Art Movement: explorations of motion and change

Curator: Ricardo Felipe
Paul Bai, Tom Burless, Daniel Crooks, m3architecture, Robert Pulie, Sarah Ryan, John Tonkin
UTS Gallery, Sydney
27 June – 28 July 2006

In ‘River Sections’, the catalogue essay for ‘Art Movement: explorations of motion and change’, Gabrielle Finnane begins with Heraclitus’s claim that ‘the universe is incessant change, or becoming’.1 An appropriate point of departure for both the catalogue essay and this review, Finnane goes on to mention Heraclitus’s most renowned statement: ‘you could not step twice into the same river’. Like the world around us, a further reading of Heraclitus’s statement reminds us that in fact rivers remain the same over time and it is the waters that change. The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that some things change and that makes possible the continued existence of other things.

Similarly, an exhibition space brings to each exhibition the history of every other exhibition that has taken place there. The curator is faced with the challenge not only to design his/her exhibition in a manner best fitting the works to be shown, but also with consideration of what has been ‘done before’, what can be done differently.

How then to solve the problem of UTS Gallery’s notoriously difficult structure? By using simple strategies—like installing m3architecture’s artwork as the glass wall separating the gallery from the foyer, and displaying Daniel Crooks’ Elevator No.4 (of people entering and exiting an elevator) on a plasma screen facing the foyer. It was the first thing you encountered upon exiting the actual elevator and without having to enter the exhibition space. Ricardo Filipe’s exhibition design was simple, yet beautifully effective. Further, it extended beyond the immediacy of solving the gallery’s space issues, it also positioned the works so that the viewer could engage with them individually and still take in the exhibition as a whole.

Filipe also made clever use of the multi-layered title, nicely grouping the artworks without imposing an unnecessary thematic. The works seemed to be selected by ‘type’ or ‘kind’, rather than by any overriding theoretical concern, resulting in a small survey that articulated the exhibition’s sub-title: ‘explorations of motion and change’. Interestingly, rather than any significant exploration in social or cultural change, each work was grounded in a more physical concept of motion, resulting in the exhibition’s overall effect which was a visceral rather than an intellectual experience. The movement of individual works was felt with the body and, in some cases, in contrast to the body’s natural motion in time.

As with the space’s inherent layers of history, so too do the media of photography and the moving image bring inescapable readings of time, space and motion. Would it have been more interesting for Felipe to have included more static media in his investigations of motion, change and ‘contemporary states of constant flux’?2 Certainly the inclusion of m3architecture addressed this, becoming one of the artworks that most successfully engaged with the exhibition’s premise, along with Daniel Crooks’ Static No.9 (a small section of something larger), in which the artist used re-configurations of video timecode to abstract simple bodily movements (time as technique). Similarly successful in terms of the theme were Robert Pulie’s performance video Task for no pencil sharp enough, where the absurd repetition of an impossible task invited us to consider the impossibility of our actions created through our own actions, and John Tonkin’s Time and motion study (holding on, letting go)—which asked the viewer to play, physically, with time and time’s passing.

Vivian Sobchack has explored the phenomenological distinctions that separate photographic, cinematic and electronic ‘presences’.3 Although written more than ten years ago, Sobchack’s ideas hold some currency in the context of this exhibition. Perhaps because of Filipe’s selection of media, perhaps because of the physicality of the experience the exhibition produced. Sobchack states, ‘Although relatively novel as “materialities” of human communication, cinematic and electronic media have not only historically symbolised but also historically constituted a radical alteration’. Using a chronological model to outline her topic—beginning with photography, and then moving through the cinematic, to the electronic—this model also lends itself to a consideration of Felipe’s exhibition—beginning with m3architecture’s static wall and Sarah Ryan’s lenticular photography, moving through to Paul Bai’s, Daniel Crooks’s, Robert Pulie’s and Tom Burless’s video installations, before finishing with John Tonkin’s interactive installations. Sobchack’s aim is ‘to figure certain (microperceptual) aspects of our engagement with the technologies of cinematic and electronic representation and to suggest some ways in which our (microperceptual) experience of their respective material conditions informs and transforms our temporal and spatial senses of ourselves and our cultural contexts of meaning’. In this sense, the collective of ‘Art Movements’ made the viewer conscious of their own presence in relation to the motion of the artworks. The seemingly static artworks offered movement through their visual trickery. The video works offered alternative experiences of time and space and operated, for the most part, outside of any liner, narrative perception of the cinematic experience. Tonkin’s interactivity enabled viewers to control their own experience of the work’s time and space and their place in it.

Although not a discrete reading of the exhibition, it is interesting to consider why the curator selected the media, and also how as a collective, the group explored motion and change. Was it Felipe’s and the artists’ intentions for the viewer’s experience to be a lived, bodily one rather than an intellectual one? Perhaps this is where the multi-layered meaning of ‘Art Movement’ came into play?

Paul Bai, Yellow Monochrome, 2003. DVD still.

Robert Pulie, Task for no pencil sharp enough, 2005. DVD still from looped DVD. 10:38 mins. Courtesy of the artist and Mori Gallery, Sydney.

notes: 

1. Finnane, Gabrielle, River Sections, catalogue essay for ‘Art Movement: explorations of motion and change’, UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2006.

2. The complete sentence, found in the inside cover of the exhibition catalogue: ‘Video, lenticular photography, sculpture, interactivity and architecture are employed to explore contemporary states of constant flux’.

3. Sobchack, Vivian, ‘The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Cinematic and Electronic “Presence”’, in Materialities of Communication, eds. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer, Stanford University Press, Standford, 1994, pp.83-106.