Upon my first viewing of this show, there was a crowd of people milling around the gallery. Many were holding brown paper bags which contained newly acquired art works. There was a feeling of urgency-latecomers realising that something was going for free, scrambling around to salvage the remains. The walls had the appearance of a sell-out show, with a wave of red dots creeping across the room. Martin Smith had usurped the usual model of an art opening where people go to look and transformed it into something where people go to get. His photographs might be categorized as 'urban picturesque': quiet depictions of garage doors, shop fronts or abandoned buildings. Viewers were at liberty to remove any work of choice and replace it with a red dot. This left only the typed title and a small red dot bearing the initials of the new owner upon the walls. The titles were fragments from songs, conversations and books, things like: 'A pink carnation and a pick-up truck', 'That's the spirit of God in you Stuey', or 'I sometimes find it hard to hide the fact that I am bored'—they had the effect of something heard and recognised, but not easily located.
The new artwork that emerged became defined by its absence and proffered questions about the commercial prospects of art: is the possibility of a sell-out show so slim that it is sufficiently gratifying to simulate it? Has it become satisfying enough to know that at the very least, artists can give work away? lt was not Smith's intention to expose the grasping nature of our collective psyche. Culturally, his purpose might be likened to one which precedes Western ways; the idea that the one who can give the most, possesses the most. According to the catalogue, the artist's intention was to make a tribute to the experience of loss. Fatefully, the nature of Art Happenings is dependant upon the audience, and in this instance, the artist was to experience a more profound sense of loss than he had expected. Smith had decided that complete ownership was to be given to the recipient, with the photographic negative sacrificed on the back of each image. These were offered with the acknowledgment that the image would follow its own trajectory. In exchange, Smith had hoped for a comment or a signature in his book, but this too, was taken. On the adjoining walls a different series mirrored the blatant consumerism at hand. Depicting a more entrenched type of retailing, Christopher Handran's photographs hum with the fluorescent confusion so particular to shopping malls. The blurry images were taken with a modified op-shop camera and serve to highlight the gestura! possibilities of neon light. What emerges is a poetry of squiggles which loop and dance within a mundane shopping environment. In one instance, the blues and pinks from a 'Don ut King' outlet spin between three consecutive images. Various logos feature prominently throughout the series, implying the 'solace in the universality of the urban experience',the comfort we gain from something recognizable in an alien environment.1
By objectifying the urban retail experience, Handran reveals a true Situationist spirit, drifting through a city so at odds with the Metro building where both artists were in residency. lt is clear that a resonance between the artists has been developed through the shared residency which reaches beyond the boundaries of the 'Give and Take' cliche. But it is difficult not to sound like a martyred parent in summing up the work at hand. Although based on a Utopian idea of reciprocity, the outcome of the exhibition reflects the wicked nature of art itself. lt would be nice if there was a bit of give and take, but mostly, it is give, give, give.
I. Christopher Handran and Martin Smith, Give and Take, catalogue essay, Metro Arts, Brisbane, March 2002.
This exhibition was the result of a residency shared by the artists at Metro Arts.