4 x 4

Vernon Ah Kee, Jewel McKenzie, Kim Demuth, Annie Hogan
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
12 June – 12 July 2003

The premise of 4x4 was the selection of four emerging artists by four curators: the work of Vernon Ah Kee was curated by Michael Snelling, Jewel McKenzie by David Broker, Kim Demuth by Julie Walsh and Annie Hogan by Ruth McDougall. These were presented at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) as four solo shows rather than a curated group exhibition. The presentation of work ranged from survey style showings to exclusively new bodies of work, and from the exploration of political and social spaces by Ah Kee and McKenzie to the more interior and private spaces explored by Demuth and Hogan.

Vernon Ah Kee’s exhibition consent presented a new body of work that replays the black and white text format of his earlier works and strongly references a sloganistic poster style. This aesthetic is enhanced by the use of vinyl and acrylic on board and the uniformly poster size of each work (180 x 120 cm). The formal simplicity of Ah Kee’s work belies the subtlety of humour and language games he employs to speak of his experiences as an Indigenous man in contemporary Australian society. These text works function on the level of word play, exploiting the literalness of words, their dictionary definitions, literary associations and historical connotations, to expose a double-play in their meaning. Ah Kee finds and exposes the hidden ‘aust’ in words such as faust, holocaust and caustic, he finds the ‘aust’ implicit in the explicit showing of ostracism (austracism). Ah Kee’s humour reveals a razor sharp, dark edge—admiration for his language games becomes more complicated when these plays suddenly become serious. These works demand a thoughtful response to a sometimes off-hand simplicity.

A consistent if overcrowded chronological survey of Jewel McKenzie’s work also addressed political and social manifestations of power through limited formal means. Through a series of subtle and ingenious interplays McKenzie negotiates her position in relation to seemingly rigid political and social spaces, those of corporate culture, modernism and art institutions. McKenzie focuses on the pinstripe as a signifier of power—a fabric she uses as a short-hand for corporate culture, but also with a more obtuse relationship to the work of Frank Stella. In the Backdoor Project (2002) McKenzie measured and recreated the backdoors of twelve art galleries. It was a nice touch that here the recreated IMA backdoor was presented next to the original backdoor. However the project’s commentary of ‘no access’ was turned on its head as McKenzie was welcomed with open arms through the front door of the IMA. This idea of gaining (illicit) access is paralleled in McKenzie’s work My Trojan (2003) with its implications of welcoming the enemy, a pinstripe covered trolley with ominous bumps, lumps and handles which was positioned in the middle of the space.

In seeing you seeing me seeing you Kim Demuth presented a mini-retrospective of objects from various bodies of work. In contrast to the other spaces, one entered a darkened room in which sparsely placed objects, most lit from within, created eerie glows. These objects were scaled to human size and were placed at head height—they were negotiated in relation to bodily experience. Much of Demuth’s previous work has featured the dissected or dismembered body, artificial limbs housed in boxes that become coffins for an inferred self. The construction of these objects forms a kind of sentence of materiality, of references, of perceptual plays that often end in a question mark, or a punch line. The title of the exhibition highlighted an endless loop of seeing. In the work Inside Out (2003), a box constructed with double-sided mirrors, the reflection of the viewer’s body progressively disappears as he/she moves closer, the possibility of seeing deferred by a game of visual obstacles.

This exploration of light and interiority was continued in the photos of Annie Hogan. In the series ‘discolouration’ and ‘access’, Hogan has photographed the interiors of Chicago hotels and apartments. These continue Hogan’s earlier photographs of domestic interiors, however the focus here has become much closer, the personal made abstract. These spaces are rendered uninhabitable—the flattening out of space as an image replayed in the camera’s focus on the surface of the wall. These private spaces are displayed and made public yet remain anonymous. Focusing on the interior of the interior, Hogan’s images highlight blemishes, wrinkles, cuts, cracks and peeling on the skin-like surfaces of the walls. Washes of light and subtle luminosities are created throughout the images and create folds in the walls, form created by light and shadow, the eye grazing lightly on the surface. Ideally this surface of interior walls is seamless—Hogan shows us a surface with blemishes, scabs and wounds created by time and presence, by both usage and neglect. These images lead us to the memory of the interior, the marks and traces of time, neglect, wear and tear—marks of both habitation and vacancy.

The process of selecting artists for 4x4 seemed one of choosing rather than curating. With a one-to-one artist/curator ratio, the dialogical space of these exhibitions seemed rather closed. However the strength of the individual artists’ work provided justification for the choices made.