lean towards indifference!

Metro Arts, Brisbane
15 April – 2 May 2009

Curated by the Brisbane-based artist-run-initiative No Frills*, ‘Lean Towards Indifference’ brought together the work of local artists for whom humour and play operate as significant factors within their practice. Installed in the Metro Arts space, the show provided a coherent thread between both the similarities and variances of the artists’ work, which succeeded in painting a portrait of their practices as places where serious ‘play’ and fun can happily coexist. Less obvious on first viewing, but equally important in the context of an exhibition like this, it also showed how these practices can critically explore and question the conventions and assumptions of both the art world and popular culture.

Perhaps the tone of the exhibition was humorously (and suitably) set through its title, the exclamation mark proclaiming a spirited movement which sits in opposition to the timidity of the suggested ‘lean’, and which takes interest in that which generally heralds apathy and a lack of criticality (indifference). Altogether, the complications, contradictions and general absurdity of the title seem to serve as a key to understanding what has brought together both No Frills* as a group, and in turn this group of artists’ works.

Courtney Coombs’ work, the first encountered in the show, subtly set the tone for that which followed, and, arguably, acted as the best reference point for the show. Solo show (2009) is a scale model of the Metro Arts gallery space, complete with a square of foam wedged in the exact same place that the model rested in the real space—the model being placed to block your path in a way similar to how the foam would. At once a meticulously crafted object in its own right, as well as a scaled proposal for her own imagined solo show, Coombs’ model raises a middle finger to both the physically stymied viewer and the curatorially arrested institution. However, more than simply being a bratty gesture, the humour acts as an entry point for larger questions. The viewer is prompted to reconsider their physical relationship to the work and to the gallery space as a whole. And given that this ‘solo show’ (model or imagined actuality) blocks access to itself, and consists solely of a ‘giant’ foam block, the object, and in fact, the entire exhibition, also acts to question art’s history of, and continuing tendency toward, the heroic and the grandiose.

The other works that seemed to capture the spirit of the show were, probably not coincidentally, other artworks from the No Frills* group. Kate Woodcroft’s minimalist rope bridge seemed to wait, candid camera-style, as an invitation to physical play for a wary viewer possibly uncertain of what institutional and social conventions should apply.

Antoinette J. Citizen’s studio situated, sci-fi video self-portraits cast her as an art-cum-teleporting Jedi cyborg, and entertainingly explore the space of imagination that exists in the tension between an artist’s role as both critically experimental and fannishly enamoured with technology and its representations.

Fiona Mail’s (Catherine Sagin’s and Kate Woodcroft’s collaborative pseudonym) work humorously restaged the Tate Museum video profile of artists John Wood and Paul Harrison, in the most low-budget, lo-fi way possible—watering cans and crawlspaces standing in for rain machines and expansive studios. What seems a loving impersonation also gives the viewer pause to re-examine the ecosystem of an art world that gives rise to such a situation.

Altogether, each piece in the show elicited something from the viewer that ranged from a wry smile to the ubiquitous ‘laugh-out-loud’, and more excitingly, engendered a strange oscillation between the two.

It is perhaps in this oscillation, between smiling and laughing, or even between laughing and frowning, that the common thread of the exhibition could be found. These moments of ambiguity, when we are uncertain of whether to laugh and engage, is where the artists have found the opportunity to craft a moment of reflection. On display were quite varied forms of practice and play from which humour could be mined, but through each of them, we were also gently prompted to re-examine both the reasons we were laughing, and the underlying assumptions and constructs at play.