Scott Redford

Minus objects
Michael Milburn Gallery, Brisbane

While basic binary oppositions such as nature/culture, animal/ human, organic/industrial provide an obvious key to reading Scott Redford's Minus Objects sculpture series, these oppositions are ultimately too reductive if divorced from the formal and visual, indeed visceral, properties of the sculptures. Made primarily from urban and industrial detritus (plastic tubing, hinges, wire, burnt wood, metal containers) and household junk (cutlery, tools, light bulbs, food cartons), most of these small, wall-mounted assemblages also contain a variety of plastic toy animals and teddy bears (either the whole bear or mutilated fragments). Baroque conglomerations of these objects are mounted upon a wooden base with each sculpture being painted entirely in gloss black.

On one level, these sculptures produce whimsical and humourous connotations with the animals and the teddy bears evoking a cutesy, but also industrially mass-produced, iconography of childhood and of nursery playtimethe teddy bear is also an emblem with specific sub-cultural meanings within contemporary gay male culture. However, the burnt and blistered surfaces of these sculptures sugges another more ominous, even sinister, association of scorched or fire-damaged objects or else of objects washed up in an oil-slick. Their shiny black surfaces are also similarly ambiguous in that they evoke both a chic designer sleekness as well as the excremental. But rather than producing a deadening uniformity across the individual sculptures, the use of black heightens a sense of texture and detail and draws the viewer in to closely scrutinize the surfaces and arrangement of each piece. Indeed, this combination of both visual curiosity and faint revulsion is the dominant characteristic of these works.

This strategy of defamiliarizing the familiar or the banal is of course a recurrent device within twentieth century art, but in the Minus Objects series, as with his slab sculpture Formal Imperatives (shown in the exhibition You Are Here), Redford both refers to but also corrupts the formal languages and aesthetic claims of high modernism. While Redford's earlier reference was primarily to minimalist sculpture, in Minus Objects he also implicitly draws from three distinct moments within early modern sculpture. These are best, if somewhat schematically, represented by Tatlin's Corner Reliefs; the practice of collage and assemblage as first employed by Picasso but more systematically in the Merz collages and constructions made by Kurt Schwitters; and the Duchampian ready-made which, while sharing some of the techniques of collage, was nonetheless motivated by a different set of concerns.

To an extent at least, Redford's Minus Objects play off these sculptural traditions against each other by confusing their distinctiveness just as they also parodically mimic minimalist serialism and objecthood. Thus, while there are some formal parallels here with Tatlin's Corner Reliefs-both are mounted, portable sculptural series with a shared interest in a 'culture of materials', spatial tectonics and textures Redford negates Tatlin's constructivist rejection of reference and mimesis (Tatlins's demand for real materials in real space) by including both literal and representational objects. By introducing referentiality in this way, the structural and aesthetic principles of the Minus Objects effectively deny the rigourously anti-representationalist stance of constructivism. Redford's choice of industrial materials also has echoes of constructivism but the semantic properties of these materials clearly align them with collage and, more obviously, with pop art than with the technocratic fantasies of Soviet productivism. Indeed, Minus Objects might even be read as an ironic, but hardly didactic, commentary upon the fantasies of a redemptive technology which continue to animate industrial modernity.

This critique of urban modernity now has a long pedigree- it may, for example, have been at work in Picasso's cubist collages and was also an aspect of Schwitters' constructions. Yet despite this element of critique, collage maintained a notion of the aesthetic as a discrete category which was not to be effaced by the use of unorthodox materials. In other words, while everyday objects such as tickets, newspaper, and cloth were incorporated into the art-object, they were nonetheless subject to an aesthetic manipulation and ordering with the art-work's distinctiveness as a special kind of object remaining intact. Prohibited, at least initially, from following its own logic, it was Duchamp who effectively took the next step from collage by declaring that the ready-made object itself could be a work of art and that, as such, it did not have to be enframed within a prior aesthetic order.

While Redford, himself, certainly gestures towards the ready-made, he does not follow a strictly Duchampian path since the Minus Objects are emphatically to be viewed as tableaux even if, despite their thematic recurrences, they do not readily offer any obvious narrative or interpretive reading. Nor can we view these works as being strictly surrealist despite the inclusion of found objects and the use of juxtaposition, incongruity and whimsy. This is partly because the semantic and structural features of these works operate entirely on the surface. Moreover, these sculptures are not read easily as enigmatic or psychically-invested emblems of another order of consciousness. Instead, their immediate precursors are the materials and iconography of pop art and the formalism of minimalist sculpture even though they share neither pop's largely uncritical celebration of consumer culture nor the austerities of minimalism. Rather, by taking elements from both pop and minimalism, the Minus Objects occupy a hybrid territory between the two. But to say this is to ascribe to these works a degree of self-conscious interventionism which is perhaps alien to them. For, above all, it is more the distinct look of Redford's Minus Objects-their slightly unsettling but amusing combination of decoration and detritus-which makes for their specific visual identity rather than their modernist genealogies however much these may be implicit to their meaning.