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After maintaining a low-key operation for almost a year without either a gallery or an exhibition programme, Michael Milburn reopened late last year with installations by Mike Parr and lmants Tillers. The new gallery is quite small, taking up just two rooms and the built-in verandah of an old "Queenslander" diagonally opposite Brisbane's New Farm park. The main exhibition space is a pure white cube built into what was the lounge room, effacing architectural features such as a bay window and timber walls in favour of a neutral, anonymous modernism. By establishing a controlled environment within the domestic scale and lived-in ambience of the rest of the space, the gallery itself contributes to the reading of the installation. Unlike work which might end up hanging on any sort of wall, surrounded by furniture, family life and views out the window, both installations seemed to explicitly require the formality of the gallery—to aspire to the status of carefully placed "museum pieces".
Imants Tillers' Telepathic Music presented something of a stylistic departure from his better known modular paintings, although the nine canvas boards that form part of the work are sequentially numbered, in keeping with the view that all his work is part of One Painting. In simple descriptive terms, the work consisted of a cluster of nine music stands each supporting a single canvas board. However, rather than containing "appropriated" images, the "notation" on each board was more self-referential.
As Tillers explains it in the catalogue which was produced to accompany the exhibition, the images on the boards are actually derived from reflections produced by the coincidental interaction of the music stands and the sun in the artist's Sydney studio - a photograph capturing this moment is included on the catalogue cover. But the process of self-referentiality and coincidence is more sustained than this.
The idea of using the music stands is linked to a much earlier work, Conversations with the Bride, 1975, a work which consisted of 112 stands Tillers made himself, each topped with a post-card sized image, primarily referencing work by Hans Heysen or Marcel Duchamp. This work, and Tillers' related theoretical investigations are given a sustained analysis in Graham Coulter-Smith's contribution to the catalogue. Everything, it seems, is linked to everything else, to such an extent that no one piece of Tillers' work every really stands alone. But not only does all his work play this game of cross-reference, it also finds points of connection with other images and ideas—each work is just a node in a network.
The coincidental spark for Telepathic Music occurred when Tillers recently came across a reproduction of a work by Fluxus artist, Robert Filliou, which consisted of 33 music stands. But, for Tillers, Filliou's 1978 work, Telepathic Music No. 5 could not have been "influenced" by his own earlier work, and so he 'decided to work on a new piece for 1994, using ready-made music stands which could perhaps interrogate this uncanny correspondence, this acausal connection between us.'
Of course, having made this set of connections explicit the possibility that the work might find other sets of resonances should not be dismissed. But once such a clear identification of the origins and immediate reference points of the work has been presented, it is possible to argue that this is a work that is about something else altogether; a work that has nothing to do with Tillers' encounter with Filliou's work, or his reflection on his earlier work? Could a discussion of Telepathic Music which ignored the circumstances of its origins, its points of reference, perhaps tell us more?