The paint is the petrol

Robert Pulie
Mori Gallery, Sydney

The art work of Robert Pulie might be from a fun-park gone wrong. The irreverent sense of play in Pulie's works makes full use of the gallery space and of the viewer's place in it. The fun park is a complex of unproductive machines: the lighter side of machines of industry. To become part of the unproductive machines is to be thrown into the midst of repeating lights, undulations and gyres where for a brief time we are secure from the rigours of labour. The funpark is a caricature of industrial society: we put our faces on bodies which are not ours; we eat what we usually do not eat and we do not worry about thinking.

There is always a certain innocence, an ingenuousness, to Pulie's handling of materials. Once he is finished with his carnivalesque objects, they are even less useful than they had been. In a past exhibition he slammed a perspex amorphous shape, with two face-holes as if it were a sham group torso cut-out, in the middle of the gallery, so that the spectator was placed in a state of ambivalence as to whether to walk around, or become a part of the object which was so patently intended for display. The display and the role of the spectator were undetermined.

The Paint is the Petrol consisted of a procession of plywood cut-outs, this time of oversized shoes and undersized cars, all about one foot high. The snag was that only the upright support remained visible as the fronts were pasted together. A small amount of painterly description was visible where the contours were incompatible. On the wall was a single panel, the Plywood Manifesto, with the word "aren't" in white wash with a red outline in a crude running script. This was the final disruption. Not only did the word confirm the already undermined status of the objects on the gallery floor, it undermined the whole exhibition, the gallery and the artist, for being a pun on "art". Accepting a senseless thing in a fun park is easy because we know it is there for our gratuitous pleasure, but if the same silly object prevents this simple engagement with the work of art, we find ourselves to be the objects of fun, of derision.

There are a hundred messages that could be associated with Pulie's strategy, the foremost being that art is moribund stimulation in a jingoistic world filled with facile disclaimers. Art, perhaps, is a fraternity so closed it is impenetrable like the space between shoe and car. These things of transit were intransigent. And with a kind of Beckett-like peevishness, Pulie proceeded with a self-regulating logic which was to make the distance between each car/shoe the same as the length of the car/shoe before it. Beckett's Watt, a disheveled nobody, made endless trips up a down stairs, carrying things, not carrying things, for reasons about which he was always unsure partly because he never gave it a second thought. Some of the face-to-face objects were shoe/shoe and walking around them aroused the suspicion of an echo to one's footfall. The net effect, as with Beckett's anti-heroes, was that of a pointless joke from a senile.

Lastly, what of the title, The Paint is the Petrol? Paint, oil paint especially, is habitually taken to be the medium for registering feeling, as if paint is the only conduit for expression. The fuel for expression was here used as if it were glue, and whatever was painted was mostly obscured. The paint is the petrol, but in Pulie's case passage was denied.