Ewen McDonald

Duck egg blue, the McDonald duck project
Mori Gallery, Sydney

Setting up tensions between the impersonal and humane, the exotic versus the domestic, the elegant and repulsive - this installation utilises a sense of play and the unexpected to undercut the traditional austerity of installation work.

Arranged in five sections, the centrepiece titled "Ducks From China But Not China Ducks" relies on contrasting the formal execution with the quirky nature of the found objects on display.

Entering the Mori Gallery, rows of yellow objects could be seen arranged symmetrically on a podium in the centre of the far room. lt seemed that the topic in hand was the old favourite - consumerism, the utilisation of multiples being evident at that distance.

On approaching, the objects transpired to be five hundred toylike ducklings, standing in a militaristic formation on upturned packing cases bearing "Made in Shanghai" stickers on their webbed feet. These seeming soft toys, could provoke nothing but laughter, as their cute familiarity offset their precision placement.

Yet on closer scrutiny, laughter gave way to nausea as the twisted necks and beady eyes of the ducklings, revealed that these were no toys.

Dead ducklings cannot be viewed, in the same terms as, say, a Duchampian readymade. McDonald's objective was not to pose a question about what constitutes art, or to engage in an exercise in depersonalising the art object, for here a narrative, humanist element, is evident. The detail of the twisted necks relates something about duck history, providing a link between fowl and man-related death.

Human barbarism towards duck is explicit throughout the work. Peking Duck, a front room wall display featured the pages from a recipe book for the dish Peking Duck, amid a ring of Chinese plates arranged as if laid on a table. The gruesome preparation of the duck's carcass, presented in graphic photographic detail, provided a dramatic contrast with the '1asteful" design of the display.

While life and death emerges as an apparent theme in the work, this reading is deceptive as the idea of "ducks" is never presented on its own. For whenever "ducks" crops up it is intertwined with the notion of China, which, at times, is converted into the notion of  china(ware). The marrying of these arbitrary concepts is a driving force in the work.

McDonald stumbled upon the stuffed ducklings, selling at a service station in Grenoble, while on a recent trip to France. As imports from China, the ducklings needed little else than shipping to Australia to transform them into emblems of cultural dislocation, an idea to which McDonald was perhaps receptive due to his own role as "cultural export" at the time.

Referring, critically, to the work of Haim Steinbach and Jeff Koons, and a professed aversion to French minimal chic, McDonald welcomed the humanist element the ducklings implied, and proceeded to generate a network of associative ideas through related displays, comprised of found objects gathered from local sources.

Surveying the ducklings from an adjacent wall, Egg Wall is comprised of five hundred eggs obtained from the Poultry Board. These near perfect egg replicas are placed in rows, with ideas of surrogates and simulacra abounding.

Opposite, multitudes of porcelain flying ducks form a bizarre flight pattern. By using the familiar icon, this helter skelter formation managed to subvert the kitsch, three-ducks-on-the-wall, imperative of '50s home decoration.

An undermining of the religious-like hush surrounding much installation work is evoked, not only through the choice of "homey" objects, but also through almost childlike naming. For instance the title of the above-mentioned being China Ducks But Not From China, a blunt visa versa response to the title of the centrepiece.

In the front room display, Mandarin Duck, four porcelain ducks (of the common domestic, decorative variety) were featured with plastic mandarins dangling elegantly underneath, suspended from invisible string. Such obvious naming scoffs at current esoteric and pseudo-academic nomenclature.

The exhibition's title can also be seen in this light with The McDonald Duck Project jumbling the ideas of the author's own name, the fast food chain, and Wall Disney's cartoon hero all in one.

Ultimately, McDonald has not created Duck Egg Blue, the McDonald Duck Project in an attempt to take on the role of iconoclast, but rather to be playfully irreverent. This work, with its jokey literalness and sense of play is an act of raspberry blowing at the current tendency towards the impersonal chic in contemporary installation work.