JAMES STREET, EDWARD STREET, BRISBANE, 1995-7
Plöetz Gallery & White Box Gallery
LOCAL & HISTORICAL INFLUENCES
This selection of works from my years as a student and an artist, combine a number of different approaches to making art that all share common links in responding to Modernist Abstract Painting, The Body and Abject Art. Throughout Brisbane in the nineties, there was a heavy focus on Performance and Installation Art programmed into what was exhibited at the Institute of Modern Art by the Director Nicholas Tsoutas; and counter to this, was an ongoing series of curated shows by David Pestorius throughout the decade which tried to historicize geometric painting in Australia. This punctuated my education while undertaking a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Queensland University of Technology. Pestorius’ shows were exhibited in his privately run gallery and also curatorially existed in various sites, some of these including the Centenary Pool, Merivale Street, Metro Arts and the University Art Museum (UAM) at the University of Queensland located in St. Lucia.
Chris Howlett, Composition with lines No.2, Mattress Ticking on MDF with stains, 1996, 600mm x 610mm (no longer exists in any collection – location unknown)
Kazimir Malevich, White on White, Oil on Canvas, 1918, 794 mm x 794 mm (MoMA, New York Collection)
As a young student in Brisbane these moments in local art, intersected my education and became important influences in the development of my practice and working out a position towards certain kinds of methodologies in art making. They also revealed to me how certain approaches to art-making on a periphery could exist in opposition or compliment those operating in a centre like New York or Paris.
Some of the questions I was asking myself in my own work were; “What happens to the body in formal strategies surrounding abstract painting? Where is the body and subjectivity located in Abstraction such as Malevich’s influential work entitled Suprematist Composition: White on White?…apart from the traces of it in his brushstrokes (over-painting) or in the texture of the paint which is hidden in various types of reproductions displayed across computer screens or in art-history books.
I always thought that his “spiritual freedom” or ideas on “self-liberation” which were expressed in his manifesto and poetic rants to critics of his work, could also possibly exist in imagining a flip side to his arguments on formal purity. One of these ideas was that the impure, the repressed, the abject, the pathetic – call it what you like (the inverse) could also assume a positive position in relation to an understanding on spiritual aesthetics that wasn’t solely grounded along his spiritual and cosmic lines of painterly purity. At the same time, I was also influenced by Dada, Surrealism and Formlessness, the reactionary displays within Abject Art depicted in West Coast American Art and in classes taken in Feminist and Psychoanalytic Theory where ideas on subjectivity, identity politics and the unconscious became foregrounded in my thinking.
My choice of materials were mainly readymade that consisted of bedding material sourced from second hand furniture stores or gifted items from friends (old pillows) which often had a strong geometric pattern to their design or of a repetitive pattern produced by sweat and other bodily exudations. Some of these materials and their original objects were often combined with animatronic devices that anthropomorphized their forms. These sculptures through their repetitive movements could stand in for many different bodily metaphors and processes; battery operated dolls and vibrating toys which came with their own internal sounds were also sewn into the body of individual works, resulting in the sculptures adopting certain kinds of personality traits. When exhibited in gallery spaces, their sounds and personalities defined their own space and came to define how they should be placed within particular sites or whatever sculptural forms and formal shapes needed to be sewn around them.
Today, my interest in formalism, interactivity, performance, the body and sculpture still exists in my decision making, along with a continued focus in animation techniques that operate virtually in my Machinima and Video Art works.