Modes of Practice

Verge Gallery, University of Sydney
3 November – 3 December 2016

Modes of Practice at Verge Gallery brought together past and present committee members of the artist run initiative, MOP Projects—Ron Adams, Kate Beckingham, Kieran Butler, Lucas Davidson, Daniel Hollier, Richard Kean and Carla Liesch in this timely exhibition. As artists, our mode of practice is our way of thinking about and through making, a process-driven philosophy that is nurtured through the experimental nature of our artist-run-spaces. These artists have worked together before, their object-based and expanded ideas of art-making engage in an ongoing dialogue with each other, and the space in which they are exhibiting. The artists have all developed work from significant moments working with MOP Projects, as they celebrate the end of an important fourteen-year Sydney institution.

It has been difficult to write this essay because I have mixed feelings about MOP closing. MOP has been fundamental to my identification and formative years as a practicing artist. And MOP is closing at a very complex time in Australian arts; so how do we celebrate the end of such an important space? Modes of Practice is not simply the last MOP Project, but it is taking place in the midst of what has been described as the worst crisis the Australian arts have faced since the Australia Council was formed in 1967.

You do not have to be abreast of the entirety of the situation to experience the mood in which we currently find ourselves working—one dominated by anxiety and uncertainty for the future of the arts in Australia. Certainly, when decision-making from the top shuts down avenues for critical and creative thinking, the future seems a dangerous one.

And we exhibit here in this significant location—significant geographically to MOP, forming part of the Chippendale Creative Precinct that is contributing to a growing sense of artistic community beyond the immediate families of these two galleries; and significant in the midst of the fight over the future of the University’s art school. Myself and five of the artists in this exhibition are alumni of Sydney College of the Arts (SCA). This exhibition follows SOS SCA at Verge Gallery, a chronicle of the struggle to keep SCA open and maintain the current course load and staff capacity. SOS SCA co-curator Katie Williams spoke of the complexity of the situation we are dealing with as artists. The exhibition spoke to the strength of critical dialogue in our community.

Over the exhibition space, MOP co-director Ron Adams’s large text installation declares: ‘I am the son and heir of nothing in particular’. Adams’s text references The Smiths’s 1984 song How Soon is Now? In this work Adams revisits MOP Projects’ Our Lucky Country series which was held in partnership with Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in 2005–2007—a project that attests to the reach of MOP’s satellite exhibitions. In 2007 Naomi Evans wrote of this works’ ‘observation that we are of a time where the past no longer promises a grand inheritance’.1 The text is reclaimed at Verge—these words haunt this uncertain territory of the arts. But they also speak to opportunity, ‘the fact that not one thing defines us, that we are a composite of parts, not one leading above the others’.2 This exhibition indeed comes from community, a composite of many parts, a collection of many voices and modes of practice. This is the message that Adams chooses to leave us with, a celebration of this community that will continue to drive artistic creation in Australia.

Kate Beckingham’s work sits in quiet proximity to Adams’s declaration. Drawing from an evolving piece Hardcore Magic, Beckingham’s text calls from the opposite end of the gallery: ‘please be gentle, please be gentle…’ Her Tiny wins developed from a recent body of work titled To those of you who keep going. In these works we see Beckingham take control of physical elements of an environment that is largely out of her control. Her process, her working time, moves from the invisible to the seen, and is shared in solidarity with her peers. These in-between moments for an artist, recorded through objects and text, recall Allan Kaprow’s vision of what art should be: ‘Doing life, consciously’.3

Placing these process-based objects in the gallery space then, ‘changes the thing attended to’,4 reflecting back on the viewer, as Beckingham writes, ‘Changing what you know yourself to be’.5

The fragility of these works is a strength, as is the precariousness of the life of the artist—it places us in a position to be critical and creative thinkers. To those of you who keep going is a gentle gesture to Beckingham’s peers, from an artist who is processing her own fears by continuing to make work: ‘getting up, moving things around and sitting back down again’.6 We see this sentiment of support echoed in the physicality, and the gestures of Kieran Butler’s work through titles such as This is for those who ground me.

Butler’s work physically addresses the in-between spaces of the gallery, calling into question the detritus, the stuff, the things that Beckingham has repurposed in her works. Since completing his MFA, Butler’s thinking has progressed from things to stuff, from ideas and objects to the leftovers, the bits and pieces that make up our practices. He critically questions his medium, a kind of material philosophy that works with the fluidity of the photographic medium to reflect the artist, the colour, the space, the society in which he is working. In these new works Butler’s photographic installations create the illusion of support, responding to the suspended walls at Verge. The works are heavily layered and built-up; there is both a philosophical and physical reaching out by the artist to comprehend the materiality of his own thoughts and things. These gestures are disembodied and obscured by a collaging into a beautiful collection of stuff. The bits and pieces, thoughts and ideas of Butler’s practice are assembled to bring together ‘nothing and everything’ in these works.

