The paintings in this show from Melbourne artist Sally Ross could be of golf courses or landscaped parks. Similar to the work that saw her named a finalist in the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize this year, these new pieces offer comforting simplicity.
But their air of calm, with their clean lines and cool palettes, is deceptive. The hodgepodge of textures hidden within are varied and detailed. In an interview with Neha Kale for Vault magazine, Ross quoted performance artists Will and Garrett Huxley: “‘Everything happens for no reason’,” she remembers them saying. “I find that terribly comforting,” Ross added. The details in Ross’s paintings are random, messy and uneven, yes. But also very, very comforting.
In a white-walled gallery up an inconspicuous CBD laneway, the show takes us out of the city for a moment. Spilling out across a quarter of the room is an arrangement of branches – these are Cotinus coggygria (smoke bush) branches, arranged by florist Hattie Molloy. They give the room a woody scent and evoke a rural palette with their murky greens and browns.
And then, just to keep us on our toes, there’s a lone, small painting of a skull, riddled with some kind of worm or weed. Everything happens for no reason.
Teeth Gums Machines Future Society – Lili Reynaud-Dewar
Propped up evenly around the room is a series of white boards emblazoned with thoughts and questions. “Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” asks one. “By the late twentieth century our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.”
French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar doesn’t mean “cyborg” in the sense of Robocop or Cybermen, but in the sense that theorist Donna Haraway discussed in the ’80s. That is, people assisted by a metal device of improvement, from the practical (such as glasses or braces) to the social (piercings).
Reynaud-Dewar focuses on one device in particular; at the centre of the room is a lounge space, and a large television playing a documentary film about metal teeth grills, the kind big in hip-hop culture. “Being black with a grill means you’ve got money,” says a man on screen. “It means respect.” Beyond that are the sculptures: large metal grills raised on podiums and overflowing with trash.
It’s an interesting prop to discuss the idea in this context. Grills a) are entirely about status and wealth, and b) haven’t made their way into Australian culture. It means we see it in a more abstract way, without the everyday connotations we’d associate with something more common. It all interacts in a revealing way. The boards, often densely worded and hesitant (“I would suggest ... ” “it is not clear … ”), are hard to read with the documentary playing in the background, and the trash reveals a vulnerability behind the gold. I spotted a Boost Juice cup, a cigarette packet and an empty package for anti-fungal toenail liquid.
“My grill, my car ... it’s all very materialistic,” concedes an interviewee. “But you hope for a future that’s not materialistic?” asks the interviewer. “I do. I do.”
Rigg Design Prize 2018
This is the first time the NGV has attempted an interior-design exhibition, and it’s as bold and eye-catching as we’ve come to expect from the city’s flagship gallery.
The winning work is by design studio Hecker Guthrie, offering a warm, simple, gently surreal room based on the recurring form of the table. The core shape of it is repeated in every item, from chairs to shelves.
Hecker Guthrie and the other nine shortlisted designers have responded to the broad theme of “domestic living” with a diverse bunch of ideas, but they’re not all workable, literal interiors.
Scott Weston’s entry is in the form of six discreet installations, showcasing sculptures in glass cases, and David Hicks has built an opulent panic room, surrounded by TV screens. Martyn Thompson’s cluttered and versatile room is a response to the increasingly blurred lines between domestic and work spaces, and Sibella Court’s 16th century-inspired cabinet of curiosities takes on a junk-store feel. My favourite is Danielle Brustman’s spaceship by way of 1950s diner, which looks like a set from a Stanley Kubrick film.
The Garden of Forking Paths – Mira Gojak and Takehito Koganezawa
Put the work of Melbourne-based Mira Gojak and Tokyo-based Takehito Koganezawa together and something happens. The Garden of Forking Paths reads like an abstract essay about objects mutating and evolving. Pencils leave marks on video loops. Organic-looking objects lay scattered on the floor. Human-made structures are caught mid-transition, tangled into new forms.
Both make simple, gestural work. Gojak’s pieces vary from scribbles on paper to sculptures made from furniture, like a wardrobe being throttled by blue yarn, and plastic chairs dissected to look like caterpillars crawling across the floor. In-between are sculptures made from wire thin enough to appear like three-dimensional drawings scrawled into the air. Gojak tears up photographs of the blue sky and frames them so we’re looking at the front and back of the images simultaneously. They’ve been violently interfered with, but are still bound within the calm formality of a frame.
A lot of Koganezawa’s pieces are video works, often of the process of drawing. Across three huge screens a brush swathes paint across the surface. Hands flip a flipbook, making painted dots move before our eyes as the crisp sound of flipping pages echoes Gojak’s torn paper across the room. On one wall there are 250 coloured-pencil drawings of the mountains west of Tokyo.
Gojak has the first and last word: the first thing I saw was a herd of deer, twisted from blue wire, and the last thing I saw, which is unlike anything else in the show, was a series of close-up photos of a bush stone-curlew, one eye alert. Both signs of consciousness amid the abstraction.