Eckersleys Open Space Melbourne
Chris Bell John Aslanidis Phil Edwards Simon Kilvert
5 April –26 April 2001
4 featured four Melbourne artist-friends: Chris Bell, John Aslanidis, Phil Edwards and Simon Kilvert. Housed in the expansive but low-ceilinged gallery behind Eckersleys Art Supplies, there was generous room for each of the artists to exhibit a major work.
In the most site specific of the works, Chris Bell has created a piece that is physically married to the gallery. Passing Through takes as its starting point an existing set of six window panes. He has constructed a sculpture comprising two large, equally sized interlocking triangular wedges that project into the space from these windows. Inspired by horticultural greenhouse architecture, they are made of white steel mullion frameworks crafted to replicate the existing architecture, and subsequently glazed.
A number of Bell's works have been driven by two related characteristics: the combination of incompatible elemental forces, and the rush of danger, excitement and awkward poetry that ensues. Thus, previous uneasy alliances have included switched-on televisions, irons and lamps immersed in water-filled aquariums, or two forks jammed into a power point with a light bulb resting on top: bingo, you've got light.
The structure of Passing Through, in fact, directs a flow of air that originates from an air conditioner found built into one glass pane. Blown in from the outside, this invisible element moves through the open intersection of the wedge shapes, only to escape from a hole at the opposite end, well inside the gallery. What we are experiencing is thus an eloquent and elaborate form of the kinetic encased by the static; the transparent framed by the opaque. The visually dangerous aspect to this particular work is contributed by the precariously leaning bottom wedge. Having been rotated by ninety degrees relative to its equally sized referent, and balancing on one edge, it is only prevented from tipping over by interlocking with the upper wedge that is connected to the window. That window-based three dimensional triangle in turn seems to defy gravity, being held up by its fellow and all in all making for a fragile sensation of balance.
Filtered through the medium of painting, John Aslanidis' works are concerned with a different form of kinetic experience. His painting practice is distinct in its commitment to investigating the use of circles as primary visual building blocks. Commencing with the Transit Zone series in the early nineties, the distorted, tilted grids and asymmetrical patterns created by superimposing layers of concentric circles have provided a rich source of inspiration. Aslanidis' paintings are highly detailed and visually frenetic works. Optical pulsations and beatings are created through colour juxtapositions applied within the confines of intricate patterns and folds. In contrast to this vocabulary of activity, however, the basic circular unit itself is every bit as static as a square, contributing neither a sense of direction, motion nor one of force. This creates a palpable contradiction between the dispersing, movemental energy of the detail as it pits itself against the superstructure's tendency towards containment and stasis.
Throughout the 1990's Aslanidis's compositional frameworks, often self-contained, symmetrical or all-over in nature, have reinforced the element of organizational control that the microcosm of intersecting lines and vibrant colours are subject to. Of the two paintings exhibited at Eckersleys Open Space, Dislocation no.5, (2000), with its clearly defined central circular motif placed over a complex field of multiple superimposed concentric circles, clearly functions within these parameters by distinctly articulating the two languages at work.
While the conflict between exuberance and containment still fundamentally drives Dislocation Network no. 2, (1999), this work does signal a departure. Rather than the superstructure privileging one or two motifs, it engages many competing components on the symphonic scale of 165cm by 405cm. As the colour relationships have become increasingly dissonant and the composition less resolved and comfortable, the push and pull between fields of kinetic energy and subtle movement has become more complex, thus slowly bringing to the surface what has been bubbling below for some time.
All along, the piano sounds of AND Factory Outlet presents new AND cd and poster "SKIP" suffuse the gallery. In this case, factory outlet refers to a busking set-up, where the presentation, performance and potential purchase of a cottage industry product are situated within inches of each other. With a nod to streetcorner performance a plastic plate containing small change sits in a suitcase sporting copies of the limited edition CD (cardboard note nominating $10.- as purchase price) and a pile of posters on the floor (cardboard note nominating $2.- as purchase price). Stacked in the background a CD player, amplifier, loudspeakers, pair of sunglasses and framed SKIP poster on the wall complete the instrumentation.
