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Cite, sight, site
The idea of Plurality, with its attendant associations of polyvalance and freedom, is one that requires little defence nowadays: in fact, it is well on its way to becoming a cultural imperative. While some affirmation of the validity of the plural is far better than the absolute univocity of aesthetic or political fascism, all too often the term is promulgated without much regard for its own contradictions. Such unproblematised usage denies a paradox, which if not inherent in the concept itself, certainly resides within its contextual currency.
Absolute plurality, the hallmark of the death of god, the subject and the author, would seem to be impossible; for as such it always implies some degree of imperative. On one hand it connotes a denial of the validity of any sort of positionality, even its own, and demands an absolute restlessness which is never allowed any sort of resting place. Conversely, it also suggests a relentless affirmation of any system, any position, even the most elitist. The limits of both sides circumscribe a black hole: an object of critical mass, infinitely heavy but ultimately inexpressive and it is this dangerous territory that much recent 'plural' art must negotiate.
Cite, Sight, Site charts the disparate responses of eight artists to a brief which included the three word title as well as Albert Tucker's image, The Victory Girls. This brief which forms Linda Sprule's curatorial statement is prominently exhibited at the entrance to the show itself. From this point, the work sprawls outward, both in terms of formal and conceptual interests. Like most contemporary group shows it attempts to play out the impossible ideal of plurality, with a laudably serious emphasis on a diversity of media from text to photography, yet by stating clearly the limits of its own definition renders explicitly present the problematics of curatorial context, though never entirely resolves them.
Helen Grutzner's spoken word A Picture of Myself-an oral history of one of the "Victory Girls", attempts to redress the violently moral homogenization of women and history that Tucker's image represents. She works to both correct and humanise the image by re-inserting a greatly expanded and complexified notion of the 'girls' which takes into consideration issues of site (St Kilda) while drawing us away from the traditionally visual bias of exhibited art.
A different response to the historical context of Tucker's work, and its currency in terms of the rapidly fading memory of 'Operation Desert Storm,' is suggested by Shiralee Saul's very public Reproduction: Modus Operandi on the front bay windows of Linden. Her polemic is constructed, with parodic simplicity, of magazine styled icons and words which attack the 'Modern Evil' of the papist pro-US propaganda of the print and electronic media. Her appropriation of their own weapons of oversimplification and sensationalism is reinforced through the stylistic choice of the medium of promotional sign-writing.
Going beyond the iconographic content of the brief, Susan Fereday comments on the position of the contemporary (critical) artist in terms of that of Tucker and his ilk in the context of the history of Australian art. She executes a witty re-working of Matisse's ideal of "Art as a comfortable armchair" in the age of the corporate image and ergonomic furniture. A small image of a state of the art corporate 'erg-chair' along side the name of an equally impressive, blue chip investment artist, is depicted on a series of panels juxtaposed against an identically configured series of panels containing minimal subject/verb constructions such as "I Resist" or "I Reject". On either side are a pair of Krugeresque aphorisms; "I am never sure of my place" and "The path of duty is the way to glory." Ambiguities arise when we look deeper into this apparently self-evident deconstruction of the corporate art structure: the deliberate simplicity of the critical gesture suggests the way in which criticality itself is so easily absorbed by 'the system.'
Thus while the combined strength of all the individual works in terms of the show as a whole must be stressed, the dialectics of both its curatorial referentiality and paradigmatic tilling often take centre stage. The whole space is haunted by the anachronistic ghost of Albert Tucker and in discussing Cite, Sight, Site we are forced , like Zepherelli's Mel Gibson, to decide whether this paternal phantom is a good or bad spirit, a true or false sign. What is both most fascinating and most disappointing about Cite, Sight, Site is that this question becomes so central and the ghost of Tucker so vastly overrated that it often overshadows and profoundly limits the play of significance that the separate works can generate.
Elegant testament to this assertion is paid by June Savage, via her photographic work, Equation. Despite the manifest conceptual autonomy that the work displays, it is infuriatingly difficult to avoid creating some sort of congruence between it and the perceived 'issues' of the exhibition. The obscurely resonant but spurious suggestion of landscape (moonscape) pressed beneath the clinical perfection of an acetate surface recalls the rationalised framing of space effected by the Landsat image or aerial photograph. The work seems to seat itself at the nexus of sight and site. However, such a reading appears suspect in its very appropriateness: despite ourselves, we again find ourselves centring our understanding of the work around those three homonyms.
Albert Tucker, his myth as well as his image, denotes the centrifugal/centripetal paradox inherent within the show; both its spring board and anchor point. On one hand, the images proliferate outward from it, but at the same time they are always tied to it, if only by virtue of their position within the show. The Victory Girls image, through its constant relationship to the works, illustrates the dual nature of the sign at the centre of signification; the rapidly disappearing point from which meaning is generated infinitely outward, while simultaneously a site in which meaning is heaped up on top of itself to the point at which it disappears under its own weight. This paradox, in forming the central dialectic about which the show is ranged, becomes both a !rope for the ideal of the plural, as well as its undoing.