Kader Attia at ACCA
To begin with, you’ll see chunks of plaster littering the floor, torn away from a white wall. Through the hole you’ll notice fragments of stained glass embedded in the other side. There’s more than a decade’s work by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia on show here. At the beginning of October he won the prestigious Joan Miró prize for his “passionate engagement with current affairs and with the shared fate of humanity”. Elsewhere rows and rows of life-size kneeling figures made from crumpled silver foil face away from viewers, in prayer or despair. From the other side you realise they're hollow foil shells. There’s a lot of that: seeing things in their more unappealing forms, changing the way we see the facade. Attia’s work discusses colonialism in North Africa and the people caught in its wake using whatever materials he has on hand, to powerful effect. Towering metal shelves are stacked with a century of magazines and newspapers with headlines about terror, security and the volatility of far away places. In a video work, a steady flow of black oil is poured onto a stack of sugar cubes, which slowly dissolve like an imploding building, glittering in the sun. Like all of Attia’s work, it’s unnerving but also beautiful and compassionate.
An Unorthodox Flow of Images at CCP
All of the CCP has been taken over by curators Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne. Their project is an elaborate game in which the history of photography plays a part. In An Unorthodox Flow of Images, disparate images spiral around the gallery, each one linking to the next via visual cues. We start with the first known press photograph taken in Australia, in which the corpse of Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne is strung up for the viewing pleasure of onlookers. Then we’re off, on an odyssey of 148 distinct works, from beekeepers to a rabbit’s eye to a desolate salt mine. Some connections are just playful visual references, but some open up whole new readings of two or more images. Take for example the post-colonial statement made by images of the untouched Australian coastline with street-like grids etched onto them, and an 1886 photo of Indigenous people posing for a “native fishing scene”, wearing very Victorian outfits. But that’s just my take. In the catalogue, Cass and Milne acknowledge that interpretations will differ and invite visitors to make suggestions of their own on Instagram. It is, as promised, unorthodox.
A Short History of My Thought – Joseph Kosuth at Anna Schwarz Gallery
Standing in the middle of A Short History of My Thought can be hard on the eyes. The 18 works on the walls, from 1965 to 2015, are made from unrelenting neon lights that flicker in the corner of your vision. Kosuth, an American, is a pioneer of conceptual art. His work has appeared everywhere from album covers to The Louvre. He isn’t afraid to appropriate the work of others, and the show opens with a neon-backed reproduction of a newspaper comic strip about a man’s fear of retirement. “Who'll run the company when I'm gone?” he asks before deciding the only solution is, “I’m never going to.” It's a glib one-note joke, but it’s also grim and fatalistic. Does he mean he’s not prepared to retire, or not prepared to die? The rest of the room offers other questions without answers. Kosuth uses neon for things it wasn’t designed for. Instead of simple, attention-grabbing messages he illuminates long passages and quotes including lines from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, notes from Charles Darwin’s journal, and the statement: "The experience of my reader shall be between the phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals.” That’s the experience of this show. Taken as a group, there’s meaning somewhere in the gaps between the pieces.
Staging the Studio (The Choreography of Cutting) * – Sally Smart at Margaret Lawrence Gallery
For Sally Smart, the process of making art is just as interesting as the output. Her new show, *Staging the Studio (The Choreography of Cutting), moves the studio into the gallery, giving us a look into the artist’s private realm and referencing dance and performance. The walls have become blackboards filled with Smart’s notes, which she has been adding to since the show opened at the beginning of October. Ideas connect with names connect with quotes and passages: words by author Gertrude Stein here, a name-check of Dada artist Hannah Hoch there, and cut-outs of women’s bodies alongside a photo of a dancer whose face is obscured by a pair of scissors. Elsewhere, stage curtains are adorned with cotton, wire and wood pieces, creating static performance spaces for the artist. Strange puppets fill out the space. Because Smart has been making additions to the show since it opened, the work will only truly be finished when the exhibition closes.
Mira Gojak / Elizabeth Newman at Neon Parc Brunswick
These two Melbourne-based artists have been working for almost four decades, and while they have very different practices, when seen together, their works set each other off in unexpected ways. Both came up in the 1980s in opposition to the masculine voice that was dominating their art educations. Elizabeth Newman’s abstract paintings are deliberately imperfect, dressed-down and sparse; they let imprecise brushstrokes say imprecise things. Hanging in the middle of the room, Mira Gojak’s sculptures, made from tangles of coloured steel wire, resemble scribbles brought off the page and rendered in three dimensions. They’re still, but full of nervous energy and movement. Gojak says they’re intended to recall Venn diagrams. And just like a Venn diagram, it’s what happens in the crossovers between Gojak’s and Newman’s work that gives us something new.
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