lines ii

Fire-Works Gallery, Brisbane
24 April - 25 Mary, 2002

In the virtual, networked world, lines flow through a shifted political economy. From the lines which formed gridded or Euclidean space and perspective, they have evolved into lines of flight and vectors, mapping new kinds of geography. We tend to think of lines as objectively fundamental forms that innocuously shape the world around us in the way that a 3D computer program might draw the wire frame of an architectural image. As if that practice is free from prejudice about what the line should and might be. Prior to computers, those lines were hand drawn, the body pressing itself to the task of propelling a pen from inertia across crisp paper or smooth surfaces. lt must have been an exact and exacting practice, both precise and sensual. In art, that precision has been challenged and scrutinized to reveal new and ever-unfolding economies of the line, to impinge on the hegemony of the straight line, to do playful and unexpected things with lines. Introducing Aesthesia and the Economy of the Senses, Helen Grace addresses lines as having a moral force and the economy of the line moves readily into the world of political economy and the territories of rhetoric and argument. Even a sense of the absence of line or a focal point already presupposes an existing framework, a grid (or blank canvas) in which lines, points, figures might be mapped, according to a theory of vision and the representation of things.1 Despite their lack of dimension, lines are complex things, etched and inscribed upon our ways of seeing and sedimented in our thinking about space, time and shape. Within the works which comprise Lines 11 , theories of vision and representation are multiplied. Curated by Michael Eather, Lines 11 features the work of twenty-four Aboriginal and nonindigenous artists and is his second show along these lines. The works variously use or refer to the line as a !rope, referencing richly textured cultural histories to image new perspectives and scapes. For Eather, viewers might negotiate these scapes with a view to reflecting on and contrasting the 'connection points and departure points within our (shared?) landscape, our thinking and our dreaming'.2 Odd how Eather puts that( shared?)-as if it is neither a question nor a description, barely audible, bracketed off, tentative. We might actually share histories of the line, and for some, history is a single, sweeping line stretching from ancient times to now. Landscape, country? Do we share these spaces and representations?

In Worlh Exploring?, Richard Bell asks this and more. Ostensibly a triptych, this piece features a text on drafting film and two painted panels. The text panel is a 'Statutory Declaration', enlarged to AO size, in which Bell declares a long list of oppressive, genocidal and exploitative practices perpetrated against Aboriginal people in the name of the British Crown and the Australian Government. According to Fire-Works Gallery, this text almost did not make it to opening night because the staff at the graphics bureau where the artwork was printed were offended by Bell's lines of text. The painted panels of this work explore similar political and moral issues, thinly veiled by Pollock esque splatters and a veneer of modern abstraction. Joanne Currie's X-shaped wall piece, The Ex, features hand painted 'stubbie' bottles, each bearing intricate patterned and dot painted surfaces. The X is menacing, as if something has been crossed out, or perhaps it refers to a sense that something is not what it was, a shadow of a former self. Currie reinscribes the bottles, potent symbols of dispossession and displacement, infusing the empties with a spirit that is reborn of cultural connection. Rebirth is also addressed in Laurie Nilsen's Reflection where two emus fashioned from barbed wire are looking at each other through a wire mesh frame. Through his use of 'bush' materials, such as those used for the construction of boundaries and fences, Nilsen addresses liminality and transformation. There is a sense of passage in these emu sculp- lures as well as the sharpness of 'staring back': staring back in time, staring back into the eyes of those attempting to glare you down, staring back across the boundary. Many other works in Lines 11, such as those by (the late) Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Kathleen Petyarre, Judy Napangardi Watson, Minnie Pwerle, Samantha Hobson and Rosella Namok, feature narratives of land. A mix of map, story, tradition and spirit, these works tell us about this country as well as about its people. (The late) Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula 's work tells of spear straightening, a secret men's practice, and is comprised of twenty Pintupi spears as well as an immense canvas covered by rows of ochre coloured, finely dotted lines. The dots evoke the points of the spears, like the lines in Edwin Abbott's Flat/and which threaten to lance anyone who happens by. These paintings, predominantly from Central Desert and Cape York artists, seem full of significance, as if written in some alien visual language, and provide cues for mentally navigating the terrain. In a world where we generally know the landscape through cadastral maps, topographical readings and scale, the works speak of 'legends' which ripple from ancestral memory and inherited knowledge. Michael Nelson Jagamara's collaboration with lmants Tillers, From Afar, provides for a mapping exercise that crosses cultural and language lines. Both artists are seasoned collaborators: they seem to leave room for each other's marks and signs, accommodating differences and generating a layered cartography and iconography within the painting. Throughout this show, there are wonderful moments of contrast and connection, like Helga Groves's perspex wall piece hanging opposite Christopher Hedges's cut steel sculpture. Or Tolsen's Straightening of the Spears in dialogue with Michael Johnson's Pimara. In John Rajchman's analysis of Deluezian philosophy, 'to make connections one needs a trust that something may come out, though one is not yet completely sure what' .3 Many of Eather's curatorial efforts, including his work with the Campfire Group, have focused on contrasting works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists with non-Indigenous artists. In curating for contrast, and ultimately connection, Eather juxtaposes and pushes and crossings that were not previously possible, contrasting and connecting in those exchanges, the resonant intensities of representation and abstraction, culture and art.

Richard Bell, Worth Exploring?, 2002. Acrylic and mixed media on linen and paper 200 x 480 cm. Installation, Fire-Works Gallery, Brisbane.

notes: 

1. Helen Grace, Aesthesia and the Economy of the Senses, PAD Publications, Sydney, 1996, p.4.

2. Michael Eather, Crossing the Line, catalogue essay, Fire-Works Gallery, Brisbane, unpaginated.

3. John Rajchman, The Deleuze Connections, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2000, p.7.