John Dunkley-Smith

Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life (Birchgrove)
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
October - November 1988

A darkened space containing a scatter of isolated chairs and the rhythmic clicking of twin carousel projectors. I sit and watch, lulled by a wash of luminous colour dissolves projected on the wall in front of me. I shut my eyes, and jangling colour contrasts linger on the retina. I slowly open one eye, and then the other, to try to trick or catch those combinations of colour and texture in-between each slow-dissolve.

Graphic forms, colours and textures melt into another with relentless insistence, enveloping the viewer in an orchestrated close-range perception of the domestic environment. But try as I might, these mundane details elude simple recognition as they glide out from under my attempts to re-focus, to distance and identify. I scarcely get a hold on a line of bathroom tiles, plumbing or drapery before it slow-dissolves into a new cycle of colour, texture and graphic combinations.

Are these really the spaces of "everyday life" then? After a near-century of avant-garde practice programmed to focus and fictionalise "the true nature of things" at close range, as Apollinaire observed, it's almost too easy to watch and enjoy Dunkley-Smith's conscious alterations. This elegant installation feels less like a perceptual experiment than an imaginary modernist museum, as I sit back and bathe in a        solemn procession of abstract, surrealist, abstract expressionist and colourfield simulations. I tell you there's nothing more pleasurable on a hot Saturday afternoon than enjoying a history of perceptual experiment without having to move from your seat.

Seriously, though - my question as to whether these conscious alterations in everyday life really hit the spot goes unanswered. Apollinaire notwithstanding, the field of art-historical domesticity leaves a sense of dissatisfaction on leaving the installation. On reflection, there's too much formalist nostalgia clinging to these elegant, self-conscious alterations. They have the feel of an old movie re-run, set in a lost world of avant-garde optics. Moreover I can't help wondering: what's so interesting about conceiving the domestic realm as a purely phenomenological field?

White walls, shifting bands of colour, texture and form - the everyday is transcended in homage and commentary on modernist aesthetics. These slide sequences lovingly echo the structural investigations of 1960s American avant-garde painting and film as if loathe to look elsewhere. It's curious that Dunkley-Smith takes no cognizance, for example, of an equally rich field of feminist enquiry into the everyday. Since the 1960s women artists have combed the domestic field as an ambiguous and ambivalent scene of knowledge, desire and violence. Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life (Birchgrove) lacks the psycho-social dimension. The everyday is instead "cleaned up" through more formal pleasures, and our domestic consciousness becomes neat as a pin.

Downtown, at First Draft, Jenny Barwell's super-B film Darling Kitchen Sink, also screening in October, evokes more complex tensions, resolutions and poetic "alterations in everyday life". Her cinematic lines of flight flirt with, yet ultimately refuse or are incapable of the aesthetic transcendence suggested by Dunkley-Smith. They instead lead to tortuous dizziness, catastrophe and claustrophobia. As such, these departures from the everyday provide an incisive counterpoint to Dunkley-Smith's neo-Kantian dreaming.