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In cartoons when characters have a problem they tend to pace, mapping out a small space with their purposeful but repetitive steps, scratching chin or head, brow furrowed in a few simple lines, until finally everything is released with the sudden introduction of a light bulb. It is usually a primitive kind of light bulb, not much more than a couple of smooth lines to suggest the rounded glass, a curling filament, and basic bayonet or screw fitting. And at that moment when the light goes on, light itself is represented in a jagged flare of fluorescent yellow.
Of course what scenes like this are trying to represent visually is the idea of inspiration, the moment when a solution springs into our head-perhaps the idea of the idea itself. In cartoons ideas click straight in, as suddenly as turning on a switch, and then we cut to our character busily putting idea into practice. But it does not always happen like this in real life, or in the art gallery. In fact, sometimes all we seem to get, perhaps all we are meant to get, is the pacing and brow furrowing, the character's repeated encounter with space, colour, objects-a kind of loop of unresolved thinking. Perhaps there is something a little cartoon like about No Noise. It is an exhibition that manages to pull together works that seem a little too lurid in colour, slightly madcap, a bit jokey- there is even the light bulb. Think of these works in cartoon form, and it is easy to see how they could fall over the edge into a crazy and uncertain animation, the mad action that follows the click of the idea.
But the ideas running through No Noise are actually not that obvious, not that oversimplified, which is to be expected with this sort of exhibition. Curated by Melbourne based Max Delany, the exhibition set out to look at some recent work by emerging artists. But this is not a survey or sample show, more an attempt to find a small body of works that seem to have some conceptual affinity with each other. It is important to put this process into context, because in a way-as with many curatorial exercises-the process is often as important as the outcome. In this respect, No Noise needs to be seen as an element within the on-going exhibition program at Metro, with the decision to invite a curator from another city as an important part of a strategy for placing emerging Queensland artists in a dialogic relation to their peers. So one key part of the exhibition's conceptual logic is the exchange that results from the juxtaposition of each artist's works with those of their co-exhibitors.
The four artists in No Noise-Nadine Christensen and Andrea Tu from Melbourne, and Sandra Selig and Petalia Mackay from Brisbane-are not an obvious combination, and quite a bit of work needs to be done to tie them neatly together. To do this Delany takes a broad approach, working around the different ways each artist concentrates 'upon the sensory and perceptual limits of looking, moving, feeling and thinking'. While this 'big picture' approach helps to give the exhibition coherence, each artist's small body of work has the potential to take us off in quite different directions. The most striking feature of Andrea Tu's installation is its focus on process. Made up of three distinct pieces, Slow motion (curtain), Slow motion (pile) and Slow motion (Arnold's cat), the emphasis here seems to be as much on the making as the eventual objects-a curtain of folded paper strips, a pile of folded paper boats, and a suite of paintings illustrating the 'Bernoulli shift'. What is set in motion in these three paintings is the way an image decays as it is stretched and multiplied. In a way this issue of transformation carries through to the other two components, but they also provide an obvious focus to the potential of an endlessly repeated process. The pile of paper boats is only so big, but it suggests the possibility that the making of these objects could go on indefinitely.
While the work by Nadine Christensen is very different, there also seems to be a concern with the series here, with the possibility that what we are actually presented with is just a very small sample. Christensen's subject is light, or rather the ways light might be generated or manipulated- either mechanically, or through the optical twists of natural phenomena. It is a very illustrative approach that presents us with a fairly spare rendering of lighting equipment, like a disco smoke machine or a film strip projector. The possibility, of course, is that this series of paintings could go on as an almost indefinite catalogue of lighting gear. However, natural light effects also are included in the work Sun Dog, a painting which gives a basic illustration of the way certain atmospheric conditions produce the impression of four suns. lt is a series that could easily have included the cartoon light bulb.
Significantly, the work of Sandra Selig also seems to be about light, and the impact of architectural space on its effects. Her most striking piece, Sounding uses a fine thread in the most simple of ways, building a sculptural bridge between two walls. What is crucial here is the viewer's position, with the solidity or transparency of the object fluctuating as one moves around the work. In a way, there is not much there but the changing effects of light on the orange thread, so the work takes on a very insubstantial quality, like a fine abstract drawing or subtle monochrome. There is nothing subtle about the palette of Petalia Mackay's paintings, with their use of slightly off primary pastels to build up geometric effects on boxy canvases. In many ways, they seem to demand a similar viewer mobility as Selig 's work, or for that matter the installed space set up by Tu. There is also an interesting link back to the notion of projection that is hinted at in Christensen's paintings, only rather than showing the projector, what is explored is the geometry of projections in three dimension. The simple focus on the grid also takes us into an architectural space, where the main concern might be how painting deals with the edge of the picture plane. By allowing paint to bleed between areas, to seep beneath the masking tape, Mackay's work also carries with it a certain charming clunkyness as an antidote to its extreme geometric restraint.
Interestingly, there is more than a bit of noise in No Noise. Not just in the frequent choice of loud colours, but also in the way the small sample of work by each artist seems to buzz with the possibilities of further development. It certainly is not an exhibition that sets out to make definitive statements. But then that is probably never a good curatorial position to take when dealing with work by emerging artists.