A discernible phenomenon of the Australian art scene in the 1990s is the proliferation of artist-run spaces. Faced with a depressed art market and a highly contracted commercial gallery scene, many artists have banded together to organize alternative exhibition spaces. These spaces exist precariously on the periphery of the art world, attracting some mainstream public interest and even the odd sale. The real importance of these galleries lies, however, in their role as a forum for young artists.
In the last few months Sydney has seen two more artistrun spaces open their doors, Herringbone and Particle Contemporary Exhibition Space. Herringbone has risen from the ashes of the now defunct Pendulum Gallery while Particle—previously located in a shop-front in Clovelly—has reopened in a remodelled shed in Annandale after an unceremonious eviction and a protracted closure. Both these venues are a welcome addition to the already buoyant alternative gallery scene in Sydney which includes South, CBD, First Draft, Side-On Studios and 151 Regent Street.
The inaugural exhibition at the new Particle space—which will also be used for film, performance, poetry and drawing classes—was a sculptural installation by Stephen Hamper. Titled Interactive Pneumatic Kinetics, this work consists of a huge multi-framed structure which is powered by air pressure and which opens and closes automatically. Hamper has always been obsessed with time, technology and the elemental forces of nature. His early paintings combined equations, engineering blueprints and technical drawings with clocks and other gadgets while his more recent installations have begun to explore new technologies like robotics and pneumatics.
Interactive Pneumatic Kinetics consists of three alloy frames of varying size connected by integrated pneumatic piping. The three frames sit flat against the wall, one inside the other, creating an imposing structure that resembles a geometric maze. Without any prior notice, however, a gush of compressed air bursts forth from the machine as the two inside frames begin to lurch forward from the wall towards the viewer. The sensation created by the sound and movement is one of surprise and even fear as the unsuspecting viewer is forced into a corner, trapped in the space.
The first frame opens to make a right angle with the larger frame attached to the main wall. At this point the smallest frame begins to open so as to become parallel with the main frame on the wall. This operation serves to map out the structure of the gallery space, creating a sort of room within the room. At intervals throughout the operation the machine seems to puff and pant, emitting huge jets of compressed air. After a short dormancy the machine reawakens, slowly refolding until it again sits flat against the wall.
Hamper's pneumatic structure plays on an innate fear of technology. One of humanities greatest fears seems to be that of a machine that operates independently of any external power or human control. Although this is a recurring motif in recent Hollywood cinema, it stands in contrast to the current mood of technological celebration in the visual arts. Interestingly, however, Hamper's obsession with science and technology lies not so much in its potential to dominate nature or humanity but to transcend them.
The metal frames resemble blank pictures on the walls into which viewers can interpret anything they wish. At the same time the frames also seem to open inside the space like doorways into some parallel universe beyond our immediate experience. Is this a return to the idea of art as a transcendental experience? Partly. But it is a form of transcendence that is mediated by technology rather than religion. Standing in front of the three frames, the viewer is invited to contemplate the possibility of a fold in time into which we might step with the ease of entering or leaving a gallery.