PROJECTS ONE

VCA GALLERY
Catalogue by Dr John R Neeson
June –July 2003.

PROJECTS ONE is a collection of eight propositions in installation form. Each one explores, via different media, the possibilities inherent in a symbiotic relationship between the work of art, the venue and the venue's location. In addition the projects are, by degrees, representational of the venue's function, decoration, ambient light and sound, plans and fabrications, services and utilities.

Installation, as a categorisation, can be problematic and lately more a label of convenience than definition. But in this case it is both appropriate and definitive. For while these works are venue specific and referential, they are also transitory and incapable of exact duplication at second or successive sites without considerable compromise.

The transitory and ephemeral nature of installation is evident in any of its immediate antecedents that might fall within the generalisations of happening, performance, environmental art, and arte povera. In turn, the individual works that make up these categories have in common the necessary participation of the observer in their conceit and, more often than not, the impossibility of satisfactory capture. Descriptive text, anecdote and documentary images are the evidence of their existence. In retrospect, there is poignancy in this acceptance of the transitory, brought on by the quiet pernicious urgency of a nuclear cold war and the inevitable commodification of the art object and act, no matter how bizarre.

An engagement with similar or identical qualities draws the contemporary artist to installation in its most pragmatic and reductive form. It is a potent and poetic folly, at times obliquely adversarial, but genuinely inviting of participation. Indeed participation is the installation's life force.

Each of the constituent works of PROJECTS ONE could be rendered collectable with the possibilities of modification and reinstallation elsewhere, but essentially the result would be little more than a tangible memory, an elaborate post card of its origin.

It is possible (though unlikely) that Natasha Johns-Messenger might duplicate the construction and dimensions of Yellow 2003 elsewhere. Again she might lead participants, with a combination of trepidation and seduction, to a lens within an identical area of yellow light. But unless this re-worked work, were to be permanently positioned to capture, in real time and space, an image of Ron Robertson-Swann's Vault, Yellow 2003 would inevitably mutate into a sibling of the original.

Similarly Leslie Eastman's, invitation, indeed expectation, of the viewer's interaction with 'fidelity' 2003 shifts the work away from merely a device for passive observation. Viewing, in this case, the operative activity because the image produced by feedback between camera and projector is evocative of 1970s music clips. The sac decade is referenced by the wooden veneer paneling with which 6 Degrees Architects havoc surrounded the nearby entrance. And through which, in turn, fluctuations of daylight, affect the colour of the video projection in 'fidelity' 2003. alternately green to blue to yellow.

A number of overlapping loops of reference are created by 'fidelity' 2003. In real time, these are internal to the mechanism itself and its relationship with gallery and daylight. In referential time, these exist between the work and the architecture. It's not unreasonable to extend the notion of referential loops to include the wood veneer elements in the installations of Adrien Allen, Michael Graeve and Elissa Sadgrove. Or the intersecting arcs of light across 'muscae volitantes' 2003, David Harley's spread of transfers.

Points of intersection and relationships between the constituent works of PROJECTS ONE and the environment of the venue were anticipated, given the referential and representational brief. But exactly where, when, and the nature of these interrelationships could not be second-guessed prior to the process of installation. It is this chance element and risk-taking (often caused by the urgency of deadline) that can give the installation process an almost expressionistic element.

Installations are rarely representational in the manner of this collection but, when they are, a surprising pedigree is liberated. A symbiosis between architectural space, illusionism and the observer was pervasive in Western Europe until the last decades of the seventeenth century. The technique of fresco permanently integrated images with architecture, and many of these works take into account idiosyncrasies of the venue (the direction of the light entering the Scrovegni Chapel is but one example). Over the following four centuries, this three-way relationship has occurred in a limited number of remarkable and, coincidentally, well known instances. But, generally, the portability and commodification of the work of art precluded identification with venue or site. In general the observer's interaction with the static work of art was less physically determined.

The extensive process of preparation David Harley evolved for 'muscae volitantes' 2003 has a resonance with fresco. The wall was sanded, coated with a paint high in chalk content, and re-sanded a number of times to produce a smooth, flat and slightly absorbent surface. This surface was then receptive to the transfer of images from gloss inkjet paper, by a process of burnishing, onto the dampened wall. In common with his fellow protagonists, Harley is also interested in the observer's expectation and physical interaction with exhibition spaces. He invites close scrutiny of the transferred images, and often changes the scale of a repeated image, a representation of the process of viewing paintings, the moving back and forward from the surface.

Some of the images that collectively comprise 'muscae volitantes' 2003 are sourced from blemishes, cracks and faults in the floor directly in front of the wall and from the wall itself during, and prior to, preparation. THC’s were digitally processed, printed and subsequently transferred back onto the interior of the gallery.

The floor is also one of the planes across which Kim Donaldson has inscribed the dimensions of the building itself. Her drawings and notations cover sections of vertical interior planes as well, and subtly tie the component installations together with a web of free hand geometry, signs and symbols. These drawings have the direct, matter of fact, quality of carpenters' messages and calculations that are eventually entombed within the fabric of a building or painted over (just as from VCA Gallery 2003 eventually will be). Donaldson discovered, through trial and error, that the broad, flat, carpenters pencil, was the least problematic to eventually conceal. A serendipity that relates her drafts, across time, to the work of the craftspeople involved in the re-fit of the gallery. In the near future there will be sections of the building where two sets of drawings are sealed into its very infrastructure. The second group reiterating the directives of the first, or questioning discrepancies that arise from them.

