P.S.S. Pleasure Seeking Syndrome

Unplacements Between: Majena Mafe and Susan Buret
Noosa Regional Gallery
2 February – 4 March 2007

In a dark little space at Noosa Regional Gallery, to a soundtrack of ‘I Want Candy’, a video projection shows jerky images of a coiffed, Hepburnesque woman in pearls and gloves. She gracefully opens a white gift box but finds only layer after layer of pink tissue paper. She tosses the paper into the air, her anticipation gradually turning to frustration. This narrative is interspersed with flashes of high-glamour magazine fashion and perfume ads, and single words—HUMBLE, NEED, DELIGHT—superimposed over crumpled tissue surfaces. Piles of pink tissue fill the gallery space, and an empty chair faces the screen.

Pleasure Seeking Syndrome presents as a straightforward parody of consumer desire and the merging of the art object and the commodity. This critique has roots in the art of Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach in the late 1980s and early ’90s and familiars in contemporary art such as Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury and US artist Tom Sachs. However, the process behind the exhibition is its point of difference. P.S.S is the product of collaboration between Majena Mafe and Susan Buret, two established artists with distinctive practices, yet there is no visual or stylistic tension in this installation. The artists’ books displayed alongside the installation (three slim pamphlet-style books and a large pink volume containing notes and ideas) point to a collaborative practice that is fluid, unpredictable, passionate, and even fun.

From the books and the artists’ floor talk, it is obvious that this is an unusually productive collaboration. Initiated in 2006 and operating under the title Unplacements Between, Mafe and Buret’s process involves them bringing information and ideas to each other candidly and without fear. They have introduced unpredictability and surprise into their working methods, employing snatches and fragments of language, list-making, invented words and an investigation of glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Their big pink artists’ book has unbound pages that can be rearranged by viewers. Most pages buzz with text, with the pleasure and potential of language and its generative powers and fluidity. The artists’ use of images is similarly cavalier, hijacking and playing with any sign to make ‘explorations at the edge of the known or acceptable’.1 Neither artist has a predefined role in the partnership, nor allocated skills. Both insist on learning to handle new materials and techniques as required.

The strength of Unplacements Between resides within this generative, shared thinking rather than in the physical art works displayed in P.S.S. Paul Carter has written eloquently about the inability of the critic to experience or explain that very stuff, the creative research that occurs within and is of a specific collaborative process. For Carter, critics ‘remain outsiders, interpreters on the sidelines, usually trying to make sense of a creative process afterwards, purely on the basis of its outcome. They lack access to the process and, more fundamentally, they lack the vocabulary to explicate its intellectual character’.2

Unplacements Between not only resists conventional criticism but opposes its intent. While some critics may still be anchored in the myth of the autonomous author with an accrued body of writing and authority, Mafe and Buret are not interested in the convergence of their own practices. Instead they create a frame of collaboration in which information is accreted and dispersed rather than the artists’ authority. While the critic may be embedded in the capitalist economy of the art world, Mafe and Buret operate in a gift economy, sharing skills, ideas and information with each other and with other collaborative teams such as the international Dispatx Art Collective (www.dispatx.com). In comparison with Mafe and Buret’s creative process, critical writing seems closed, predictable and opportunistic.

The artists live possibilities of making that are joyful and unconstrained, revelling in the multiplicity of tongues, the ambiguity of images, and the war cry ‘No borders, no hierarchy, no ownership of knowledge or information’.3 Aware of this strength, Mafe and Buret have written a short statement on their process and plan to write in more depth. If in future this creative process was made even more obvious in the gallery space, as well as in accompanying discussion and writing, it would strengthen the viewer’s understanding of the true work of Unplacements Between: the ‘intellectual adventure’ of shared making.4

notes: 

1. Written artists’ statement from floor talk, 18 February 2007, npn.

2. Carter, Paul, Material thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2004, p.xi.

3. Written artists’ statement, op. cit.

4. Carter, Paul, op.cit.