Brainstorms: momentary psychological disturbances

Brainstorms: momentary psychological disturbances, GRANTPIRRIE 2005

Artists: Eleanor Avery, Chris Bond, Kate Cotching, Léa Donnan, Adam Norton, Sam Smith

In 1970, Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘Future Shock’ which became popularly understood as ‘a condition of insecurity, distress and disorientation in individuals and entire societies, brought on by the inability to cope with rapid societal and technological change.’[1] Thirty-five years later, as we continue to endure the increasingly refined barrage of mass media and the dehumanising manipulations of information technologies, one wonders what the cumulative effect of so many years of ‘shock’ might be? Although of course most of us lead relatively normal lives, there remains an underlying sense of terminal velocity. We are no longer ‘shocked’ by the undemocratic tendencies of government, the continuing erosion of moral values or even the absolute integration of capitalist ideologies into our everyday existence.

Although the works on display in Brainstorms: momentary psychological disturbances have not been produced explicitly with protest in mind, our inherent state of inertia invites a level of critical artistic intervention which stands subtly against the grain.

It has been suggested that our cultural climate bears distinct resemblances to the classical Baroque period[2]. Whereas historically the Baroque figured the human dwarfed by the abundant splendour of God’s work, we are dwarfed by the raw immensity of our own. The hyper-abundant overproduction of our ‘Neobaroque’ stems from the denial of its unstable foundations, bereft of all meaning.

Eleanor Avery’s work interrogates this revelation through compelling installations, sculptures and canvases. Using emblems of the natural world and human intervention – a glittering mountain, an ornamented tree; a suspension bridge, a cable car, Avery creates uneasy dichotomies of artifice and nature implying a toxic ecology and the impending crisis of a culture. There is a melancholic futility to the scenarios she creates, a Wonderland now fallen, a bridge leading nowhere. Avery questions both the direction of our path and the level of our control in her incisive works.

The delicate constructions of Kate Cotching’s landscapes and metropoli also correspond with the anarchic but empty grounds upon which we build. Using paper and a scalpel, Cotching crafts elaborate dioramas by slicing away minute areas of detail, creating shadowy impressions of the structures which define us. Her obsessive, deconstructive process refers to the perpetual subdivision of landscape and housing. These 2 and 3d forms attempt to penetrate the faceless construct of urban living, depicting cluttered facets of human life within her fluttering stage-sets. The effect is haunting, this chaotic edifice defies habitation, suggesting a fragmented, suffocating interconnectivity. As urban consolidation becomes compounded, old certainties break down: the nuclear family, religious practices, gender roles and so on. As Cotching’s paper sprawl underscores the degeneration of ‘community’ into an abstract term, the fragility and potential collapse of her and our constructions seems omnipresent.

Adam Norton resists the accelerated transformations of the present through his metascientific accounts of the past. His drawings, paintings and sculptures are founded in a world of quasi physics and science fiction existent prior to the digital revolution of the late twentieth century. Like most of the artists in Brainstorms, Norton grew up with the ubiquitous presence of the Nuclear Bomb – a phenomenon which, over time, has become anaesthetised within public consciousness, or lost its currency. Norton reignites the issue with his arresting but impractical ‘Radiation Suit’ constructed entirely from lead, and implies an urgent need to escape the impending conspiracy with his ‘Reverse Shoes’, guaranteed to baffle the most diligent of trackers. Norton’s beguiling, brooding works toy with the fallacy of progress by focusing on outmoded but recurring ‘futuristic’ visions of previous generations. He presents homespun responses to the overwhelming pace and menace of today, emphasising that ‘nostalgia is not merely the longing for the past, but a response to the conditions of the present.’[3]

In contrast, Zina Kaye harnesses and subverts modern systems with their tendencies for surveillance and control. Through her inventions and programming, Kaye allows the intangible infrastructure of radio space, air space and air travel to become a material reality. Previous works include ‘Observatine’ a surveillance airplane which broadcasts topographical footage to screens on the runway below. As part of Brainstorms, Kaye exhibits ‘The Line Ahead’ for the first time to Sydney audiences. The installation sees the transmission of a continuous broadcast of data in real-time from Sydney Airport via a Winradio receiver directly into the Gallery, where flight numbers, origins and destinations appear in a relentless stream on an LED display. Redirecting this data from its frenetic orbit and displaying it in abstracted form presents a disconcerting reminder of our inadvertent but absolute belief in systems. Kaye explains that the piece meditates on the ‘dispersive and disorientating nature of air travel and the quietly invisible chaos of radio traffic.’ ‘The Line Ahead’ considers the disengaging and distancing effects of airports, homogenous spaces from which we are transported in absolute faith, about which we have almost no real understanding. Kaye will also present an animated diorama which focuses on the more intimate invisible space of the subconscious. Employing images which surfaced in her dreams, Kaye will project and rotate these unsettling but universal motifs from within an opaque glass sphere. There is a refreshing level of activism and independence prevalent within Kaye’s arts practice, communicating vital ideas with lyricism and honesty.

