City living

Luke Jaaniste
Metro Arts, Brisbane
18 November - 3 December 2004

The phrase 'city living' is often used to describe the epitome of a carefree contemporary lifestyle. Real estate agents and marketing gurus would have us believe that inner urban dwellers live the high life full of all the fringe benefits and fewer worries. In contrast, Luke Jaaniste's recent exhibition 'City Living' featured works made from humble materials (such as sticky tape and Lego) that followed set rules and regulations in terms of installation, size, colour and quantity. The show appeared to critique both the speed of present-day life where everyday aesthetic experiences are overlooked, and Western society's preoccupation with material items. The majority of work was located outside of the main gallery space, and spread over five levels as well as out into the city streets and retail shop displays, so that visitors were required to follow an adventure trail in search of artworks that often eluded a casual glance.

Jaaniste's practice is characterised by a process of reinvigorating spaces in order to draw attention to what are often disregarded as inconsequential architectural features. He employs materials found in situ or bought from stationery supply stores according to a system of rules informed by the materials themselves and aspects of a site. For example, the colour Lego used is determined by the colour of its surrounds, and the number of Lego blocks might correlate to the building level on which they are situated. While this sounds like an attempt by the artist to remove arbitrary decisions from the artistic process, on the contrary Jaaniste's artworks are manifestations of his subjective response to particular spaces. However, the artist's underlying guidelines are not always obvious to the visitor; indeed the works themselves often go unnoticed by all but the extremely observant. It is problematic then, that Jaaniste aims to accentuate the overlooked. Further, it is mainly those already familiar with his practice who know to search in nooks and crannies for the elusive artworks.

Nevertheless, searching for Jaaniste's work (luckily the artist compiled an exhibition guide replete with maps) resulted in a heightened perception, so that qualities already existent in the site and not manipulated by the artist's hand, became exceedingly noticeable when previously they may have been passed over. What this highlights is the difficulty in demarcating Jaaniste's works from their surroundings, and pinpointing the actual art object, for the works merge with their sites, becoming subtle installations dependent on their readymade environment. That is, sticky tape and Lego, rather than functioning as art objects per se, are only the tools of Jaaniste's practice, significant because they focus attention on aspects of a space (such as differing paint patches or light switch patterns) and therefore avert any attempt to clearly delineate the confines of specific works.

The most successful pieces in this show were those that drew attention to their presence while remaining understated. One such work was Sticky taping (on floor boards) which was constructed of sticky tape strips spanning around six metres in length, installed on the floor from one set of columns in the main gallery to another (interrupted halfway by a wall). Light hit the surface of the tape, creating a shimmer effect which contrasted with the rough wooden floor to catch the viewer's eye. Following one of Jaaniste's customary rules, the space between strips was equal to the width of the tape, and the number of strips was determined by the width of the columns. The outside edge of the columns, and the sticky tape, aligned with and framed the blank white wall, emphasising the ephemeral, sitespecific nature of Jaaniste's practice.

The window as site for Lego blocking (on window frames and ledge) meant that while viewing the piece, one was also taking in a framed 'city view'. The repetition of Lego, though related to the window security grill, in fact mimicked order and construction in the urban environment, particularly in relation to the huge amount of development currently underway in Brisbane's CBD.  In conclusion, this work articulated the exhibition's subtle comment on the fast-paced reality of city living, which often leaves little time for the appreciation of the aesthetic in everyday life.