Saturday, March 29, 2008

Inventing Meaning and the Wheel

Shaun Gladwell
Guide to Recent Architecture: Fountains (excerpt), 2000-07
PAL DVD, 4:3, stereo
Edition of 30 + 2 AP, loaded on USB flash drive embedded in skateboard wheel
Videography: Michael Schiavello, Gotaro Uemtasu
Sound: Kazumichi Grime
Courtesy the artist and Artspace

We live in a time where meaning is made multiple by the burden of interpretation. The more we think, talk and write about things, the more meaning is generated. One day soon, so much meaning will exist in the world that we will have to implement a kind of population control to limit meaning’s ongoing multiplicity. You certainly wouldn't want to be claustrophobic in a world overtaken by meaning. Give me the wide open spaces, I say. Call in pest control - meaning has taken over.

These were thoughts going through The Artswipe’s busy brain this morning while deciding whether to wear denim or stretch cotton – getting dressed for the day can sometimes be such a post-structural challenge. I eventually decided on a corduroy pant-suit embroidered with hearts and moons on the back right hand pocket (a semi-vintage heirloom passed down from Aunty Patsy who told me she went to Woodstock when I knew for a fact she never made it out of the housing commission where she grew up and eventually died). I picked up my baseball cap and wore it backwards just to mix things up a bit. Marveling at how much I looked like a skater dude, I picked up my mobile phone and sent a text to a friend that read, “sk8ers rock 4eva”. Later I got a reply that read, “hay artsvipe stay gold dont change keep up tha good werk lol xo”. I have since deleted that friend as they either can’t spell for shit or use predictive text – two qualities I look for in a friend.

It’s this little anecdotal gesture, communicated through costume and family memory that (probably) goes some way in illustrating how multiple meaning really is. I’m sure you could appreciate the subtle nuances and still take away something new that says less about me than you. It was either that anecdote or the one about catching the bus while wearing rollerblades and I don’t have all day to get my point across. But while we’re talking about things with wheels let’s illustrate meaning and its multiplicity by examining what’s new in art multiples. Over at Artspace you can purchase a Shaun Gladwell multiple of Guide to Recent Architecture: Fountains (excerpt) (2000-07) presented on a USB flash drive embedded in a skateboard wheel. The edition is 30 + 2 Artist Proofs and the price is $1650. According to the Artspace website:

Guide to Recent Architecture: Fountains is an ongoing experimental self-portrait project in which various urban spaces featuring water fountains provide the stage for skateboard performances. Each performance describes a relationship between the designed and proscribed functions of the civil space in which the performance takes place, and the reinterpreted function of the space as a skateboarding park. In Guide to Recent Architecture: Fountains (excerpt) the featured performance takes place at Cook and Phillip Park – one of Sydney’s most renowned skateboarding sites, and a space that has undergone constant redesign in order to displace the skateboarders who use it. Named after the colonisers, ‘Cook and Phillip’ is in turn colonised by these skaters.

That sounds convincing enough so I've been saving up to buy four of them so I can build my own multimedia skateboard with a some wood custom cut from Bunnings. Imagine how fast such a skateboard would go! Just to be powered with such meaning is all one can ever really ask for in this brief lifetime. What I admire about Gladwell is how he makes his work relatively accessible to the more working class among us art collectors but then withholds by only providing the video in excerpted form. It’s like the time I went to the cinema and said, “I only have a fraction of the admission fee” to which the ticket vendor replied, “We can let you watch the trailers but then you have to leave”.

With that in mind I checked how much I’d saved in my goal of owning four “Glad-wheels” and only had $19.95, just enough to purchase Australian Art Collector magazine and see what’s out there, more affordable and perhaps a little kinder to my class-conscious self-esteem. I stumbled on the pages of “Undiscovered” artists and the one who took my eye was a chap called Renny Kodgers (aka Sydney artist Mark Shorter who my sources confirms has a day job – coincidentally – at Artspace). One day I'll go to Artspace, introduce myself to Mark Shorter and see if he can cut me a deal on a “Glad-wheel”. Or better yet, maybe I could take a liking to what art multiples his nom-de-plume, Renny Kodgers, has on the market and invest my money where the sun don’t shine.