Donaldson also made a free hand perspective drawing of the gallery interior in the days immediately prior to public access to PROJECTS ONE. In this drawing, the gallery spaces are viewed from above, including representations of the works of her project partners. It is drawn with pencil on paper, uses a perspective adaptation of architectural axonometric projection and, simultaneously, functions as plan, directory and record.

The scarcity of representational and referential drawing in installation practice is an anomaly when the ease with which one can draw on a wall, a ceiling or a floor is considered, and the relationship of such acts to graffiti (a reference inherent in both Donaldson's and Harley's projects). On the other hand, nonfigurative drawing has been assimilated into the broader parameter of installation, and site-specificity, (consider Sol Le Witt). Exclusion is directed towards drawn images, the representational reference and record, which perhaps stems from a collective assumption that links figurative drawing (and painting) with permanence. The chalk images of the usually anonymous pavement artist are an obvious exception.

Donaldson has also co-operated with Adrien Allen by measuring and marking the dimensions of the interior component of his 3 Attachments '3 egressive' 2003 on the wall to which it is hinged. '3 egressive' is of course a mirror duplicate (covered with wooden veneer) of the rectangular service door in the gallery wall further to its right. Or, as it would be if slightly ajar. The mirroring of the doorway is enhanced by the identical electricity outlets beside both the original and its duplicate.

Mirrors and mirror images are central to the function of Natasha Johns-Messenger's Yellow 2003 and are responsible for the sequence of 'perceptual paradoxes' established as the observer/participant progresses into and out of its maze. And in my own VCA Mirror 2003, the four paintings on either side of the glass doors are mirror images of one and another. The images duplicate each of the four vertical sections of leadlight that are integrated into the glass doors. The design of the leadlight references modernist abstract painting and, obliquely, Mondrian. Incidentally, Mondrian advocated the painter working on site and taking account of the specifics of architecture and light.

The mirror and the painting are closely related, both are flat surfaces onto which three-dimensional images can be captured and both extend the real space of the observer into a fictive space. In the tradition of Western easel painting, the mirror itself has been the central intrigue in a small group of spectacularly successful paintings. And on a lighter note, contrivance of surface and impasto is derided as distraction by 'the dust on the mirror' by painters more concerned with the economic delineation of form.

The mirror is also duplicitous, as are the models and replications of Allen and Elissa Sadgrove. The prototype for two of Allen's 3 Attachments (0, 1 regressive, 2 digressive, 3 egressive) 2003 is the vertical decorative metal box permanently attached to one side of the original entrance portico at the Dodds and Grant Streets corner. This hollow rectangular prism is an architectural feature of the fit-out by 6 Degrees Architects.

From plywood, Allen has constructed a shallow hollow box of identical frontal dimensions. Replication is achieved by rectangles of plastic wood grain veneer, an external reference to the internal decoration previously cited in this text. The replica has been rotated to the horizontal and elevated. It reads as a subtle sign, its message, regressive. Further along Dodds Street, and incorporated into the second gallery entrance, is Attachment 2 digressive. Experienced as a whole, Allen's works constitute a commentary that is simultaneously venue- and self-referential, hermetic, self-evasive and quietly subversive. They operate through a loop of analogy similar to that of Eastman's 'fidelity' 2003 and the individual elements of Sadgrove's collective Untitled 2003.

The associations that Sadgrove makes between original and duplicate are inventive and humorous. The two full-scale models for fire hose storage she has introduced to the interior are labelled with emblematic symbols of her own invention. One of these proposed pieces is placed so that it is viewed simultaneously with a piece of permanent fire fighting equipment. A spatial relationship is established between the two, a meridian of comparison between the real and the representational. This cleverly expands the space of the installation from a wall-based project to a sculptural one. The same applies in the short passageway that houses the second fire fighting device. The artist has placed a second work, where an EXIT notice would normally be expected; a sign, but one which has been customised by Sadgrove. The word EXIT has been replaced with a static version of the rotating circle divided equally into four alternating sections of black and white that appears on a computer screen as it performs a protracted function, such as a search. The services, particularly the ducts for the air conditioning are exposed in the alcove, which camouflages Sadgrove's illusions within the reality of the building. Conditioned air is pumped into the smaller section of the VCA Gallery through two elevated vents at either end of the wall that forms the alcove. In front of one vent Michael Graeve has set up 'ICNINN 1998/2003'.

The PROJECTS ONE version of 'ICNINN 1998/2003' amplifies the air that is forced through the vents and introduces the sound into the venue through two stacks of loud speakers. These retrieved speakers are covered with the ubiquitous vinyl wood veneer common to three-piece turntable systems. Amplifiers of the systems, incorporated into the turntable housing, complete the stacks. The revelation is the transformation of these found pieces of equipment, including the almost Baroque cascades of leads and cords, into a stylish and taught sound installation. The individual speakers face into the space at left and right parallel, or ninety degrees, to the wall. The sound is channelled and directed through them, and the auditory attention of the observer/participant is sensitive to the changes in clarity and volume as s/he moves through the one hundred and eighty degree arc around ICNINN 1998/2003. Through the duplication and amplification of sound, Graeve has articulated the three-dimensional space of the VCA Gallery. The sound also bleeds into the modus operandi of other installations by providing a barely perceived sound track.

PROJECTS ONE was introduced as a series of propositions or proposals for the assimilation of installation based works into the built environment. The exhibition proposes an alternative to the simple addition of works of art into the interior or exterior of a building without reference to its context. These works demonstrate how installation might incorporate transitory and fluctuating elements like daylight, time and sound and address the process of a venue's fabrication. Their raison d'etre is the direct reference of their context. Dr. John R. Neeson