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Robert Cirelli, Eamon O'Toole and Bryce Ritchie
As the learned historical exhibition Views of Melbourne begins its useful and instructive tour of Victoria from the Bendigo Art Gallery, the inaugural venue has daringly problematized the survey with a contemporary show in an adjoining space. The St Albans Suite, a collaboration between Robert Cirelli, Eamon O'Toole and Bryce Ritchie, undermines nearly all the pictorial conventions seen in the main space, in which Views of Melbourne is studiously devoted to documenting the visual experience of Melbourne from European settlement in huts and tents, to the eighties building boom.
Melbourne viewers would be especially aware of the connotations of the title, The St Albans Suite, for St Albans is a western suburb which lacks the prestige of the numerous leafy zones of the prosperous, spreading metropolis. St Albans is also the name of a rail line. We have therefore an outer suburb with a terminus, a point beyond which there is no more metropolitan Melbourne
The suburbs distinguish Australian cities from all their international counterparts; yet the suburbs are the circumstance least explored in Views of Melbourne. Recently, the 'suburbs' have entered consciousness much more than previously. The Bendigo Gallery has acknowledged this change in emphasis from an earlier concerted focus on ‘The centre", to the nineties nomadic expression of periphery.
The works in The St Albans Suite lack the stiff upper-lip of Melbourne perspectives: they are casual and shambling; the slightly chaotic energies of the garage dispel all sense of the authority which is so much a part of the visual containment of previous pictorial conventions. Robert Cirelli paints on masonite rather than canvas and, against all museological protocols, screws the standardised sheets directly into the gallery wall. Their surfaces are layered with decisive paint in a few key colours, resembling the impatient and uncontrolled palimpsests of fences and walls in domestic contexts. The masonite itself reminds one of the home handyman's idea of a wall-either for a renovation or extension - banged in at the corners and lacking all the gravity which stamps the architecture of most pre-war dwellings.
Eamon O'Toole constructs two giant motorbikes, a gear box, and a huge drag engine, all from light but sturdy materials. The beloved objects of industrial Pop stand mounted on their packing-crate plinths with a promising degree of verisimilitude, as if ready to escort the fantasies of a chivalrous youth with the throbbing of automotive power. The contraptions have a chassis but most of their components - other than wheels - are fudged with a kind of light moulded skin. But in this slightly crinkled wrapper, which is marked in black to delineate the mechanical features, you almost have the sense of oven foil or even glad-wrap, some bizarre improvisation of home made construction which is the antithesis of the mass-produced manufacture of the assembly plant. And in this, the machines of O'Toole reproduce most faithfully the genius of home craft, the domestic reinterpretation with which male enthusiasts fingerprint the objects of industrial design.
It is Bryce Ritchie who imposes the greatest spatial vision on the show. From the demure rhythms and visual chastity of Views of Melbourne, you enter a ramshackle collection of shelves, furniture, cabinets, trinkets, landscape pictures and a home bar. Upon passing through this hairy tunnel made from bamboo and other third-world construction materials, you enter the space occupied by the other artists, look around in confusion-for their work doesn't relate to the shaggy entrance-and then reassess what you have just passed through. It is a suburban temple to televisual nostalgia: it evokes, in tattered reminiscences, the tropical informality of 'Gilligan 's Island ', the idleness of shipwrecked days spent on jokes, the heady confusion of lust and innocence, artfully poised between the hedonism of nothing to do and the promise of being rescued and having another future. This was a paradise proposed in the afternoon by the television, a Utopian pause between the various forms of disciplined routine which informed a suburban child's otherwise unimaginative upbringing.
The St Albans Suite is not a mean satire on suburbia but an extension of Views of Melbourne made in order to give due attention to the experience to the majority of Australians who (unlike most people abroad) live in spacious suburbs of low buildings and ubiquitous garages. In this recognition of the Melbourne of contemporary consciousness, the artists also reject the optical conventions of their picture-making predecessors in Views of Melbourne. They do not respect the traditions of autonomous images celebrated in frames upon the wall but bring the rather ramshackle elements of suburban low-life into the gallery. This gesture is not the now-hackneyed violation of the purity of the gallery for the sake of "questioning" art's sanctity but rather asks the spectator to accept the non-artistic aspirations of a suburban reality and to recognise in them a poetic dimension.