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  • Sep

    Top Ten: Sydney Biennale 2012

    Biennale(s) seem to demand the spectacular. We seek out something with a wow factor, and like the circus freaks we secretly wish to witness we gush over technical mastery and audacity. After waiting for two years, we want each show to be more than the everyday, more than just a good exhibition. But what if there was a biennale that refused to do this? What if there was a biennale that quietly slipped into town, showed numerous artists that were not already in the top ten and then quietly left again. Too many people have told me the current Biennale of Sydney “all our relations” disappointed. But with a catalogue of some of the smartest writing I have read alongside art for a long time, (Brian Massumi and Erin Manning add new layers that demonstrate the importance of movement, event and materiality in the face of the withdrawn object, alongside Latour’s compositionist manifesto that withstands repeated re-reading) I’m starting to be suspicious that this exhibition is much more than the languages and experiences that usually surround such ventures allow. This year’s top ten is a list of the works that infiltrated my thoughts, small gestures that I became fond of, things that took time (whether or not I thought they were yucky or nice). These are the works that remain.

    1. Almagnl Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan) and Bahar Behbahani (Iran) Ride the Caspian 2011.
    Two channel HD video, colour, surround sound, SYNC video, 11:46
    Woman becomes fox while men sit in suits with water lapping at their shoes. The oil wars are here.

    2. Jess MacNeil (Australia) The Shape of Between 2006.
    Digital video 16:9 HD, Blu-ray, Stereo, 12:59 mins (infinite loop). Sound by Marcus Kaiser.
    Space is formed across a tense surface of negotiation. There is no resolution, boats move, people adjust their weight, the audience shuffles a little and a breath of wind breaks the surface of the water.

    3. Jananne Al-Ani (Iraq) Shadow-Sites I 2010.
    Location still from single-channel, digitised Super 16mm Film, Stereo, 14:20 mins.
    This is a record containing horror. Spaces are marked by sound and slowly become shadows. The omnipotent gaze that we tend to attribute to Google rises again above the surface of lived experience, ants crawl and I feel a tug, a fear of the known unknown.

    4. Fujiko Nakaya (Japan) Living Chasm – Cockatoo Island 2012.
    water-fog, SUS foglines with 1000 nozzles, high-pressure pump and motor system, four electro-magnetic ball valves, anemometer and timer control system.
    A huge sense of achievement as i find myself floating on a gantry above the earth. In the clouds everything is fine. The air is moist, my camera will not work, but I’m here, up high and face to face with a cave in which someone a long long time ago found themselves shackled to a wall.

    5. Liu Zhuoquan (China) Where are You? 2011.
    glass bottles, oil paint, Chinese paint and sealing wax. dimensions variable.
    Part of the fear of a new country is learning to live with the wild. These snakes would not let me sleep, if I shut just one eye they would move, shatter their jars and (just as Sigorney Weaver predicted) escape their containment.

    photo pinched from  UOW MEDA301 site
    6. Alex Finlay (Britain) Swarm (ASX) 2012.
    wooden beehives, audio. dimensions variable (sound engineering by Chris Watson)
    Another example of containment but this time the energy was livid. Hundreds, thousands of lives were at stake. The power of a single phone call could change the course of the world. What the bees know is that it is exactly a year since the USA narrowly avoided default.

    photo by me
    7. Eva Kotàtkova (Czech Republic) Theatre of Speaking Objects 2012.
    mixed media installation, performance. dimensions variable.
    The objects were silent when I visited the second time, I liked it better this way. The collage, the musing, the playful whimsy of collage and line. And the library perfectly organised but inaccessible. Visible yet hidden, legible yet in need of translation. Should be called the theatre of disobedient objects.

    Courtesy the artist; Sutton Gallery, Melbourne; Sue Crockford Gallery, Auckland; and Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington Photograph: Prudence Upton/Destination NSW
    8. Peter Robinson (Aotearoa) Gravitas Lite 2012.
    polystyrene. dimensions variable.
    Robinson makes heavy objects float and light objects sink. The weight of air was measured inside a massively confined space, larger than could be imagined. I choked on the memory of off cuts stuck to the carpet belonging to the ‘man in the hat.’

    photo by me
    9. Erin Manning (Canada) Stitching Time – A Collective Fashioning, 2012
    fabric, magnets, buttons, thread and metal wire. dimensions variable.
    The tenacity of conversation mixed with uncertainty. For the first month I avoided it completely. I don’t like floaty fabric, I tend to run quickly from anything that wants me to ‘interact’. I don’t like to behave. So how to engage a work that simply refused to talk to me? I looked to the edges. Pia Ednie-Brown’s cottonbud protective layers, Lone’s patient and careful analysis of buttons, and Erin’s gracious intimacy over tea allowed me in, just a little. Afterward I thought more about events, stillness and affect beyond the object. If matter vibrates I don’t need to be clothed by it, I don’t need to touch it. I can be alongside it, taking in its words. No need for more.

    photo from bos website
    10. Guido Van Der Werve (The Netherlands) Nummer Acht: Everything is going to be alright 2007.
    16mm transferred to digital video, colour, silent, 10:10 minutes
    There are other solo dances that I prefer, and i wanted darkness. Its meditation was disturbed by the caribou watching behind me. They needed to find another room.

