Lucy Jackson – 15 August, 2017
When it comes to an Artist Run Initiative the boundary between artist, founder, and curator is blurred—on occasion all being the same person. In the last year, Wellington has become home to two new Artist Run Initiatives. play_station and MEANWHILE are founded by groups of Massey University graduates. The spaces they have secured lend themselves to being remodelled, rearranged and repurposed for their individual needs.
an ascetic dissertation in dissociative aesthetics
both 3 August 2017 - 19 August 2017
Providing clues to understanding in an art gallery might seem old school, but there is a reason why it has and continues to be done. To give clarity to ideas, processes and concepts that are hidden away, to give context, allow space and produce an experience. It is, of course, possible for a space without traditional curator or visitor engagement roles to be just as evocative or capturing as one with. Occasionally, the visitor is given clues in order to aid understanding, and other times the visitor has to work hard to figure this out. When it comes to an Artist Run Initiative the boundary between artist, founder, and curator is blurred—on occasion all being the same person. In the last year, Wellington has become home to two new Artist Run Initiatives. play_station and MEANWHILE are founded by groups of Massey University graduates. The spaces they have secured lend themselves to being remodelled, rearranged and repurposed for their individual needs.
My first encounter of play_station was on a wet, windy, Wellington night, where the gallery was holding Flat Inspection. This art sale (every piece for sale at $20 each) was to fund their inclusion in HOBIENNALE, an Australasian arts festival. The event was a surprising experience. A young male audience dominated, a refreshing reversal of roles in the gallery setting. The art on show was hung from eye level to the ceiling in a salon hang - the space claustrophobic with people. Photographs, prints, drawings and paintings flooded the walls, people spilling from one space to the next. The quality of the art was variable, with everything from mixed-media collages and beautifully executed photographs to small drawings done on a scrap of paper, and a framed receipt. At an event like this it would be superfluous to position labels with artwork details alongside each work - it could distract and potentially influence the purchasing. What Flat Inspection did reflect, was the obvious support that play_station has from its artists and friends, who all provided the artwork to be sold, or bought the artwork themselves. In under a year, the gallery appears to have made quite a following.
A few days later I visited MEANWHILE (click here). I walked into a seemingly empty room, with no artwork on the walls, no sculpture on a plinth. Proceeding into the gallery space, I realised the art was beneath me. Planks of wood, made from what looked like brown scotch tape and black Sharpie lined the floors of the space, protruding slightly into the entrance area. Lucy Meyle’s Bad Actors (27 July - 12 August, 2017) is accompanied by a text explaining encounters with two replicas, or representations, of elephants. Neither elephant is an accurate representation of the animal. However, as Meyle points out, regardless of all these facts, there is a “familiar-strangeness” to them - you still know they are elephants.
This text is the only clue provided to understand Meyle’s Bad Actors. The floor boards are not the same size, colour, materials, or noise of floorboards. It is blatantly obvious they are not (like the replica elephants) real. Yet we recognise them as floorboards. The question arises, what makes something recognisable? In this case, is it purely their location? Or is it the near likeness? The title, Bad Actors, must allude to both the elephants mentioned in the text, and the floorboards themselves. The floorboards are bad actors, we can see right through them and we know they are pretending. But are we as the visitor, a ‘bad actor’ as well? Perhaps we are acting interested when we are not, or appearing non-phased about the lack of painting or sculpture. Bad Actors asks us if we too are acting when we visit an art gallery.
Unfortunately, the provided words are so integral to the work, that it is difficult to elucidate meaning of Bad Actors without them. Some people might not ‘get it’, or leave with a sense of nothingness. Bad Actors relies on the visitor doing the grunt work, whether that be reading the text thoroughly, asking the gallery attendants questions, or even Googling the artist. However I think this is a good thing, as the visitor continues to engage after leaving the gallery space. On its own, without words or explanation, the artwork can also be seen as is wonderfully funny in its simple but clever imitation of flooring.
I headed back to play_station to see Tyler Jackson’s Light-Space Corridor, 2017 and R. G. Laking’s an ascetic dissertation in dissociative aesthetics, 2017. In contrast to the busy walls from Flat Inspection, Jackson’s installation was minimalist and commanded the space. Simple in nature, two lengths of coloured Plexiglas - surrounded by timber from one concrete beam to another - create the Light-Space Corridor. Walking through the corridor, the configuration of colours modulate: from one end they appear green and yellow; from the other end blue and red. After realising the installation changed in colour, the temptation to walk up and down the corridor was strong. Although then you are only walking up and down a corridor, not towards anywhere at all. The frosted glass and ombré colours are transformational and dream-like.
However, when I asked the gallery attendant for more information - I wondered what Jackson was imagining this space to be - she told me that it was not the concept that was important, but rather the materials (stainless steel, Plexiglas, timber, steel wire cable, crimps and DynaBolts). Along these lines, the audience does not appear to be thought of. Apart from the superficial physicality of the piece, we are not given an intention, process or concept as to how the sculpture can be eventuated. I did consider that perhaps this was precisely the point—the artwork manages to capture a visitor walking up and down the corridor, watching colours change. This activity is so primal and basic that it is almost humorous. Jackson’s work sparks an interest from the viewer. However maybe it is time to compromise and give the visitor some extra information so they can appreciate the artwork beyond its colourful beauty. Physically, the visitor has been included, but mentally they are left in the dark.
R. G. Laking’s an ascetic dissertation in dissociative aesthetics, 2017 is in play_station’s yellow room. A video played in the space, strobing words like ‘Aesthetic’, ‘Dissociative’, ‘Form’, and ‘Respite’ at the viewer. The artwork, along with the claustrophobic space, created physical discomfort for any onlooker. The text based video came with a small booklet to guide the viewer. Inside the phrase “the formerly dissociated aestheticist formally asserts that dissociative aesthetics form a respite for disparate aesthetes, despite their desperate assertions to be disassociated from dissociative aesthetics” is repeated over and over. The words are intellectual and a bit fancy, the phrase difficult to comprehend. About to give up attempting to understand, I saw on the back page that the artist had written that this artwork is only intended “for focused readers” and if you are not, it will be an “overly dull exercise”. Laking even goes so far to declare he does not want to “elicit too many unanswerable questions” or “disperse too many irrevocable meanings”. It appears that he may want his viewers experience to be mentally and physically uncomfortable and confusing. Does this discourage some viewers from engaging?
Artist Run Initiatives have the potential to showcase new, engaging and exciting art by emerging artists. In Wellington, Meyle, Jackson and Laking’s artworks all raise questions about the physicality itself of viewing art. While these spaces cry out for experimentation, they cannot afford to be exclusive to their own communities. By considering their audiences, inviting them in and encouraging enquiry these galleries can only grow for those hungry to see work by the newest and bravest. In order for more people to understand, connect with, and interact, some interpretation of the spaces may be needed to give people a way in.