imperceptibly changing direction without realizing it, setting off to drift and finding oneself in unfamiliar and dangerous places, or at the very least a place that carries the inherent memory of peril. The harmony and stillness that can be found in the depth of the ocean is symptomatic of mortality and where the transient sense of our human condition is marked through the

elusive and mercurial movement of water. We carry the idea and the sense of deep water with us and Powles’ remembrance through water suggests a space within our psyche that is difficult, perhaps unfathomable.

Each person’s encounter with place is always particular – and perhaps peculiar. Powles grew up in the Victorian countryside where she became attuned to a range of local stories regarding UFO sightings. In visiting her childhood countryside, Powles became aware of the sense of failed hope and absurdity that seemed to co-exist within the landscape, where a super-grid of water channels defines a flat and featureless countryside.

Local stories, embellishments and tall tales may be as much about a desire for the inaccessible as they are a recognition of the lack of restriction that comes from isolation and of being able to pose the question: ‘why couldn’t this have happened here?’

Powles’ work UFO Landing Site defines a place where something extraordinary may have happened – or might just happen, where perceptions of reality might be allowed to shift a little, and where extraordinary events may occur. Drift and UFO Landing Site are defined by longing and restlessness. Powles’ UFO Landing Site is underpinned by recognition of the struggle one experiences in living within the ordinary, but equally identifies the desire we have for a separate reality of possibility. This work is about dissolving reality into chance, challenging the idea of monotony, and embracing curiousness and absurdity.

The differences between one thing and another
All forms of translation rely on the careful observation of nuance; of traces and of comparisons. Translation involves being aware of the differences between one thing and another. Gregory Pryor works as a compulsive diarist. Over decades and across geographical boundaries he has recorded the evanescent passage of time through short-lived moments that in turn become memorable. Pryor translates experiences through a careful and intent observation.

Black Noise (Ghost of Tongcao)[1] is a record of two months in Taipei, forming a complex rudiment that seems to suggest the early stages of a plan to cross cultural boundaries; Pryor has set up strategies to try to break some of the inevitable obstructions encountered when working within another culture.

The most notable feature of this work is that within the vast array of ‘small’ paper panels, and the ‘small’ day-to-day narratives that make up the work, Pryor implies a great deal about the complexity of individual human interaction. Black Noise (Ghost of Tongcao) is not merely a private memoir. He arranged: ‘… to meet a listener at the end of each day, to whom he would relate the observations, thoughts and experiences of his day. The listeners, then became scribes, writing a second version of the diary in Chinese’, in turn interpreting Pryor’s sensibility and cultural interpretation, his dealings with people, and his daily responses. In this work Pryor sets in place an empirical strategy attempting to position himself beyond the role of outside observer; he is also the subject of this own work. He places himself in the role of instigator and narrator whose thoughts are in turn reinterpreted.

Pryor’s work, attempting to form a cultural bridge, is a perfect construction job. This work seems to have been brought about by a desire to interpret from a structural and empirical position, almost a sociological perspective. However, and conversely, Black Noise (Ghost of Tongcao) is funnelled through a range of stratagems that raise an awareness of human empathy and subjectivity, and in this Pryor is an expert collector:

The collector’s impulse does not encourage the lust to understand and transform. Collecting is a form of union. The collector is acknowledging. He is adding. He is learning. He is noting.[2]

Black Noise (Ghost of Tongcao) is a type of shared ‘body’, that marks a complex and remembered sense of place through intimate exchanges across language and culture.

Short-lived moments
Like Pryor the collaborative works of Jess Crowe and Leo Zylberberg are also based around short-lived or transitory moments. However, Crowe and Zylberberg diarise seemingly banal journeys from one point to another. And like Powles, these works are prompted by the mundane.

Crowe and Zylberberg’s graphic drawings are underpinned by an optimism and desire to find something within nothing. Crowe and Zylberberg elevate insignificant incidents – Road Drawing 06: Turning Right – to imply the minutiae of individual events. This work is plain, graphic and schematic. It is a plan about nothing, rendered in graphite pencil, mindlessly democratic in selection, and seemingly feigned.

