Creon Upton – 24 November, 2011
It seems to me something of a shame that - somehow, somehow - art has gotten all mixed up and confused with cool. It's why romanticism has had to be hiffed into the sea. Without repeated injunctions against it, artistic young men would be endlessly losing their cool through their innate addiction to romance.
A Funeral I’d Fly To From Anywhere
10 November 2011 - 26 November 2011
If there is a theme or tendency to be discerned in the shows that ABC has put on since it opened earlier this year, it seems to me that it’s a kind of evasive, anti-heroic resistance to the world’s expectations. It’s something frustratingly passive and pliant that at the same time holds its own by shrugging out of your way and settling again on a nearby stool, gazing wide-eyed and impassive back at you.
I think I’d describe it as little-girl art - work whose only agency lies in your inability to quite convince it to do or to be anything in particular. If there’s anything gratifying about this - and frankly I’m holding to my ambivalence - it’s the seemingly complete banishment of romanticism from the scene. Even that banishment doesn’t feel romantic - and that is certainly an achievement of sorts.
This show of Sebastian Warne’s fits right into the mould. It consists of not much more than plywood and polythene, spray-paint and hot-glue, a photograph and a lantern. There are four pieces - three sculptures and the photograph - and while there’s a hint or two of conversation between them, it’s muted, almost dumb. In fact, these hints at conversation are more like grunts or farts: they are demonstrative while simultaneously suggesting that they possibly amount to nothing at all beyond the most simplistic denotation you care to imagine.
Train tracks, for instance, feature in the photograph (I followed her to the station (the blue light was my mind)) and in one of the sculptures (A play without a plot (plastic bore-hole)). Both are landscapes, one depicting Monument Valley, the other a little more ambiguous. In the photograph, there’s a crudely staged train-wreck; in the sculpture, the tracks lead nowhere.
Is this all some kind of - you know - “comment”? Some reflection on the post-industrial world? Surely that’s too obvious. But if not that, then what?
Similarly, the two remaining works also suggest correspondences. Watch you exhaustion (Landscape billboard) crudely reproduces some corporate logo, while I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind (for Eckart Voland) depicts moths in a state of existential confusion after the death of their wall-mounted lantern.
Again, is there a comment here on the modern man’s malaise and his pathetic product-dependence? Or is that simply too trite?
On the one hand, the works refuse the obvious; on the other, that’s all there is to them.
Certainly, it seems unavoidable that the show expresses some fundamental dissatisfaction with the world we have inherited, but it doesn’t go beyond the banal and it refuses to explore this in any serious way, almost like it’s entirely unaware of itself, like the right arm really can’t see what the left is doing, like the artist really believes that he’s creating nothing at all.
It seems to me something of a shame that - somehow, somehow - art has gotten all mixed up and confused with cool. It’s why romanticism has had to be hiffed into the sea. Without repeated injunctions against it, artistic young men would be endlessly losing their cool through their innate addiction to romance. Cool is all about never committing to anything and passing that off smirkingly as insight and understanding while your friends all smirk on in paranoid agreement.
The work that ABC tends to show - Warne’s included - is not I think, or not entirely, messed up in such tediousness, but it is perhaps slightly infected by it as it gropes its way towards meaningfulness. The stark and basic and ugly materials represent a coolness that I can respect. They even seem ethical. I have less time for the disavowal of intention and care, for the artist-subject’s walking away from thoughtfulness out of seeming embarrassment at where it might end up or what it might say.
That embarrassment - or unconcern, or boredom, or whatever it is - could itself serve as the basis of some interesting exploration.
I don’t see ideas in art as anything different from, say, paint in art. Ideas are there to be pushed around, mixed up, forced into arrangements that surprise us by articulating unspeakable intuitions. That may be a romantic conception, but it is also one that only a false consciousness would entirely disavow. And an idea that just sits there like a fat cow in the road requires elaborate sideshows to make it appear interesting.
It is curious to look at these 2011 works and sense a lifeblood in the postmodern sensibility, something that never really seemed set to last, aesthetically speaking at least. It’s there in the blankness and simplicity and refusal of Warne’s physical and ideological materials.
I don’t condemn Warne’s work - firstly because it’s not my place to, and secondly because I find a sincerity there that attracts me. But it is a sincerity that is unsure on its feet, that drifts unfocused, that is prone to distraction and disbelief.
Its own sincerity may comprise an artwork’s primary subject.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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