    11. Phil Hastings (USA) Steadfast 2009.
    High definition video, variable 7 minute loop.
    Really on the list because it reminded me of a work by dear friends. A house withstands a wave. Again and again. The torture for this house is slowed, nearly stationary water becomes force, turbulence, motion. Liquid becomes solid.

    12. Nicholas Hlobo (South Africa) Inkwili 2012.
    rubber, ribbon, hosepipe and packaging material, 300 x 1200 x 400 cm
    More water. The creature lets out a final gasp. Tied, tangled in the waste of a harbour so polluted the fish are toxic and starved by a complete disregard for its need for constant hydration, this lost thing begged for compassion.



    Thoughts on the computational: an unfortunate list. Unfortunate because it has the potential to be more, because it is resting unfulfilled, and because it is beset by problems bought on by an unresolved essay on Douglas Bagnall’s Cloud Shaped Classifier http://cloudy.halo.gen.nz/about and Film-Making Robot http://halo.gen.nz/robot/ .

    – what counts as a thing?
    – what is a pattern?
    – how do we find patterns?
    – the problem of anthropomorphising.
    – how does a machine see the world?
    – can a computer see things?
    – can a computer see a pattern, and if it does (which I’m beginning to doubt) what does it see, and where is the pattern it sees?
    – enumeration
    – the seeing of things in the widest possible sense
    – mutability
    – how meaning is validated by meaning
    – can there be a non-differentiated pattern?
    – at what point do aesthetics translate experience?
    – speculative materiality

    “Machines [do not only] extend the organism, but [Samuel Butler] asserts that they are really limbs and organs lying on the body without organs of a society” Deleuze and Guattari – Anti-Oedipus, 1972.


    Reading Log: tratteggio

    Just finished reading a beautiful article on Cesare Brandi and tratteggio (visible restoration).
    Tratteggio was a restoration technique championed by Brandi which dealt with the lacunae in damaged images, not by restoring them and hiding the restoration which Brandi described as the extreme of forgery, and not by gluing together the empty spaces in a form of object based archaeological “truth” that removed the aura and the aesthetic distinctiveness of the piece, but with tratteggio: a technique of tiny parallel lines in watercolour that are present in their own materiality up close but that colour merge when a viewer is at a distance. This is a kind of visible pixilation, or a restoration of pixilation, that was based in Brandi’s understanding of the dual nature of art:
    Burnett writes: “artworks if they are anything, are special kinds of historico-material objects, and this specialness resides somehow in their own ambition to transcend their mere historicity and their mere materiality.”

    There is no emphasis here on experience of the object, but something very important about the agency of the object, a combinatorial form of Hegel and Kant where the historical moment of the image’s making is recognized as equivalent to the historical time it has gathered. Brandi even went so far as to suggest that a work should become layered with tratteggio that each mark should become a fragment of the work’s time.

    original article: D. Graham Burnett “Facing the Unknown” Cabinet 40, Winter 2010, 2011.


    Distraction and Feedback

    Su Ballard. “Distraction and Feedback: Sound, Noise and Movement in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Mesh vol. 19 (online) http://www.experimenta.org/mesh/mesh19/ballard.html ed. Maria Rizzo, Experimenta: Melbourne, September 2006.

    If sound is a material and digital media have lead images toward a realm where they engage materiality at a deeply coded level, then it is only logical that at some point sound and image will meet on similar ground. In Aotearoa New Zealand artists playing with and shifting the distinct materialities of sound and image enabled by, and in response to, digital technologies have generated significant bodies of work. Much of this work does not only cross the boundaries of sound and image but blurs their material distinctions. This short essay focuses on some recent installations by artists Nathan Thompson, Adam Willetts, and Aaron and Hannah Beehre. In examining a pair of works by each artist I map a trend away from a flat digital screen that was dominant throughout the 90s in New Zealand new media practice, towards the spaces and sounds of installation. In particular the works discussed examine the role of sonics (sound) in new media. In this way the works reflect the significant role that artists working across the platforms of sound and image have had in New Zealand.