patrick pound: painting by numbers

GrantPirrie, Sydney; Artspace, Sydney; Phatspace, Sydney
29 May - 29 June 2002

Patrick Pound's recent show at GrantPirrie, painting by numbers, seemed at very first glance to be either a group show (did I go through the wrong door?) or a large installation. The show consisted of sixteen works of differing materials, some floor pieces, some photographic wall mounts, found images, signage, a few works-that-are-like-paintings.

The piece, Cancelled, comprised seven title pages torn from books, stamped 'CANCELLED' in red ink, presumably declaring the end of the book's utilitarian life in library circulation. lt hardly matters whether the books have indeed been withdrawn, or if this, like Pound's fictional curriculum vitae, is pure fabulation. Removed from the books themselves, the creamy-white, pristine title pages floated within their framed mount, bearing titles that, now cancelled, appeared like relics of social promise and domestic hope: Cardboard Mode/craft, Art in Everyday Life, Freedom From Fear. Thomas More's Utopia bore a 'CANCELLED' slash directly across the title word, UTOPIA. A line drawing of the author's face from the frontispiece showed through palely.

A blown-up photographic image of shirt and dress collars, circa 1930s, was mounted on foamcore board. Four pictures occupied the main quadrants of the image, which was perhaps once a page from an instruction manual or guidebook for tailors or pattern-makers. Shifting the scale of photographic images beyond life-size is a fairly reliable procedure to allow for a fascinated fixation upon an image. Blowing up these black-and-white pictures and shifting their context from instruction manual to single mounted image evokes pathos for tender lost details. A loose thread on a buttonhole or the slightly stiff shoulder inset embodies the loss forever of its original context and its particulars. Waylaid meaning hovered over the piece like a ghost. Perhaps Pound was moved by a swastika-like form created by the white spaces which surrounded the photographed collars to title this piece The Tailor's Murder, although I suspect that he is simply quite skilled at mobilising such happy coincidences: it is when they appear least contrived and most sensuous that his work seems most mysterious and productive of multiple, maybe-related meanings.

The Tailor's Murder lent a Kafkaesque air to Pound's project: I felt as if I were drawn into a skew-whiff dream concocted by a secret obsessive whose yearnings chafed against his daytime persona of a misunderstood clerk in a boiled-wool suit, subject to the whims of minor but draconian bureaucrats. lt was as if there were some odd character haunting the show, lurking between the pieces, shadowing the viewer and impersonating the artist, a character committed to pointless hobbies and quasi-artmaking (painting by numbers, a painting by numbers minus the numbers, and a floor piece of an opened and partially completed jigsaw puzzle). The shadow-character was, of course, simultaneously the artist, the viewer, the collector, and the figuring of their common need for narrativity and taxonomy. This sign appeared as an absent presence in Bedroom Files, a drawer affixed to the wall in which a miniature bed, slippers, and cardboard furniture were arranged next to life-sized filing cabinet dividers.

In another work, twelve book pages, each displaying elderly glass-coned lamps partitioned into three rows, were lined up sequentially and pinned like insect specimens to the wall. The shining glass hoods of the lamps created a rhythm of colour, like musical notes against the flat green background of the pages. The alignment of the rows, now linked across the twelve pages, explained the title, 3 Green Shelves. This simple idea appeals because it mines a kind of attempted synaesthesia of the visual, aural, and tactile. Given other references in the show to Western late-nineteenth-century/early-twentieth-century museum culture, and attendant notions of the collection , the souvenir, the giant, and the miniature, I was reminded of ideas of cognition and representation which related to shocks and stimulations of the human sensorium-for example, Waiter Benjamin's ideas of the 'dialectical image'1 intended to shock the viewer's cognition, the idea that cinematic images were capable of piercing the body of the viewer immediately and viscerally, and the photographed extrusions of ectoplasmic bodily essences during seances.

In Album, a painted work, a flat canvas was structured within satin-finished white double framing as an object-as-album, yet it remained both a painting of an album and the notation for an album. The piece, however, did not concern itself with those issues of representation which would be the domain of a painter making work like this: rather, this dark mounted form appeared as monolithic and blank as a flat slate and as full as a glued together book-a strange dark Ur-album like a Jungian dream-figure or a colonialist's collection. 26 Brown Things, 'various objects, site specific', included items such as a moulded plastic thermos, an acrylic blanket, and op-shop plates and platters, suggesting a 1970s or '80s St Vinnie's camp-out, staged with loved or discarded goods-an altogether different set of references from the rest of the show. The placement of the imposing, largish construction model house seemed to suggest narrative connections between 'house' and the array of objects, as well as between individual items, concocting a story of domestic yearning or exile. For example, a pronged and slotted wood-like device, perhaps originally a stand for a bowl or pot plant, was placed to one side of the array. Its curves and twists, perhaps moulded at the factory to designate 'artistic' , 'carved', and 'wooden', were like the licking flames of a cold fire. Such a choice, like the placement of the slim brown opera gloves near chunkier items, animated this piece and saved it from becoming another array of objects, another archive or catalogue, or list.

So, what is to save such meta-work-that is to say, work about work, in this case, collections about collections, archives of archives-from becoming its own end-game, pointless beyond a basic affirmation that we like taxonomy, and circular, itself its own unfathomable conclusion? And if, generally speaking, Western collecting can be said to participate in economies of colonial fascination and desire, do collectors of collections have clean hands?

Even aside from fetishistic love, in owning and arranging things in the world, there is a weird proprietorial love which has as much to do with the malleability of that material-its perceived or unarticulated ability to mould itself to fantasies of perfectibility or representability-as it does with out-and-out claimstaking and possession. Mick Carter, who has written on the ornate paradisical creations of late-nineteenth-century women's millinery or the elongations and protrusions in form bred through the art of pigeon fancying ,2 asks, 'What do I mean when I say, "This is my favourite sweater?"' I love that sweater. What kind of affection moves a collector to say, ' ... and this one is my favourite?'3

What I liked about this show was not cleverness or the at-a-remove compiling of an archive of archives, a collection of collections, or a list of lists. This is fine, but only once; after that, we have all already got the point. No, what animated the best work in the show was the idiosyncrasy of appetite for materials-both the acknowledgement of and participation in the whims of desire and an appreciation of the strangeness of the previous lives of things according to their natures and manifold contexts-pictures, tat, found photos, scratched ephemera, durable consumer goods, the musty smells of apothecaries, pristinely disembodied cancelled book pages. To make knowing work is tricky; to make knowing work about the dirty and compromised machinery of certain kinds of desiring, one must be careful. However, no love leaves clean hands. At the very least, we are all desirers of stories and sense, and travelers scrounging remnants of home at the same time as souveniring the far-away; in the process of bending materials to our wills, we find there is nothing as dreamlike as the hard and fast forms of objects.

notes: 

I. Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Waiter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, MIT

Press, Cambridge Mass. and London, 1991, p.250.

2. Michael Carter, Putting a Face on Things, Power Publications, Sydney.

3. In conversation with Mick Carter, University of Sydney, 200 I.