Each year the Performance Space in Sydney organises a group show of works by relatively unknown artists. Such exhibitions present curators with a difficult task. To produce a show of sufficiently broad scope to include disparate art practices without sacrificing overall coherence and so the readability of each work. This year's curator of Untitled '91 , Billy Crawford, has tackled this dilemma with sensitivity and cunning. Formal, thematic, even political continuities exist throughout the exhibition rendering it navigable, without overwhelming the autonomy of each artist's project. In this respect Rod Jacka's installation These Are The Words But They Don't Make A Song, is a curiously apt title for the viewer's first encounter upon entering the gallery space.
Jacka's installation deals with three distinct temporal systems or cultures; the digital electronic, the clockwork universe and the biological cycle. The simplicity with which Jacka evinces the conflicting interaction of these· different cultural orders is rare. A log on the floor onto which mechanically regulated red resin drops whilst a digital counter randomly 'counts' the number of drips. The violence that actually results from such interactions as in the killing of forests by the logging industry is evoked by the scabrous wound of resin that accumulates on the body of the fresh log.
Kassandra Bossell 's Bring on the Dancing Girls – Macrochip Female #2, also deals with cultural interpenetration but this time the biological is gendered, whose cultural 'other' is computer technology. Here, water etches tessellations (like computer circuits) into a large sheet of suspended steel covered with blobs of tree sap. Beneath this a trough is being formed again by the water in a strip of paraffin wax on the floor. In front, another steel sheet is suspended by ninety hair-like wires silhouetted by natural light from a nearby window. Bossell brings together soft, hard, fluid, multiple and singular elements so they interact chemically: corroding, melting, altering each other. Bossell 's is the only installation to exploit sound as a symbolic dimension and its effect is powerful. Chiming water on steel transforms the work into a poetic other-world. A sort of cybernetic forest nourished by circulating water and light. But for all its formal beauty and sensuous resolution, Bossell 's installation seems conceptually vague; why she sets this imaginative stage is unclear.
By contrast, Deej Fabyc in her installation pursues the classic strategy of politicising the familiar, intimate spaces of everyday life, by making them strong. In Look Not For Meaning But For What That Meaning Excludes; Puttin The Heart In it, Fabyc has undertaken the ambitious project of integrating her personal experience with the broader politics of scopic control. A hoover engraved with the word 'intimacy' totters tragicomically on a toy train backwards around a circular track. At the track's centre is an enlarged multi-generational image of the artist's eye. Repeated along the back wall, three large circular 'lenses ' frame miniature blown up computer generated close-ups of interior microworlds: a T cell, open-heart surgery and the top of a fire hydrant. Microscopic photography, the zoom lens and endoscopy are all invasions of the most interior vulnerable spaces imaginable. Yet the further these instruments penetrate the more distant these interiors become. As with the 'soul' and psychic identity, interiority is coeval with invisibility. Tampering with cultural taboos guarding inside/outside polarities by rendering interior spaces visible jolts many entrenched social grids out of killer simultaneously, private/public, secret/open, depth/surface, psyche/society, feminine/masculine and so on. These jolts however are also painful realities and self-inspecting technologies, including psychological introspection, are invariable forms of violence even if they also heal. The interior suburban topoi indicated by the hoover is depicted by Fabyc as an implosive space of intense cultural and personal conflict. As the title indicates the meaning resides precisely where we can't look, in those most intimate places that evade rational inspection.
Michael Goldberg 's polished assemblage, Searching for the Inland Sea, is also concerned with bridging personal and public political spaces. The existential 'I' is not so close to the surface however but distanced via syntactical games and mass cultural forms. The overt content of this work is unambiguous; the ironic processes of colonisation, in particular the British settlement of Australia. A silver tea set is lined up neatly in front of two collages of linoleum, metal trim, a hi-tech image of tin cans and text in computer print-out. In contrast to the alienating surfaces of the wallpiece, the mannered cultural corrosion connoted by the tea set seems pathetic. In relation to the text however this pathos transforms into something far nastier. The text is divided into two panels, one refers to the arrival of early settlers, the other to survival by cannibalism. Each text is then divided again into two voices; a passive and an active,
the flesh is frozen solid and difficult to cut
(the taste of salt is strong on your lips)
This movement between sensation and ideation structures the work, integrating its formal and narrative elements. A movement that neatly mirrors bourgeois strategies of self dissociation from the violence entailed in practices such as colonisation.
Roger Heighington 's work deals with the channelling of destructive forces as the bedrock of fantasy. The force is fire in the form of a blowtorch. Found wood and metal pipes are his canvas. With a blowtorch Heighington explores the plastic possibilities of fire on wood, searing sinuous patterns and textures into the doors of an old wooden cabinet, inside of which obscure plumbing pipes have received similar treatment. Heighington is a vigorous arsonist with a deft hand for creating lyrical landscapes with his wooden surfaces. It is the dialectical play between destructive/creative elements however that is the basis of the disturbing effect of his two works, Untitled, on show. On the one hand there is a strong expressionist quality in the scorched designs but this psychological creative aspect is linked so closely with the alien destructive power of fire that any usual sense of artistic presence is etiolated. The oscillation between presence and absence animating Heighington 's assemblages is a significant achievement that contains the promise of the matic explorations not yet realised.
Rose Ann McGreevy's installation , The Strait and the Narrow, is a curious work comprising a white satin obelisk topped with salt supported by a box covered in carpet on castors. The square plaster tracks around which the pillar might travel don 't form a full circuit, exacerbating the sense of ungainliness. Here, a rational way of looking meets hermeticism, a mythopoetic imaginary, in relation to which reason is experienced as an obstacle. Is this the meaning of the truncated track? If so the clues are too obscure, there seem to be biblical references but they are vague. As in Bossell 's work McGreevy has used installation to explore complex conceptual content without realising the dependence of concepts on material form. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but there is idealism in the belief that meaning can escape its cultural embeddedness via processes of aesthetic collage and play.
Performance Space is an 'alternative' art venue and as such dedicates its gallery to the exhibition of traditionally marginalised art practices such as installation. Semi-survey exhibitions like Untitled '91, are revealing for the range of political strategies it shows being pursued via installation work. The political spectrum of installation practices it appears are as disparate as in any art form. Even though all installation does contain the potential to physically disturb the stability of the viewer 's personal space, a disruption historically linked with radicality, neither of these linkages are immutable givens. Just as painting is not inherently locked into conceptually reiterating the singular flatness of the gallery space it occupies, the wall. In sum, it seems as though installation work in the nineties has become popular as a cultural space for the pursuit of a mannered, expressive art. An artistic strategy that of itself guarantees nothing, but which as ever, has the potential to resonate with a wider community of desiring bodies and egos.