Crowe and Zylberberg’s drawings encapsulate daily lives that consist of slight moments where nothing momentous is ever defined. These works are formed through the random action of undertaking a short car trip from one point to another, from the house to the supermarket. The careful rendering of ‘jerky’ lines created by sitting in a car in transit, into carefully shaded, embellished and painstakingly remade versions of their original ‘scribble’, suggests a desire for meaning, permanence and stability. Inevitably we seem to be left with only fiction and quotation.

Their strategy of recording transient movement is used to distinguish a blank or vacant contemporary experience, characterising any place, or all places. These drawings live on the edge of a humorous futility. In reinforcing simulation over actuality, Crowe and Zylberberg form a type of heightened but deficient reconstruction, not unlike a serve of five-minute noodles.

The Wisdom of Hindsight
How is something remembered? Remembering comes from the back of our minds; from the place where we seek the things we share with others and where perception is tempered by human vulnerability. Steve Cox’s works Snow Castles, For the Others and The Wisdom of Hindsight are based on both imagined and genuine incidents. His work suggests places associated with remembered and strong events, implying a psychological space full of free association and layered meaning. Cox’s works are often humorous and familiar and almost exist as cartoons for ideas. However, they are deeply fatalistic in content. The places Cox maps for us are both a ‘felt’ and personal history, and a ‘queer’ and fraught landscape.

For the Others is a fierce and dark landscape with a filmic quality that identifies a bleak anticipation, and in its brutal inevitability is not unlike a sequence or still from a Cohen Brothers movie. For the Others may have been made for those’ outside’ who brandish labels, or for those intrepid others who follow, or for those who have undertaken the journey but may not have survived. Cox’s work is for those who may not have been able to navigate the dangerous and queer territory to pass safely over the hill. This work is centred on an error; an atrocity, marking a place containing traps and boundaries.

The Wisdom of Hindsight grapples with a narrative of past events formed through the bitter lament of lost love. The work is not sentimental. Cox cynically suggests the pun that we would all wish for – wisdom through hindsight. Cox conjures a place marked by the boundaries of fire and brimstone, a darkened shed suggesting the ‘back door’, mixed with an animosity for past events.

Cox has worked with this form of mental landscape or psychological mapping for decades. His process is to find accidents within shapes and forms, to define something that can only be glimpsed. He works with mistakes that are erased, forming only half visible allusions.

Snow Castles suggests Cox’s birthplace, England. Here he grapples with something remembered but not fully understood; something that may be completely ‘off the page’. Using arrows that point outside the work he writes the names of a number of towns in Sussex. However Cox’s image is blurred and obscured by ‘snow’ and a range of agitated lineal forms, transforming and weighing mobility within his landscape. Delicate, fragile, and perhaps a little fraught, this is an inconceivable place remembered from outside.

Once again thinking about the house that I am about to leave I am aware that there is only emptiness around, and not a sign of the old life.

Nothing. But it’s just as well, perhaps, that there should be nothing physical to hang onto. It forces you inward, to look for what endures.[3]

 

Peter Westwood

(Peter Westwood is an artist, writer and curator based in Melbourne.)

Notes

  1. In the title of this work Pryor has referred to the Taiwanese Pith Plant or Tongcao. The rare plant is harvested and prepared into thin, almost transparent sheets, which were used for painting and the preparation of artificial flowers. When a wet brush is applied to the paper, it puffs up, giving the painting a slightly three-dimensional form.
  1. Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover, Picador, USA, 1992; pp 157
  1. Saul Bellow, Herzog, Penguin, USA, 2001. Introduction by Malcolm Bradbury; pp X




Exhibition Images

 

Exhibition Images

Exhibition Notes

installation view

 

installation view

 

Gregory Pryor, Black Noise (Ghost of Tongcao) (detail), ink on chinese silk and paper, 118 x 1609 (approx.)

 

 

 

Jessica Crowe and Leo Zylberberg, My house to your house (detail)

 

 

 

Julia Powles, Drift (detail), Oil on linen

 

 

 

Steve Cox, Snow Castles, mixed media on paper