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In MCMLXXXIX the surface of the moon has been photographed; the photographs have been xeroxed, enlarged, then re-photographed and developed as slides; the slides have been projected onto large wood surfaces, where Clinton Garofano has painted them, in green blackboard paint and oils.
Garofano has highlighted apparently random sections of these vertical, aerial-view, and almost abstract, lunar landscapes (is the moon land?) with areas of matte or shiny finish, overlain with Estapol or thick paint suggesting rubber. He has also superimposed sections of the background, further enlarged, together with symbols of high-tech surveillance: cinematic framing devices, viewfinders, film sprocket-holes.
These paintings are at once landscapes (that most traditional form), backdrops for new video games, and, perhaps, images which cater for our fascination with the featureless dystopian plains of the transnational information order. As landscapes, they argue that "nature" is a function of the principles by which it is observed, and they refuse any hierarchical ordering of these principles, whether they be of painting and technology, or art and science.
One might have thought these were unexceptional positions, and that Garotano's paintings were to be discussed in terms of their subtleties, or the wit and confidence with which they are displayed. Instead, Peter Fuller's latest antipodean adventure means that the trenches have to be dug, again. This is not, necessarily, a bad thing (or it wouldn't be, it just one interesting, new, argument were brought to bear). Neither is it necessarily all Fuller's fault. The problem is, every time he comes here and pitches his well-appointed tent on the high moral ground, his camp-followers become tiresome.
So in a Sydney Morning Herald review, John McDonald, while he couldn't help but be impressed by the elegance of Garofano's work, also couldn't resist a sneer (without granting Garofano the courtesy of an argument) at what he perceived pejoratively as its "design" component.1 Just in case the work was "postmodern", perhaps, or because it doesn't address a big enough, central enough, question about modern art - as though the relation between art and science were not such – or because it may turn out not to accord with an as yet unstated principle of "aesthetic value".
Fuller, as David Bromfield has pointed out, has suggested such a principle, that "nature alone could provide the basis for sound artistic practice" - which MCMLXXXIX explicitly refutes. And even McDonald can't wear that one.2 In the course of an article championing Fuller's cause McDonald distinguishes the substance of Fuller's arguments from his fearlessness, belief, conviction and commitment.3 In doing so he renders these latter qualities objectless, without ever establishing why they might be intrinsically superior to, say, a rigorously maintained irony. If Fuller 's belief is empty (as Bromfield also argues), we are better off without it.4
What is revealed by the inadequacy of the response MCMLXXXIX draws from McDonald is that the view from the high moral ground may be grand, but it is too general to be useful, and the air up there seems to imbue art critics with a splenetic sense of self-importance and to ruin any sense of humour they ever had.
If nothing else, Clinton Garofano's work ought to be valued for the deftness with which it undermines such positions. As well as Theoria, Garofano might well have read an old pulp science fiction story, in which the unearthly lighting in some of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings is explained by the discovery that one of his scientific inventions had taken him to the moon. I can't remember the title.
MCMLXXXIX's relation to self-consciously disposable forms (science fiction, video, television, perhaps "design"), together with blackboard paint's reference to the most conventional forms of pedagogy, represents a witty interrogation of art's contemporary status. One that exposes the limitations of a Fulleresque self-styled iconoclasm, and high moral careerism, which is unable to countenance it.
1. John McDonald, "Small Steps, Giant Leaps, Estapol", Sydney Morning Herald, March 18, 1989
2. David Bromfield, "Art led down the garden path ", Sydney Morning Herald, April 1, 1989. (Review of Peter Fuller, Theoria: Art, and the Absence of Grace)
3. John McDonald, "Boiled dry in the tepid soup of relativism", Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 1989
4. Bromfield discusses the problem Fuller has, as an atheist, invoking Ruskin: "Not one of Ruskin's many remarks linking theoria to a longing for unquestioned superior authority appears here". McDonald, distancing himself from the details of Fuller's work, from "evangelical righteousness" and "often hot-tempered and reductive" judgments, nevertheless concludes that Fuller's position is highly moral, because "with questions of belief and commitment in art, something is better than nothing".