Wendy Howard

The Performance Space
Sydney 3 November -13 November 1988

This exhibition was sponsored by Rozelle Rust Repairs; it consisted of larger-than-human-scale sculptures deriving from representations of Victorian women's apparel, made out of car panelling. Entry was made by squeezing past a towering whole cos­tume, and there were separate items too: corsets, petticoats and bustles. At the opening, the panel­beaters recognized bits and pieces of clients' cars. There was Mrs. Johnson's Toyota door, and wasn't that Warren's grille? Car couture, fashion by Volk­swagen, or, sculpture as/and panelbeating: the immediate general effect was of a pleasing, conge­nial wit, but there were exchanges and analogies here worth closer attention.

Why panelbeat petticoats? Initially, to exchange car bodywork with women's coverings, especially reshaping, restrictive and innuendo-laden articles of old-fashioned underwear, is to make an analogy which identifies equally banal forms of consumption. And the pornographic status of displays of under­wear for the Victorians (at least), suggests that this banality, which rests on the apparently infinite exchange of objects for each other as commodities, is linked with a shaping, reshaping or restriction of desire. But Howard's sculptures allow these general observations almost off-hand, or with a sly pornogra­pher's grin: their main interest is elsewhere.

The major exchange and analogy is between art and other forms of labour, between sculpture and panel­beating (hence the title, "Work"). Why panelbeat petticoats? Why not? Melting the distinction or rivet­ing art and work together, Howard represents an arbitrary and almost automatic activity: take a given plan, a design or pattern, pursue it using inappropri­ate, perhaps even impossible materials, and there­fore methods, and see what happens. (This can be no more absurd than the activities grouped under the sign "Smash Repairs. You Wreck 'Em We Fix 'Em".) it's a playful activity to which process is far more significant than either pattern or any particular end. This is evident in all the "Work", especially the final untitled sculpture, which moves furthest from representation, so that a giant toppled dress-shape begins to take on aspects of a strange room or dwelling.

The playfulness of these exchanges between art and work grants Howard's sculptures a kind of ludic awareness. This, together with the works' exagger­ated and laboured-over physicality, releases a differ­ent desire, representable in neither cars nor couture, outside commodity exchange. Howard's witty achievement is to have rendered this desire evident, in the peculiar sexiness of curving, high-gloss duco surfaces as they are connected by heavy welded seams, and of the torsion of riveted, shiny metal pleats. All of which depends, in the end, on the kinds of work that make an artist sweat.