And shine it don’t because one of his works is called American Anus (2007), a series of four photographs of Renny in spangly red sequined suit and cowboy hat, in an edition of 5 and a mere $900 each. More alluring is a signed prosthetic penis, in an edition of 20 and the dollar dazzling price of $300. His DVDs are POA (price on application) which I take means he will learn how to burn DVDs on his computer when and if the demand sets in. Another picture reproduced in Art Collector is from The Heat is...On! performance at Chalk Horse in November 2007. At the time, it was there I first learned of this mighty generous performer, who sweated it out with art punters in a communal steam room installed in the smaller of Chalk Horse’s spaces. Having seen how impressive his manhood is - in the flesh, so to speak - I must say it is great he had it cast for art as a prosthetic member readymade for whatever interactive delights I’m only guessing are left up to how far your imagination extends. And extend it will! Knowing I'm never gonna enjoy the sweet ride of those four "Glad-wheels" I tried saving up for, what better ride than Renny's latex love.

Before I go, let me share Renny’s philosophical approach to artmaking as quoted in Art Collector:

For me [my performances] are about how the audience engages with the artwork and how the meaning changes as it progresses.

There you go: meaning and the multiple perfectly summed up by the “undiscovered” Renny Kodgers. If you can’t afford a multiple, then take that little bit of homespun wisdom home for free.

Renny Kodgers
The Heat is...On! 2007
Digital C-Type print
80 x 40 cm. Edition of 5 + 2 AP
Photo: Rowan Conroy
Courtesy the artist

Friday, March 14, 2008

Church of the Poison Mind II

The Artswipe
Spot the Difference (from the Sorry series) 2008
Mobile phone propaganda

The Artwipe made a little pilgrimage to church this morning. I rarely go in, I just check out the signage outside as I always enjoy a Christian pun first thing in the morning. My local church had a sign announcing, "It's Good to Say Sorry" followed by a bible verse. As forgiveness is a Christian past-time, it's unsurprising that Rudd's Sorry Day has been turned into a kind of churchey truism, resplendent with as much meaning as a bumper sticker that might read "Quakers Say NO to ALL WAR". Yes, such a bumper sticker exists. See image below.

So anyway. Today I thought I would actually go inside the church and say my own sorry to God, Mankind, Womankind, Indigenouskind.... Even "In-kind". Because sometimes people give me free shit! As I entered the church, the Reverend Man greeted me, we sat down and he said, "What ails you child?"

The Artswipe said:

What concerns me, Father, is how Christianity has been inextricably linked to the injustices experienced by Aboriginals in this country. Now that the Australian Government says Sorry, the Church de-politicises the Sorry gesture for its own trite and ye-olde-worlde marketing machine. Is this not a colonialist mentality of theft: to drain the real meaning of the apology to the Stolen Generation and recast it within a Judeo-Christian ideology where forgiveness is never Black as it's always whiter than White and washed in the Blood of the Lamb?

The Artswipe
From The Seatbelt Series, 2007 and ongoing
Mobile phone moment

Friday, March 07, 2008

I Am What is Most Beautiful About You, Me and Everyone We Know

Del Kathryn Barton
You are what is most beautiful about me,
a self portrait with Kell and Arella
, 2008
Courtesy the Kids

The Artswipe has finally been accepted as a fully fledged member of "the media". With media pass in hand, I made my way into the Archibald Media Launch this afternoon. The adrenalin was pumping because I really was in the presence of true artistic greatness. Either that or I had finally realised my life-long dream of becoming a carnie and running away with the circus.

Wandering around the Art Gallery of NSW I made my choice for winner: Joanna Braithwaite's Chook Chook Chook. I just figure that a woman surrounded by chooks is a likely winner. It's got that certain post-feminist joie de vivre and it's often on this guiding principal that I base my aesthetics judgements.

As March does not have such a strong record for delivering psychic energy to The Artswipe, I am certainly glad I didn't bet too much dosh on an Archibald winner because in a word "chook lady" was, well, how do you say "loser" without sounding too mean? Like everything else that didn't win, Chook Chook Chook should be spit-roasted so the masses can roast marshmallows amidst the pungent aroma of burning chicken fat.

