Saturday, September 15, 2007


Matthew Hopkins performing in his installation
The Future Pt.2: Getting used to the Future. Version 2.2
Courtesy the artist and Firstdraft Gallery

This week I managed to sneak in a bit of art between meals - so much for my diet. Among others I saw Primavera 07 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Matthew Hopkins at Firstdraft Gallery, and Jess MacNeil at Gallery Barry Keldoulis. Actually I probably saw a few other things at the Danks Street complex where GBK resides, but apart from Jess MacNeil’s work they’ve faded from memory. Actually one thing I do remember is walking past Conny Dietzschold Gallery, where a gallery assistant was up a ladder hanging a piece of art. A couple of old ladies passed by and I overheard one say: “That’s not the kind of dress you should be wearing when you hang a picture”. This was a memorable moment.

I had heard from friends that Primavera was crap. I've never really been one for Primavera bashing. It’s an easy target for criticism – sometimes the complaints are valid, but I suspect in most cases they are flavoured with Sour Grape Snapple. The show aside for a second, at least you know the opening night will be a highpoint. Unfortunately The Artswipe was at a Bingo Tournament that night, but an insider reports that it was a tepid affair, mostly populated with an aging art crowd and the usual Fashion Week wannabes. What was missing apparently was the young artist crowd that Primavera is supposed to represent. For starters, the MCA allegedly did not invite any of their preparatory staff or visitor service officers, a generally young and funky bunch who epitomise the Primavera demographic. Gee, I’m glad I was busy!

Art by Claire Fisher from Six Feet Under

So I finally made my way to the MCA with an open heart and mind. Usually I'm a cold bitch, so this was a real effort OK. But it wasn't long before my bitch radar made its return from the repressed because most of it was not so great. I generally make it a practice to talk up the good things before I go for the ugly jugular but I’ll make an exception today. For starters, let's talk about the signature marketing image for Primavera of the raised hands. Double V, 2005 by Justine Khamara are hands using two fingers to make either an "up yours" or peace symbol - depending I suppose on how you feel. In the Primavera marketing, Double V works because as a reproduction in print or web, it acts like a big enticement for everyone to get their hands in the air because Primavera is here! In reality, it is comprised of tiny cut outs that get totally lost in the space. This is probably for the best considering how underwhelming the work really is. Khamara's three-dimensional collage heads, Bugaboo, might be cool if they didn't appear so inspired by the work of a fictional artist from TV! Is it just me, or did Claire Fisher from Six Feet Under already make this artwork during her art school years? Speaking of cut-outs, a second contender for uninteresting work is Martin Smith’s series of photos with song lyrics literally cut out of them. To make work inspired by popular music is fairly commonplace, but I find the allusions to music dominate and reveal more about the artist's self-conscious affection for the music referenced than it does about any genuinely interesting original visual idea.

Jess MacNeil
Opera House Steps December, 2006
Digital video, 2 min 28 sec, infinite loop
Courtesy the artist and Gallery Barry Keldoulis

What was good? Amanda Marburg's paintings of famous movie moments but recast with cutesy claymation figures were inspired. The highlight of the show was definitely Jess MacNeil's video Opera House Steps December, 2006. Though I’d already seen it before in other shows, being projected at such a monumental scale gave it renewed resonance. McNeil makes videos that look like paintings and paintings that look like video (paused of course). With Opera House Steps December, MacNeil has filmed people walking up and down the steps but used some fancy-pants special-effects to erase the people. What remains are human shadows that move across the steps like a toy Slinky working overtime.

Nude Descending a Staircase?
Courtesy Google Images

Recalled in MacNeil's video is the graphic interplay of form that Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein mastered through his method of 'montage by conflict'. In the famous Odessa Steps sequence of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925), the actual steps themselves were key to creating the scene's visual drama. The tiered horizontal pattern of the steps would be interrupted by the descending masses, creating a clash of horizontal and vertical form. The composition of Opera House Steps December echoes the same kind of visual drama but with meditative intent. Eisenstein was a master editor whose practice (and theory) of montage revolutionised filmmaking. While he knew where to cut the frame for dynamic impact, MacNeil keeps the camera running in one long take, editing through the digital removal of the body. Like legendary American video artist Bill Viola, MacNeil has a knack for making poetry with a medium not often used to poetic effect. And that’s certainly what MacNeil achieves in her new work on show at GBK. Again her videos The Thaw, Wake (Coniston Water) and Wake (Windermere) are utterly compelling in their quiet contemplation of scenes that in any other circumstance border on the banal.

Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

Of all the other shows I saw this week, a real highlight was Matthew Hopkins' The Future Pt.2: Getting used to the Future. Version 2.2 – A Bogus Infinity at Firstdraft Gallery. Like early Hany Armanious or Adam Cullen, Hopkins makes grunge art installations cut with quick wit. The installation is predominately an explosion of white knotted socks in creepy configurations. Some of his drawings reference Stephen King novels, which makes me wonder if the sock forms are meant to be immobile monsters just waiting to contaminate the earth with a form of tinea never before witnessed. In his artist statement, Hopkins describes the installation as based on research he did when he visited the future. The thing is, the future was just like now but objects were all jumbled around. He writes:

"The funny thing about the future is that it is not that different to now, the present. The future is really just a re-arranged version of now, the present. What I mean by re-arranged is that objects, emotions, things we do etc., are all mixed up and around with each other. Drinking a cup of coffee in the future, for example, is actually building a house. Crying in the future is actually sticky-tape."

Like a synesthete who hears taste or sees sound, Hopkins sculpts an object-based synesthesia to create a scene of a future shape-shifted beyond recognition. That's the kind of future I want to visit, and considering the future is really just around the corner, I'm looking forward to seeing more from this promising young artist.

Primavera 08 perhaps?


Skanky Jane said...

op post Artswipe (and another great study piece from my fave art school). Thanks for bringing us these works -- they're really interesting. The 'toon is so cute! SJ xx

mayhem said...

Oh wow! tres goood review - now I don't have to do one! - or even visit - I feel like i've seen it already!
I want a mug! how much?

Skanky Jane said...

I remember Jude Adams telling us at art school about the Odessa Steps sequence - but I seem to remember a pram in there somewhere?

SJ xx