Similarly to Butler’s, Lucas Davidson’s works emerge through a rigorous and ongoing investigation of his materials. A Mind of It’s Own is a component of an earlier work, realised here as a new video and exhibited on a corporeal scale. Something in this work called out for further engagement: the way his fingers seem to momentarily blur the distinction between the real and the virtual environment. The materiality of a mylar mirror, reflecting and distorting Davidson’s body, is recorded on the iphone; an action which draws attention to the screen as a filter through which we perceive ourselves and others. Davidson questions what more there is to learn from the work. This reminds us of the role of artist-run-spaces in giving artists the freedom to extend their studio experimentation into the gallery. The experience of learning through exhibiting, further allows us to consider our work in the context of our peers. The reflections of Davidson’s work are echoed in the painterly sculptures of Carla Liesch: both are works that reflect out from the artists’ studio, into the space, and onto the viewer. Liesch is a place-maker. When she and I shared a studio at Parramatta Artist Studios in 2015, her first act was to unleash a confetti canon in the space. That gesture is in these works. The reflective qualities of her materials spill out from their perspex frame, casting brilliant shadows in the gallery space, tracing the movement of light, of passers-by. Liesch’s work embodies the forms and materials of painting—without the paint—to affect the way we see the space around it. These works bring us into the space we are in. There is also a sense of celebration in Liesch’s works, a freedom and confidence in working with her favourite materials: vibrant perspex colours, exposed supports, and glitter. It is almost a ready-made art party in a box, lighting up the gallery, waiting for us to complete the work by simply being in this space.

Richard Kean’s work call’s for a similar presence, his installation piece Apodidae requiring participation to co-create the aural component of the work. In Apodidae Kean presents three realisations of a glider, developed according to the golden ratio. The measurements that make up the hand-carved glider are abstracted as aural strings and a diagram in a large blueprint installation. This blueprint speaks to an applied knowledge of flight obtained through theoretical study and practical experience. The participatory element of the work is key here, knowledge is gained through creating the sound, a practical understanding of the aural relationships. Kean’s work brings together his current passions, and in this combination, the work becomes not about the individual pursuits, but about Kean’s process of learning—of trying to understand the space he is in through art-making, through mathematics, through flying.

Again Kean’s work grounds us in this space, through the sounds reverberating around us—through all of these works Verge Gallery has its own presence in this show. Even before we enter the gallery, Daniel Hollier’s painterly obscuring of the front windows creates a narrative, drawing us inside.

As MOP shuts up shop, Hollier’s work not only conceals the rest of the exhibition from the outside; it speaks to the future. This is one of MOP’s final exhibitions, but its activities will continue as it channels energies into an archival publication of the fourteen years of MOP Projects.. The space of MOP itself will transition into a project space run by Galerie Pompom, maintaining the experimental ethos of its artist-run roots. But this work poses the question of the space that opens up as MOP closes.

Hollier’s Now You See Me Now You Don’t, Gestural Painting is a new exploration in his practice of the painterly and performative expression and the narrative found in whited-out windows. This work is exhibited alongside an older work Painters Green Edition of Four from Hollier’s show Lesser Abstraction at MOP in 2010. A nod back to his MOP years and a poetic placement of the past, the present and the future—Hollier sees a strong material relationship between the works: the painters tape, the everyday building materials, the repeated gesture of the painted-out windows. Placing these two works together also gives us pause to reflect on what we have learnt from MOP: how we have progressed in our own practices; and as an artist-run-space.

So how then do we celebrate the end of an institution like MOP Projects? By acknowledging what we have learnt from it: a very strong sense of community, communication, experimentation, mentorship and collaboration, all of which we can see strongly in this exhibition. We can celebrate by continuing to build this community, to take up opportunities, to celebrate our wins, share our support—to shape the future we want for art and culture in Australia.

Installation view, Modes of Practice, Verge Gallery, Sydney, 2016.

Installation view, Modes of Practice, Verge Gallery, Sydney, 2016.

Installation view, Modes of Practice, Verge Gallery, Sydney, 2016.

Installation view, Modes of Practice, Verge Gallery, Sydney, 2016.

notes: 

1. Naomi Evans, ‘Five Choices of Death’, Our Lucky Country (still different), curated by George and Ron Adams, Daniel Mudie Cunningham (ed), MOP Projects and Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, 2007, p.34-37.
2. Ibid.
3. Allan Kaprow, Essays on the blurring of Art and Life, Jeff Kelley (ed), University of California Press, 1993, p.195.
4. Ibid.
5. Kate Beckingham, Hardcore Magic, 2016-ongoing. See https://goo.gl/ZHOOWs.
6. Artist statement, To those of you who keep going, 55 Sydenham Road. See http://www.55sydenhamrd.com.