So what won? According to the top brass of the AGNSW trustees, it was narrowed down to two and he stressed that this was strictly in alphabetical order: Del Kathryn Barton for You are what is most beautiful about me, a self portrait with Kell and Arella and Vincent Fantauzzo for Heath.

Winners know all about alphabetical order, so of course Del Kathryn Barton won for her self portrait with kids. Now that I am officially sanctioned as media, I admire officially sanctioned winners. More so, I admire that Barton has made a painting that looks like all of her other paintings - how very postmodern of her. Even more postmodern are those hippy-chick dreadlocks sprouting from her head. If not for that, she deserves the award for negotiating sensible designer eyewear in relation to the trademark bug-eyes we have come to know and love. Good on Del Kathryn Barton for shirking celebrity and painting the nuclear family sans dad. I admire that she blames her kids for her beauty - my mother blames me for her stretch marks - but hey, my mum's a bitch and not a very good painter to boot.

Barton accepted her award with a modest speech, thanking the kids and letting us know that You are what is most beautiful about me, a self portrait with Kell and Arella is particularly special because apart from having a really long title, it's a painting she does not associate with the commercial side of her practice. As it only earned her a prize of $50,000 it's probably a bit "povvo". Just as well the Archibald is not an acquisitive award as I'm sure her commercial dealer, Kaliman Gallery, could secure her a little more than that! Gotta pay those school fees after all.

Vincent Fantauzzo
Heath, 2008
Courtesy Good Timing

I shed a little tear when I saw Vincent Fantauzzo's highly commended painting of Heath Ledger. I might be part of the media now, but I'm not a cunt and I do know when it is appropriate to elicit a momentary display of grief. Now that the tears have subsided, I've realised the portrait of Heath Ledger is definitely a winner - or at least Fantauzzo is a winner for depicting a celebrity in his last days without even knowing. Psychic enegery is obviously lacking for The Artswipe this month and abundant for Fantauzzo. Art is sometimes about good timing - being in the right place at the right time. Let's not forget that in the hustle and bustle of our busy urbane lives. Certainly Heath is a winner because, in addition to its impeccable sense of timing, the portrait mines the enduring cliche of the genius artist tormented by voices in his head.

Now that The Artswipe is a fully fledged media carnie, a head full of my own multi-tracked voice is an option I'd like to consider. A head full of skanky dreadlocks that nods approval at bug-eyed offspring, perhaps not. Chicken ladies, maybe.

Joanna Braithwaite
Chook, chook, chook, 2008
Courtesy Post-Feminist
joie de vivre

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Whatever Happened to Puppy?

Jeff Koons
Puppy, December 1995 - March 1996
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Kaldor Art Projects

The Artswipe was feeling kinda nostalgic this week. So much so I started thinking about Jeff Koons. (When I'm nostalgic I always think about artists who made a splash in the 80s and early-mid-90s. Don't we all?) Amidst the flood of fond memories, I recalled the time I helped out on the installation for Jeff Koons's Puppy when it was being planted outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in the early-mid-90s. (A quick Google search revealed it was 1995/1996 - geez sorry for the lack of specificity - if it wasn't for the web I would not remember for sniffing so much weedkiller in my day... Plus I forgot to add that week of gardening to my Art CV).

Overcome by the return of a repressed memory, I took a trip down to Circular Quay today just to reminisce. I started thinking about the old days - the gentler times - when volunteerism was in my blood and I would help out on
all the big installs - Biennales, Triennials, Perspectas, Puppies - just so I could one day land a job as a museum guide or cloak room clerk. Trekking down to the Quay this afternoon, I made my way past the waterside theatre sports and began walking to the MCA just so I could lie down on the grass and think of Puppy and how much s/he meant to me. Puppy may not be there anymore in reality, but s/he lingers on like a cultural phantom limb, just aching to be scratched. Easily distracted, I had an instant craving for a cheeseburger-hold-the-gherkins. As I crossed the road in a beeline to McDonalds I walked past Customs House and my heart stopped...

There before me was a little floral roadside tribute to Puppy.

The Artswipe
Puppy (In progress), 2008
Public Access Art