Rebecca Boswell – 30 September, 2013
The swap is premised upon a kind of optimism; an early swap at the start of an artist's career has the idea that value in their practice will continue to grow and develop, the object accruing value over time. But unlike works that gain value on the art market, the artist swap is not about future exchange but treasured as a memento of the shared understandings and the good times had.
part time artist full time friend
12 September - 28 September 2013
part time artist full time friend is Auckland-based artist and Elam Masters student Dorota Broda’s second solo project at Gloria Knight. For this exhibition Broda presents a single work by the same name, a large sculptural piece assembled in the gallery space and compiled from a host of found or appropriated objects and images that identify with three distinct categories of association. In part time artist full time friend poster prints that bear fading reproductions of clearance sale ads are hung throughout the gallery, primarily to provide a make-shift facade for assorted chairs that are stacked on trestle tables, an impromptu structure that also hosts a handful of artworks and personal photographs.
These posters that the artist has made in fading ink - a print process she has been exploring in sculptural, site-specific ways for some time - form the defining visual feature of this installation. A large paper banner that partially obstructs the entranceway into the main space has the words “Massive Reductions” in large soft pink letters. Hung deliberately low that it reads almost at sightline (the viewer must duck beneath it to see the rest of the show), the banner signposts the exhibition by introducing the marker of an end-of-season or liquidation sale. As a visual partition it verges on appearing to defend the space behind it, as would a political banner.
In the gallery space beyond, large sheets of lightweight billboard stock that carry two-word imperatives are on the backs of stacked chairs on rows of tables that bisect the space. “Must See” or “Now On” are faint but visible fragments of speech printed with diluted red ink that is highly light sensitive. The intended effect is that they will fade during the course of their display.
Broda’s prints respond to the site by testing, repeating and reproducing words and symbols where language is found to operate under tight controls. Sourcing the language of commercial or corporate domination of the broader visual landscape, she also considers the formal and informal identity of the exhibition body that hosts her.
For example, her current Artspace stairwell project is an evolving series of A4 paste-ups for a disused notice board there, isolating and arranging text to re-imagine ‘idealisms’ contained in the found words of K’ Rd’s urban business community, as well as ideals she perceives to be latent in the gallery’s own marketing. The artist is sensitive to the way words may have become lost or abstract, their meaning fragmented under the rubric of advertising and brand politics. Her material response to such language is to imbue degradation and attrition into their appropriation as artworks.
One reading is to view this process as a physical mimicry of the effect that takes place in language. Such works echo the tendency in brand application to flatten the scope of semantic possibility in taglines and marketing language and where resonances and histories of meaning belonging to a word fade away or hollow out as the product merges with the visual symbol of the word(s) as brand.
Born in Poland and migrating to New Zealand as an adult in 1989, Broda speaks English as her third language. Of her school years the artist recalls being forced to become fluent in a language she felt she had no use for (until recent decades Russian was taught as the official second language). Thus her interest in non-narrative forms of language from institutional, commercial or otherwise legitimated and authorless ‘voices’ seems to reflect her personal experiences translating, filtering and negotiating meaning between language and context in several cultures.
Broda’s desire to create a physical, ‘felt’ reality for language of a ‘public’ nature inevitably requires a critical enquiry of its effects on our ‘personal’ subjectivity, including sensory modes of perception and emotions. In part time artist full time friend, the relationship between public and private is evoked through stories of the artist and her peers - of friendship, hope and ambition - in conversation with the ‘corporate’ ideals of art school as an institution and a commercial gallery space, such as Gloria Knight, run by artist friends.
Folding tables with plastic Formica tops and an assortment of stacking frame chairs, are used to create a sculptural base in this exhibition, sourced furniture that for past and present students of Elam School of Fine Arts are heavily associated with the one desk per student, set-up pack-down cycle of studio practice. A whiteboard leaning against the wall nearest to the door, with the title of the show scrawled across it, has four A3 posters neatly blocking it out, each with the centred text “Reduced to clear” discernible: a pun on the sign’s inevitable disappearance.
However, the layering of two surfaces designed for the erasure and impermanence of mark making more effectively draws attention to an interesting materiality at play - the physical language of furnishings and architecture in institutional settings claiming to promote spaces of creativity and learning. In this artwork, objects that simultaneously ground and prop up language as a sculptural material, are materials pre-selected for their resistance to mark-making and the effects of constant use. Chairs and trestles with heavy metal frames that create a stacked structure and elevate the artwork’s contents off the floor, also demonstrate the knowledge that institutional settings and pedagogical spaces are designed to be cleared away at a moment’s notice. In these spaces, students are arguably even more impermanent: providing the necessary demand and short-term investment.
Throughout the sculpture, materials that bind the fading appearance of the collective ideals of a brand through language - as represented by the posters - are jury-rigged by knots and joins made from friendship bracelets and lengths of industry-standard rope. Propped or leaning among upturned chairs and table legs, are artworks acquired in artist swaps with Broda’s peers during a particularly memorable year of her undergraduate study.
A special kind of exchange that begins at art school, artist swaps are made possible through friendship and the mutual respect and support contained therein. Significantly, the swap is premised upon a kind of optimism; an early swap at the start of an artist’s career has the idea that value in their practice will continue to grow and develop, the object accruing value over time. But unlike works that gain value on the art market, the artist swap is not about future exchange but the first - as a document of the shared understandings and the good times had.
In part time artist full time friend, many of the friends’ artworks have since been framed, indicated by packaging corners left on several of the works. The transformative gesture is one that suggests a tension that a post art school economy has with the ways (motivations, ambitions) work is made, exchanged, and thought about, among peers during these early years where expectations around art production are negotiated between the values of the institution and personal artistic freedom, but which remain largely insulated from those of the art market.
Broda chooses not to hang these artworks on the wall, making a sculptural decision to treat them as objects and embed them, like the artist’s own participation, in the structure - physically and metaphorically - of the idea of the artwork.
On the works listed author names are bracketed next to perfunctory labels, such as “framed drawing (artwork by Sam Thomas) x1”. Titles are left out and artist names are displayed once removed - as the artist acknowledges firstly, her appropriation of the artwork, and secondly, the abstraction that takes place in this new economy.
In personal photographs dotted throughout the assemblage, a collection of loose colour prints - some cheaply framed - the artist’s art school peers are shown hanging about or bunching together for end-of-year group photos. One snapshot of a group of three is loosely held by a cardboard frame too big for it and snibbed into the frame of an upturned school chair. The offhanded charm of the boys leaning gangly and cross-armed against a wall in the sun, is memorable. Though I know them personally, it is easy relate to this image in a detached way and still find the image charismatic and oddly nostalgic, as if they were characters in an American coming-of-age film produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Sets of subtle decision making that consider how appropriation is carried out, how personal histories are indexed, and how intuitive displays of friendship can be symbolised aggregate around the meaning of the work. At the same time, sculptural tensions remain ‘current’ and ‘felt,’ such as those intuited knots of brightly coloured friendship bracelets where one becomes aware of the artist at work, in the work. In this way part time artist full time friend, in all its detached subject matter, irony and humour, cannot be thought of as cynical in relation to its site. Instead it is challenging, tensile and hopeful.
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