The tracks entitled Skip 1-5 take as their basis a simple, minimal improvisation on piano which is abruptly cut off close to the two-minute mark. While presented as a mono recording in the final track of the CD, the first four pieces are simple studio manipulations of that information. Each one presents the same material either doubled through delay, quadrupled by doubling the previous doubling, reversed or slowed down to a quarter of its initial speed.
Technically speaking a no-frills formal extrapolation from the source recording, the resultant pieces evoke sweet lullabies, piano doodlings and tightly composed minimalist compositions all at once. Yet, it is their nearly right-ness, or their nearly wrong-ness that is compelling. After being seduced into a sense of safety by sections of reduced, repetitive piano performances that are by all accounts right and proper, the moments where their inability and instability surfaces are utterly disorientating: any sense of design and logic is dispelled. To make things worse, after the SKIP pieces lose their sense of harmony or able-handedness they do not inspire that trust in a return to orderly musical resolution elicited by some of the classic Minimalist loop, repetition, layer and duration compositions.
Phil Edwards is the driving force behind AND, a project that commenced with a performance by himself on keyboards and John Aslanidis on unmiked saxophone at Melbourne's Platform 2 on 14th November 1998. The limited edition CD documenting this first manifestation (released on Edwards' Hard Rubbish Recordings) advises that "AND is the collective name for any performance of improvised sound and music by unrehearsed visual artists. AND has no set format or structure."
Edwards has consistently introduced the currency of the untrained hand into projects incorporating sound and object installation, painting, photography, collage, music recording, performance, composition, collaboration, writing, collecting and collection presentation, facilitation, curating, CD and fanzine design, publication and distribution. He has a penchant for the inclusion of multiple, disparate, preferably incongruous elements, combined with a fascination in found materials and things not made in the service of art. All these go some way towards explaining why we are unable to explain the coverart poster featuring black and white (their tonal values reversed) action shots of 1970's dressed children skipping rope. It is said that the photos were found in an in-law's garage. In the aesthetic feel of an afterthought, a little sticker on the CD tray conveniently reassures us that all is well: "Any distortion heard is the sound of the skipping rope momentarily leaving frame."
If Phil Edwards utilises installation practice (and CD design) as a loose framework for the presentation of disparate contents alongside each other, then Simon Kilvert's approach to installation is decidedly more painterly and unified.
Still Life might be described as an object poem spilling five metres into the gallery space. Leaning against one wall and lying on the floor are a dozen or so discarded, weathered, rotting, split and grey wooden fencing structures. Spread among this mess are all manner of objects: red boxes, mirrors, book covers (evidently chosen for their colour value), red wool, white wool, green broken glass and red enamel paint applied to a pink towel and parts of the fencing. These features are visually anchored to their background by a painterly brown abstract wall painting and a large colour photograph pinned behind the scene. Visually, the elements make for a subtle but breathtaking combination of incidental and deliberately added colour.
A Chinese landscape painting scroll on the floor quietly references one of the classic conventions for the portrayal of pictorial depth. Its dense stacking of landscape features is a theme echoed in the large photograph: A layered composition steeped in burnt red and yellow ochres, it is a still life comprising jars, bottles and paint pots covered in a dry red powder pigment. Sheets of glass lean against each of the vessels.
Similar to the colour relations featured in Still Life, the conversation between actual and represented space slowly unfolds. Drawn into the equation are issues of placement, composition, movement, space and depth, object relations and their respective associations: The stuff still lives are made of. Kilvert's strength as a visual poet has strongly relied on his development of a visual language that signals an ease of execution, thus allowing for the varied voices and layers of visual content to emerge seemingly on their own terms. While slapdash leaning, layering and haphazard arrangements have been signatures of this approach, Still Life couples these with some explicit intervention. Red and white wool chaotically criss-crosses the scene. Draped over the planks and nails it occasionally leads up to the ceiling and is almost crocheted onto pieces of wood. This time the artist has been at pains to declare his hand, thus treading a fine line between coercion and collaboration, between control and facilitation.
Widely differing works were encountered in 4, each one compelling in its execution, and each one evidencing a rich artistic investigation by the author. The exhibition was a delight to experience.
Michael Graeve, 2001, revised February 2005.