Tackling the anonymity of electronic space is a concern close to the heart of Léa Donnan. She too seeks ‘points of static within chaos’, searching for moments of stillness within the perpetual overdrive and eternal embrace of human and machine. Using the internet as a point of departure, Donnan has gleaned imagery which forms the basis of small montages and intricate mandalas. What she cites as ‘acts of reverence for the unchanging themes of humanity’ originate from pornographic websites. Despite Donnan’s assertion that primordial sexuality will prevail in the face of all technological evolution, these assemblages correlate with the notion that ‘sex now has nothing to do with the illusion of desire, but relates solely to the hyperreality of the image.’[4] Donnan attempts to subvert these promiscuous acts through her delicate handling of the scenes, adopting homely materials; crochet wool and decorative frames, flowered wallpaper and coloured tissue, rendering them as sentimental mementos of genuine intimacy. Her video piece conversely portrays a Kubrickean ‘starchild’ shimmering in the arms of the Virgin Mary. As an infinite symbol of adulation and renewal, the child emerges as the successor of all moral codes and cultural systems. It seems the spectacle of predicted technologies contains the nucleus of belief.

In the world of multi-media artist, Sam Smith, the cold-hearted spectacle of digitalia is laid bare. Through video, sculpture, photography and sound, Smith engineers elaborate sentient structures, orchestrated by abstract forces. Corporeal, electronic and physical exchanges animate a dissonant virtual network, constructing a bleak sensory journey. Time and perspective loop, jump and distort, continuously assaulting our sense of scale and linearity. Smith’s video and soundscapes inhabit a post-futurist landscape, reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, but the seductive filmic sequences and melodic strains of a piano melody are punctuated by glitches, distortions and the unsettling exposure of its artifice.

Many of the artists included in Brainstorms have reflected in some way, on the perils of post-modernity and its impact on lived experience. In contrast, Chris Bond reflects on the theoretical calamity of art in relation to painting. The notion of painting as an archaic medium is one which propels rather than deters Bond, who paints, amongst other things, the graphic covers of 1960s Penguin books. These super-real canvases could be seen as an ‘archaeological investigation into an extinct culture’[5] both in terms of the original artefact and the brand of modernism they purport. The Penguin series he references were heavily influenced by modernist painters such as Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich prolific at that time, whose metaphysical style removed all unnecessary elements. As such, Bond’s canvases efface the titles, author and any other hallmarks of a book, but he has, in sardonic opposition to the ideals of this genre, included in painstaking detail the wrinkles, discolouration, creases and dog-ears accrued over the passage of time. This play on the conventions of modernist abstraction could be seen as a response to Greenberg’s resounding view of abstract art as the apotheosis of art history.[6] Another strand to Bond’s practice is also referential, but in this case he invents alter egos from which he creates what he terms ‘fiction’. Assuming the identity of an imaginary figure; a painter, inventor or even a psychotic security guard, he invents elaborate narratives and artefacts which seem indeterminately ‘real’. The imaginative and complex conundrums Bond presents us with are captivating. He entertains both reverence and derision towards the passage of artistic and museological conventions, encouraging us to reconsider the purity of all we consider certain.

Brainstorms: momentary psychological disturbances showcases seven artists whose highly individual practices are unified by their dynamic explorations of contemporary existence. Their works constitute an engaging set of meditations on the anxieties and fluctuations of what it is to be here now. These ‘momentary disturbances’ seek to interrupt the incessant pace of contemporary culture, providing a pause in which one can reflect on who we are and what we are becoming.

Clare Lewis, 2005

view images here

GRANTPIRRIE


[1] en.wikipedia.org. Accessed 28.3.05

[2] ‘Fountains and Grottos’ Sean Cubitt in Space, Site, Intervention, ed. Erika Suderburg, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

[3] Davis, Fred, A Yearning for Yesterday: the Sociology of Nostalgia, New York: Free Press, 1979.

[4] Baudrillard, Jean, ‘The Art Conspiracy’ in Screened Out, Verso, London, 2002. p.181.

[5] Koenig, Tristian, ‘The Art of Failure’, Chris Bond Retrospective, Bus Gallery & Melbourne Art Fair, ex.cat, 2004.

[6] ibid. Clement Greenberg’s document ‘Toward a Newer Laocoon’ was published in 1940.

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