Dirk Yates

Speed Bump Systems: Visual Tools for Locating the Viewer
Metro Arts, Brisbane
8 – 25 August 2007

There were many keys available to decode the installation of painted constructions, artworks, floor markings, wall signs and readymade objects drawn together under Speed Bump Systems, not the least of which was its title. But Dirk Yates’s exhibition resonated most strongly for me once the entire space had been circumnavigated (according to his direction) to arrive in its central space. Markings underfoot suggested the viewer had been paced, located and decoyed, choreographed in a way akin to movement through a sports ground or shopping centre car park. Social mores too were suggested by these floor markings, reminders of spaces where the line between public and private is fine and easily transgressed.

In this space a mirror work faced off against an outline of the Australian flag—for Yates a country is the ultimate collection of people in a conceptual or artificial organism. The opposing mirror, heavily gridded, included a text, almost invisible, which read ‘the infreedom of the whole’.

At the time of writing, some two months later, the work seems prescient in many ways, although in the sense of predicting xenophobia it is equally instructive to look to the past. The citizenship test introduced on 1 October for new Australians seeks the imposition of common knowledge over the conceptual organism that is any country.

While this, like much of the other work in the show, required the viewer to move across and within it to fully see its text or meaning, this space was the most developed and fully resolved in its interest in capturing and interacting with the observer. It also, as the final work in the exhibition, built on the collective experience.

An artist, Yates is now studying architecture, and this is expressed clearly in his interest in spatial dynamics. But this requirement of the viewer to undertake an interactive dance with an artwork is symptomatic of a new mood in contemporary art (also tapped into by novelist William Gibson, in his 2006 novel Spook Country).

The reference to the speed bump is designed to flag this focus on space rather than on the works per se. Yates’s abiding interest is in what the viewer might bring to the work while also dallying extensively with the history of art, ideas and his own visual codes. Mirror works make the point that the experience is tailored to the individual and that the viewer, not the artist, is the catalyst for the interpretation and understanding of the works.

Readymades, like the shovel at the entry, titled Positive Absence – Dig It?, describe Yates’s interest in art historical antecedents with a lively desire to communicate meaning. Other works, which play optically to reveal and conceal words, similarly engaged the viewer’s intellect and physicality.