Fiona Connor: Wallworks

Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne
18 July - 20 September 2014

Fiona Connor’s practice has consistently centred on the unpacking and deconstruction of art’s institutional, architectural and conceptual spaces. Wallworks was Connor’s first solo exhibition in Australia and followed a residency at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA). The institutional support provided through the residency not only served as a mark of recognition of the artist’s practice, but also provided raw material for the content of the exhibition.

Connor’s early projects involved the duplication and re-presentation of a gallery’s architectural elements within the gallery. The scale of work made for previous exhibitions has ranged from the monumental Props (2008), which replicated the entire staircase leading up to Auckland’s Artspace, displayed in its collapsed state on the gallery floor; to the subtle minimalism of Old Buildings (2007) which created the illusion of raising Gambia Castle’s gallery floor by thirty centimetres. Arguably her most famous work, Something Transparent (please go round the back) (2009) saw her repeat the glass façade of Michael Lett Gallery fourteen times–the evenly spaced facsimiles receding one-by-one into the gallery and rendering it inaccessible. A common theme across these works is how they highlight the experiential aspects of the gallery in and of itself. Beyond Connor’s skilful documentation and fabrication, the white cube as construct, and our experience of it, becomes the work. In this way, it is no surprise that Connor’s practice is often discussed in terms of Institutional Critique. By drawing attention to how the gallery functions to shape our experiences, Connor causes us to confront and consider how it operates as an apparatus.

In more recent projects (Mount Gabriel, Ruby and Ash (2012), Bare Use, (2013)) she has quoted vernacular, often quite utilitarian objects, such as drinking fountains (a nod to the Michael Asher fountain at the University of California, San Diego), signage and other street furniture, presented as sculptures inside the gallery. Although these works might suggest a move away from the gallery in terms of her subject, once again, the role of context in framing art is central. The fact that these ready-mades simultaneously exist as contemporary sculpture inside the gallery, and as seemingly value-less, everyday furniture outside of it, also challenges how we demarcate the boundaries between art and non-art.

Wallworks was not the first time Connor has worked on the re-hang of an institutional art collection. Certainly Untitled (Mural Design), presented at Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2012, could be viewed as a precursor. For this, she curated a series of rehangs of Colourbox, a collection show consisting of large scale abstract, neo-expressionist and colour-field paintings, that were displayed on mobile racks and rearranged at various intervals throughout the exhibition. Wallworks was much more than a simple rehang of works from the Monash University collection. A range of works from the collection was chosen from disparate locations around the University’s campuses. Connor presented these works as sculptures by hanging them on replica freestanding walls cast in the likeness of the original sites across the University. The nine works included paintings by John Olsen, Noel Counihan and others sourced from offices, libraries, hallways and stairwells. Walls were reproduced in recto and verso and included details such as windows, library return slots and bathroom hand dryers. As is typical of her practice, the works maintained a high degree of verisimilitude. Surfaces displayed scuff marks, stains and copies of original artwork labels. The edges of the sculptures were exposed, revealing an imitation of the internal structure of the original walls. In similar vein to Louise Lawler’s photographs documenting artworks in domestic and institutional contexts, Wallworks raised questions about the institutional practices of collection and display. The selected paintings were not what you would ordinarily expect to see in MUMA or any other contemporary art space. No obvious common theme or criteria for the selection of works was apparent, and given Connor’s practice, one could speculate that these choices were as much about the aesthetic qualities or reproducibility of the supporting architecture as the individual works themselves. 

Connor’s sections of wall appeared as though cut from their original location and lowered into the gallery by crane. The sense of dislocation suggested by these sculptures immediately drew our attention out of the gallery. The focus here moved beyond the white cube to a broader institutional context, specifically the relationship between MUMA and the wider University of which it is a part, and Monash’s art collection, which itself pre-dates MUMA. In contrast to the timeless neutrality of MUMA’s gallery spaces, the campus walls that Connor quoted spoke of history and location, reflected passing styles of decor, changing building technologies and the expanding education needs of post-war generations. By bringing these paintings, the campuses and the gallery together through her sculptures, Connor performs the conceptual gesture of making the relationship between MUMA, the University and its collection concrete, so to speak.

Fiona Connor, Wallwork, 2014. Installation detail. Courtesy the artist and MUMA, Melbourne. 

Fiona Connor, Wallwork, 2014. Installation detail. Courtesy the artist and MUMA, Melbourne.