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Perception is not a science of the world, it is not even an act, a deliberate taking up of a position: it is the background from which all acts stand out, and is presupposed by them. (Merleau Ponty)
Issues of perception and the implications of our considering these are addressed by the Fulcrum installation project. This series of installations by Marie Sierra-Hughes, Ann-Maree Reaney, and Colin Reaney spanned a three month period with each artist having a month's residency/exhibition at the Artsite gallery. The second installation (by Ann-Maree Reaney) picked up on concerns of the first (by Marie Sierra-Hughes) by physically retaining certain of its elements and continuing along similar discursive lines. The third installation (by Colin Reaney) retained elements of the first and second. In this way the installation project was a partially collaborative work which acted as an accumulated response to the site. It thereby questioned traditional notions of authorship which rely on tracing an originating intention to a single source. The idea of text as production (the result of the interaction of artists, space and viewer) is advanced in the Fulcrum works by their being built up through and across time. It is the life of the exhibition across three months and in the publication of documentation of the installations that generates much of its interest. We consider the series both in terms of the time of its viewing and the time of its making. Just as the series represents an accumulated response to the space, our response to the works is also accumulated across time. In this way the works are constituted both synchronically and diachronically in their making and reception.
These installations also encourages us to ask what it means for space to have experiential qualities. One approach to this question is through noticing that our reading of these works involves very different perceptual practices to those of, for instance, viewing a painting. This is largely due to the fact that there is no one position from which one looks at the work. As a result, a heightened sense of corporeality is engendered in and through our viewing as we move about the space. The sequential links that result from this process are highly narratological. In the real time of engaging with the work narrative is made in structuring the experience in order for it to be understood in some way. This is an editing process which we, the viewers, engage in. Another narrative which operates concurrently might be thought of as a memory of the making of the exhibition. We think of the elements of the installations as being metonymic of the larger narrative/s from which they are drawn. This is the artists' editing which results in the exhibition as documentation of experience. To read the installation is to pass through it and to take a series of views that somehow attempt to comprehend and constitute the whole in terms of these two narratives of real time and memory. The three moments indicated by the series sub-titles, Ontology, Epistemology and Folly, also encourage us to trace narrative threads across and through the works. The first of the series Fulcrum; Ontology, is the most explicit in terms of its references to the multiplicity of views upon which installation relies.
This work made itself present at the very point of entry to the gallery. A window out onto the street bore the installation's ideograms. First the outline of a factory, then a ladder, then a warehouse. Lines that suggested but denied perspective joined each outline to the window frame. ARTSITE labelled the factory, ladder, warehouse and they in turn labelled the artsite in a series of gentle puns. Sierra-Hughes extended this frame up the stairs to the gallery space with “factory", "ladder" and "warehouse" on the stair risers and two rectangles within rectangles, literally frames within frames, joined by strong perspectival lines, on each flight. All were marked out in stark white. These elements were repeated within the gallery proper, but there the frame was evoked even more insistently. The ideograms were suspended in steel frames. These were made to span the gallery by the extending of the perspectival lines from each assemblage to the edges of the space. The frame within the frame was again made explicit. Further, the industrial theme of Sierra Hughes's ideograms made reference to the frame provided by this area of Fortitude Valley to the gallery and the exhibition within.
By repeating the same visual elements along the length of the gallery Sierra-Hughes addresses questions of viewpoint and perception. The points of intersection between these epistemological concerns and her stated ontological project are not always evident. The key to this may lie with the ideograms themselves providing a cross over between these two ordering systems. "At the centre of the main gallery the ideogram image was inverted, as it is at the point of perception at the back of the lens or eye. It is not clear whether perception goes from this point back or from this point forward." (Marie Sierra-Hughes)
In Ann-Maree Reaney's Fulcrum: Epistemology it is again not possible to consider perspective outside recognition of the frame. Sierra-Hughes's use of an ideogram in a suspended steel frame is retained by Reaney and she brings to it signs of the architectural plan and decoration, and landscape and garden design (akin to that of the Picturesque parks of 19th century Europe). Here questions of viewpoint become concerns about point of view, and ultimately about the subjectivity inextricable from all framing (viewing) practices. The introduction of highly decorative elements suggest that environments, spaces, objects are only ever constituted through a framing action (hand) which always embellishes the scene. It is not possible to refer in any other way. Through reference to landscape design even our perception (construction) of nature is denaturalised. Reaney points to the serious implications of this in terms of grand ordering systems such as those used by colonizing powers.
Colin Reaney's Fulcrum: Folly makes use of the physical folly used in garden design (a structure without a use beyond that of being part of a view) and the conceptual folly of all ordering systems. He continues to address representational issues by examining the gap between two and three dimensional elements of his work. He uses, for example, identifiable 'fakes' (plastic fruit) and 'real' but generic objects (wooden chairs) to collapse the space between the nature of the two and to encourage our consideration of how we perceive them differently in terms of their status as representational devices. One is an object (chair) and the other one refers to an object (fruit) at the same time as being an object in itself (plastic fruit). Reaney's lurid fruits refuse to be contained by the rigour of his black and white grid. They fall (or throw themselves) from this checkerboard of infinite frames, but do they escape? Is it indeed folly to think they might? Because these are not 'real' objects which we may view, we view vision itself. We examine our looking and ask what this might be.
Because Fulcrum involves each artist addressing the same space, that space is constituted as a conceptual frame for the installations. It is the space of the gallery that the works have in common. This continuity is further reinforced by each successive installation retaining parts of the previous projects. Installation art has traditionally been seen as challenging the frame and refusing it its primacy in compositional rhetoric. This strategy seems to be based however on erroneous assumptions about the nature of space and our interaction with it. Even the most banal kitchen/bathroom design magazine stands as testimony to the fact that people are adept at considering the manipulation of space and their relationship to it. The discourse of installation has constructed a view of its practices which relies on the assumption that we do not normally play with space and that we need to be seduced into this play through a necessary abstraction. As part of this process we will somehow be tricked into noticing that we too are an object in space and will therefore know something more about our bodies, space and the relationship of the two. The Fulcrum series questions these assumptions by making use of the traditional rhetorical tropes of installation at the same time as critiquing them through insistently reinstating the frame, or rather, pointing out that the frame was never absent from our reading of the work.
The strength of this series lies in its clear demonstration that the frame has not been elided by installation but rather that we may know something more of its functioning through the particular way it is made present in visual rhetorics such as these.