June Savage

Linden Gallery, Melbourne

In June Savage's abstract monochrome photographic works rough flashes of light emerge from a black field, in what appear to be indefinite satellite images of stars or weather patterns. In the simple shorthand of familiar gestural marks these images conjure infinite space, the existential dilemma, notions of chaos, and the rhetoric of the Sublime.

The precise source of these photographic fragments is ambiguous, but one quickly suspects the original referents to be many things other than the cosmic wonders they evoke. They are like images from a catalogue of simulations, and could readily trace any number of phenomena: a photomicrograph of nerve tissue; dappled light under trees; chalk smudges on a blackboard; or a darkroom disaster.

Savage further distances her imagery from it already obscured source through a fragmentary presentation which recalls wider references. Her large, strip-like rectangular photographs, facemounted behind plexiglass, are constructed to form geometric shapes. One work becomes a large X, directing attention to the title of the installation, Claim, and conjuring notions of land ownership, the marking of a site in territory, and the place of signature in established systems of property.

Two other works form empty squares, referencing systems of mapping which connote the ownership of territories through outlining or delineation, as well as the functional framing of the work of art by the art institution. These works suggest that space, landscape, and the work of art are contested sites: zones which are circumvented by discourse, whose conceptual territory is defined by its legitimating rhetoric.

Six wall clocks, whose faces have been replaced by similar imagery, complete the installation. Defaced in this way they appear more like radar scanning devices than clocks. Only their second hands remain, steadily traversing the terrain in a cycle bound to repetition, without a point of reference or scale of measure, their movement without limit or rational  meaning. As metaphysical tropes they mark the endlessness of Eternity against the uncertainty of Matter.

Landscape and representations of space mirror the phenomenological desires of both science and art which, at various times, regard the earth as a finite, inherited commodity or an infinite natural disorder that must be tamed through measure and map. Just as Landscape in art has historically presented an order of human construction as a mythic range of immutable essences, representations of Space provide a frontier metaphor for universal wonder and continuity.

Lyotard retrieves the notion of the Sublime for social critique, and in particular for the role of art in presenting in visible terms the complex and unpresentable totality of contemporary social reality. Savage's installation suggests one ambition in this direction, through making visible the manner in which desires for the grand, the spectacular, and the transcendentally abstract are claimed by an unrestrained faith in the order of science.

While the methodologies of art and science may differ (although it could be said that both are involved with reason, speculation, and imagination) and their social value, under capital, markedly at odds (science with its use value in economic terms, art in its disenfranchised status as significant decoration and powerful investment) their systems of representation have marked  commonalities. Both encode and reproduce dominant ideologies indirectly and through operation. Both search for universal constants.