Andrea Bell – 23 January, 2012
Perhaps in an effort to highlight the intersections and divisions between the different forms of practice, the two larger gallery spaces had recently been reconfigured into a number of smaller spaces for the viewer to journey through. This worked well given the natural formal and conceptual affinities the exhibition was at pains to highlight.
Gertrude Studios 2011 Exhibition
18 November 2011 - 17 December 2011
Gertrude Contemporary (formerly Gertrude Contemporary Art Space), in the heart of gentrified Fitzroy, presents itself as Melbourne’s leading contemporary art space. Its studio programme, which offers “an environment where risk, experimentation and creativity are encouraged,” plays a big part in this. The studio programme provides 16 selected artists with 18 months of subsidised studio space where they will be given a solo show, paired with an emerging writer, and have exposure to visiting curators and collectors (each studio is sponsored by a commercial gallery). Studio artists also participate in the annual end of year Studio Artists Exhibition.
This show, which aims to present “a sampling of Australia’s most dynamic contemporary art practice,” could arguably be seen as a Melbourne version of Prospect. According to their website, the 2011 exhibition “seeks to enhance commonalities as well as linking and intersecting what appear to be divergent practices, to reveal shared concerns and associations.” Perhaps in an effort to highlight the intersections and divisions between the different forms of practice, the two larger gallery spaces had recently been reconfigured into a number of smaller spaces for the viewer to journey through. This worked well given the scale and number of the works on display, and the natural formal and conceptual affinities the exhibition was at pains to highlight.
Painting featured heavily in the show. Perhaps the centre-piece of this was Kate Smith’s three collaborative works with fellow studio artists Trevelyan Clay, Alex Vivian and outsider Tim Price - a kind of painter’s exquisite corpse. Engaging in process for process’ sake quickly becomes tiresome. Conversation and dialogue are important, but ideally they serve a broader purpose or achieve something. And it’s hard to force. These abstract works contained an intriguing mix of textures and forms, and even, in the Alex Vivian item (perhaps unsurprisingly) a collaged denim pocket.
I wondered whether the collaboration idea was something that emerged organically between the artists or was an exercise suggested by the curators to substantiate all the talk of ‘intersections and commonalities.’ Kate Smith and Alex Vivian have a history of collaborative exhibition making. Another collaboration between Smith and Geoff Newton was to be included but had been left out. Overall these works were a little underwhelming. Of the three, the teaming of Smith and Tim Price (not a Gertrude Studio artist) was the most interesting.
Trevelyan Clay also exhibited three abstract works from a series shown at the 2011 Auckland Art Fair. With their juxtaposition of painting styles across superimposed planes, they highlighted Clay’s accomplished sense of pattern, form, colour and texture. The smoking cigarettes also showed that he also has a sense of humour.
The front room featured two small landscape paintings and a projection work by Melbourne based, New Zealand born, Jake Walker, son of Wellington architect Roger Walker. While a young artist practising as a landscape painter may seem anachronistic in NZ, Walker has made a name for himself in Melbourne, exhibiting regularly with the painting-focused gallery Utopian Slumps. The two paintings displayed were good examples of his practice, with their blending of landscape, architectural elements and abstraction, and the use of found op-shop paintings as canvas. In the past Walker has applied this technique to the screens of old laptops, perhaps as a comment on how we now tend to view the world and artworks predominantly online. In the third work, Landscape Painting 5, Walker has reversed this by projecting a video loop onto the surface of a painting on perspex.
Another recurring trope was the form of the monument and the investigation of associations these forms might evoke. Jensen Tjhung’s degraded monolith, Plinth and Rock Pillar, suggested a primitive sacrificial stone and mystical powers, while Sanné Mestrom’s almost neo-classical totems mixed modern and seemingly archaeological objects. The weightiness of the objects that sat atop Méstrom’s columns was cleverly counterbalanced by the display of photos that almost floated inside the transparent voids within the columns. The overall effect was ethereally museological, the weight of the past cast adrift.
Hanna Tai’s tepee Light Cone, with its strung lights and video imagery also had a strangely shamanistic presence - the tent as a site of sacred truth. In a somewhat different direction Paul Yore’s Monument to the Republic displayed the sort of ritualistic assemblage that once seemed more common in Melbourne group shows. With its $2 shop flags and VB pissing garden statue, this shrine suggested a kind of feral tribalism or pagan bogan caricature. The old copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was a puzzling inclusion though.
Also evoking a Neo-classical aesthetic, Alex Vivian continues to explore themes that have been developing in his practice over the past few years. The heaped and hanging smelly sportswear he was once known for is still present, but now it is typically encased in found glass vessels as part of a larger sculptural arrangement. Plinths form part of sculptural compositions rather than acting as mere supports. The ‘painting’ Thoughts (an implied friction), which consisted of black denim rubbed on white board, follows from an earlier blue denim work at Hopkinson Cundy. While some of the content carried libidinous corporal connotations, it was the considered formal arrangements, rather than any concern with identity politics that really made the works.
Joshua Petherick has a considered, refined aesthetic. His works on display were especially pared back with an elegant series of cut-through framed prints installed in one of the interstitial spaces between the newly reconfigured galleries. The cut-through technique was also applied to the gallery architecture, with a slim rectangle of the wall removed, sitting on the floor. The overall effect was subtly sculptural. Susan Jacobs also explored this kind of architectural intervention, but in a more structural fashion.
Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, who have shown in Wellington and Christchurch, are known around Australia for their videos of gracefully choreographed performances which evoke drawing, dance and sculpture. I was looking forward to seeing their work and was a little disappointed to find that this instance consisted of a performance still pinned to the wall. Screening a video would have been a much better way to represent their practice, given that they were the only performance based artists in the show.
While a show representing such a diverse range of practices was never going to be tightly curated in a conventional sense, the gallery’s reconfigured layout brought out connections between the works which otherwise may not have been obvious. For an exhibition that couldn’t avoid containing a mixed bag of works, the attention paid to the idea of common threads, helped tie many of the works together.