HERE&NOW15

Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth
28 April - 27 June 2015

As another year rolls through the Cultural Precinct at the University of Western Australia, the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery is once again host to its annual HERE&NOW exhibition series. Conceived as a showcase of local West Australian art within a defined area of practice, this year’s ‘HERE&NOW15’ focuses on the expanding material and non-material parameters of contemporary sculpture. Curator Andrew Purvis has selected new works by eight Western Australia based artists, including Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Rebecca Baumann, David Brophy, Jacobus Capone, Loren Kronemyer, Tanya Lee, Shannon Lyons and Alistair Rowe. 

Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Purvis cites American art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss’s 1979 essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ as his theoretical point of departure. Krauss considers the distinct category of sculpture during a period where radical artistic gestures, in the spirit of institutional critique, cemented their place as the contemporary avant-garde in the United States. Informed by movements such as Land Art, Krauss concedes that the tendency of sculpture to freely defy formal categories of representation and medium may, in the future, prove to be far more elastic and expansive than she and her contemporaries can predict. ‘HERE&NOW15’ seeks to ‘expand the expanded field’,1 in the words of the curator, and to capture a localised snapshot of artists who are well within their means to declare themselves sculptors, whatever that designation now means. 

As one enters the exhibition, Rebecca Baumann’s Light Event appropriates the gallery’s automatic sliding doors. Coating the glass doorway with dichroic film and strategically positioned spotlights, Baumann offsets the pedestrian entrance into a simultaneous moving display of translucent colour and reflective surface. I hesitate to term the work an event, or interventionist, as does the exhibition catalogue, but it does offer a simple pleasure not unlike the cereal box joy of The Simpsons 3D lenticular trading cards that change tableau when tilted. 

David Brophy mounted an inverted orange Wanderer: Camping and Outdoor™ tent on the ceiling for an installation titled high line. Gently illuminated from within, to subtle effect in the dimmed space, the work is said to recall a surfer’s discombobulating delight of ‘cutting glass’ on the unbroken face of a wave. A surfer myself, I tend to relate oceanic disorientation to less pleasing circumstances, like being caught on the inside and clutching reef a few feet under. Despite our experiential disparities, and his abstraction of surfing as an upside down two-man tent, with high waterhead rating and plastic coated fibreglass poles, precariously tacked into position, Brophy and I can agree that surfing, much like gallery appreciation and evaluation of sculpture, is a singularly phenomenological pastime.

The Accidental Traveller by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah is a narrow timber room that has been constructed within the gallery. Complete with three brightly lit chandeliers and a black-and-white cat, visitors are invited to step into the contained corridor, one at a time, and close the door on the exterior exhibition space. I watch a group of twenty private schoolgirls descend on the work, kicking off shoes and waiting their turn as the invigilator explains, ‘You just go in and experience the space. It’s a sensory experience’. 

All emphasis is lost as the first enters and squeals loudly as the door shuts behind her. 

‘Yes, but what’s it supposed to do?’ 

‘It’s supposed to make you feel the space’, responds the invigilator, this time with more persuasive hand gestures.

I think, by the invigilator’s standards, I engaged in a non-italicised version of the supposed sensory experience. Still, Abdullah’s work, lightly enhanced by a murmuring background sound component, is comfortingly contemplative. I’m sure, with closed eyes and a little imagination it could accidentally take you to places where practice-based gallery shows could exist as they are, on their own merits, and need not be tied down to moderately relevant seminal texts. Abdullah’s use of sound in his art making draws comparison with Jacobus Capone’s I am my Mother’s Son. Capone’s work is nestled in a curtained room devoid of light and fresh air. 

Cautiously groping my way into the cave, my eyes disown all business relating to spatial awareness and I am abandoned to overwhelming blackness. Anticipation high, I pause for a moment and wait for the art, for something profound. All I hear are sounds of life, as two sets of real-time live-streamed heartbeats belonging to the artist and his mother, emanate from somewhere within the space. Capone’s work contravenes the conventional sense of the sculptural in a disregard for the immediate and tangible, and instead, appreciates a patient sonar-like vision of space and time.

‘HERE&NOW15’ is a fine exhibition, and its attempt to reopen and redefine the boundaries of sculpture is frail but admirable. Baumann, Brophy, Abdullah and Capone are only half of the exhibition’s participating artists. Together their works utilise, manipulate or create architectural fundamentals: a door, a tent, a room, and a corridor. 

Krauss writes that ‘[t]he logic of sculpture, it would seem, is inseparable from the logic of the monument. By virtue of this logic a sculpture is a commemorative representation.’2 Together, the artworks exhibited by these early-career artists, commemorate the sanctity of gallery space that purveys public exposure and critical response. Though they may not discharge monumental adjectives, they sit with the quiet confidence of a cenotaph and know this must only be the beginning. 

Rebecca Baumann, Light Event, 2015. Dichroic film, theatre spotlights, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite, Auckland. Photograph Bo Wong. 

David Brophy, high line, 2014. Two man tent, fixings, 105 x 345 x 300cm. Courtesy the artist. Photograph Bo Wong. 

notes: 

1. Andrew Purvis, ‘HERE&NOW15’, HERE&NOW15, ex. cat., The University of Western Australia, 2015, p.2.

2. Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, October 8, 1979, p.33.