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Delight in suspicion
Like a jewel encrusted medieval chalice, Wayne Smith's Simple Pleasures is excessive in its symbolic and metonymic statements of power: simulated leather = knowledge/power; studded leather = appositional force (rockers, punks, neo-pop); the bonded figure = lack of power, sexual fantasy; the grid framing the simulated TV monitors = fortress gates, prevention of access, authority, power, etc. All these connotations in black are graphically opposed to connotations of regression in blue. For example: blue velvet = variegated softness and traditional beauty; simulated blue video images = passivity, regression and at the same time, access and controlled freedom. In a quantitative relationship black is foreground and dominant while blue is background and retiring. The inclusion of smaller black and grey panels between the major panels and the symmetrical arrangement of the whole only exacerbates the imbalance of BLACK AND BLUE. We are left somewhere between caricature and drama. Is the work about the manufacture and consumption of sexual identity constructs? Or is the sexual reference only the major leitmotif and means of access to one's awareness of one's body - the desired object of manipulation by immaterial but active forces? Whatever else Simple Pleasures is concerned with visual seduction.
In John Stafford's The Connotations are Commercial the concept of the body as a political entity is more difficult to eschew than Simple Pleasures. Beside the artist's statement "the body bears the brunt", the transformation of a quote from Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish to verse on five squares of South African black granite syncopates the reference to the body. The poetic effect is enhanced by the lower case type and the considered arrangement of the text on the granite. The variation between letters caused by the inscription technique provides the only disruptive element in an otherwise seductive formalist composition. The work is given an incisive edge by the material used - South African Black granite. Lt carries connotations of both prestige and political seriousness. Like Stafford's The Consummation or a Perfect Set-Up (Andy you old Sony Phony), The Connotations are Commercial is concerned with the commodification of ideas and the use of conflation to give identity to commodities - a device that is central to twentieth century commercial advertising. Stafford's concern is to solicit our politics about art, human rights and general social control.
Jay Younger's The Blue Kingdom can be seen as a challenge to the privileged position of oil painting in art history. For example, the scale of the four cibachrome panels and their integration by a black frame, the use of classical mythic narrative and traditional representations of beauty, and the sublime, can be seen as clear references to the western classical tradition of art in a medium only now gaining wide acceptance as an art (fine art) form. But as with Simple Pleasures and The Connotations are Commercial there are formal devices that prevent a singular reading of the work.
The narrative structure of the four panels that comprise The Blue Kingdom can be seen as that of ballad poetry and songs in which a resolution of the narrative is protracted through incremental repetition with the final stanza exploding the dominant rhythmic pattern. In the fourth panel the struggle is visually exploded, and with that explosion the kingdom is rendered palpably present for the viewer where previously we were precluded access. Like ballads and folk songs, The Blue Kingdom weaves a new factual/fictional tale into an existing one, the myth of Narcissus, but in doing so alters details of the latter to suit the new event. Instead of a male Narcissus who contemplates his reflection we have a female who contemplates her non-reflection in Younger's work. Seen from this perspective The Blue Kingdom is the visual counterpart of the popular (albeit folk) ballad tradition. As such it can be further conceptualised as a sketch for a filmic narrative. Like Leah Cotterell's opening night performance, The Blue Kingdom is an extension of pop art through the construction of identities and narrative art forms, the mixing of genres, and a resultant questioning of the limits of the categorisation of art. However, as Graham Coulter-Smith stresses in the catalogue essay, no easy positions are advanced and indeed ambiguity is actively solicited. With the conflation of traditional concepts of sublime and beauty to create an aesthetic "kingdom", the obvious interest in a female identity, and the resolution of the narrative in oblivion, could The Blue Kingdom be seen as re-thinking of aspects of nineteenth century symbolist art?
Like the other artists' work in Delight in Suspicion, Penny Algar's Terror Australis offers no simple reading. The juxtaposition of machine produced and reproduced images of Australian aborigines, and the gestural traces of the artist, in the background copies of aboriginal motifs, sets up the dominant statement of the five panels that comprise the work - human versus machine. The opposition works not only on the level of artistic practice but also most obviously as the regimentation of the aboriginal identity into a passive aesthetic and museological image by white settlement. The Terror Australis is this regimentation. Significantly the images of regimentation are the small background details: the dead soldier in panel two; the agreement in three and the soldier at attention in five. The understatement of this process of categorisation is enhanced by the pop-out-picture-book presentation of the work and all that innocence that such books symbolise. On an abstract level Terror Australis is a satire on Australian history.
The delight in suspicion is the concern with politics through art.