Saturday, 1 April 2006

Sculpture Death Match

Today we drove down to Werribee Park Mansion to look at this year's finalists in the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award. It's always nice there even if the thought / sight of a sixty-room stone squatter's castle built on stolen land makes you feel a little bit sick. I never go inside the building, but the grounds are very nice. On the flood plain below the farm is the remnants of an old orchard - we picked some apples, but left the pears and quinces alone. I also got to see some Rhinoceri!! Zebras!! And a Giraffe, though a very long way off.

Here is this year's first prize winner, by Alexander Knox:

It's called Death of a White Good. It mightn't be too apparent from the photograph, but it's the wreck of a plane. There were pieces of whited metal scattered across the grass for quite some distance behind the nose.

I am not about to type out all of what the artist wrote about this work, but he invokes the Picturesque, English chalk horses cut into hills, "sculls" (note anachronistic spelling), shipwrecks, Locke, the Sublime, and Romanticism.

This all suggests to me that if you want to win a major art prize in the near future, stop reading poststructural / postcolonial theory right now, and start boning up on eighteenth century aesthetics: but to cover yourself, make sure your work also alludes to some largish contemporary preoccupation of a political nature. Last year's winner fits that brief too, in rather a different way.

I thought other finalist works were more deserving of the first prize (which is $80,000), but at the same time I can see why this one was singled out.

More pictures under the fold.

Several white sculptures made the final round this year. This is by Adrian Mauriks.

I liked this one a lot. It's marble.

Another big theme this year was sculpture that moved in the wind:

This one is made of 1600 shiny supple fibreglass rods planted Advanced-Hair style into the ground, it waved and flickered and clacked like a hitech field of long grass.

Some of the entrants struck me as cartoonish, in good ways and not-good ways...

Not-good. Dale Cox does these Mickey Mouse-headed excavated warriors over and over and over. It's a joke that's a bit funny the first time but gets tired very quickly.

These totems, by a group of Jilamara Tiwi carvers from Melville Island, reminded me of a group of superheroes, the Fantastic Four or something: it's a combination of their defiant stance and the way they don't seem to be all in the same dimension or reality - some humanoid, some animal, others something more hybridised or abstract.

This is the only acknowledged collaborative work in this year's field.

Far too much Issues Art for my taste, this year.

The boat is made of 30cm rulers, with names, presumably of emigrants by sea, pokerworked onto their backs. The little box frames each contain a bit of map and an origami shirt folded from an Indonesian banknote. Message: 'Don't be nasty to boat people!'

Then there was the artistic interpretation of an immigration detention centre.

There are eighteen gates inside this thing and you're invited to walk through it, which we did. It is meant to freak you out. The children in front of us didn't realise this however, and were having a ball squealing and laughing and jumping and slamming the gates and rattling the fences. Dorian even spontaneously struck a few hip hop poses and demanded I take his picture, making sure to get some of the coils of razor wire into the frame.

The artist (Mathieu Gallois) probably means well, but the experience the work provides is token. It can't really be anything else. I find it arrogant beyond belief to imply that walking through some gates can give you an insight into what detention is like for the detainees. Anyway, I don't want to go on about it. I'm not saying the whole subject of Australia's immigration policies should be off limits, just that this facile co-optation of an incredibly difficult experience isn't an adequate response. I don't think it even worked as a distinctive reshaping of spatial experience.

Walking up to this work, we thought it was perhaps intended as yet another commentary on unofficial modes of travel to Australia:

But circling round to the other side we saw this:

And stooped down and went inside. In there, you're subject to an incredible, vertiginous, Alice-In-Wonderland deformation of your sense of space - what's up, what's down, where the vertical is, how far or near the walls are, it's all strangely confused. No chance at all of communicating that by photographs, you just had to be there.

In the end, I thought the sculptures which did most of their work by manipulating the viewer's experience of space were the most successful.

These aerial things had theremins inside, and squeaked when you walked underneath.

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Ampersand Duck said...

Wow, wish I was there. Looks great.

The little origami shirt one means that it was made by the guy that won the National Sculpture prize last year? (sorry, I'm typing this somewhere without memory prompts)
and I'm also guessing the theramin pieces were by Hannah Hoyne? Maybe not, but she did a very similar piece in last year's show with a gold astronauty thing (I only know because we used it for the Art School Xmas card!)

Lucy Tartan said...

You're right about the shirt / boat sculptor: Glen Clarke.

The theremin forms are by Nigel Helyer. Hannah Hoyne's gold astronauty thing is kind of similar - it was in last year's show. I liked it.

Rob said...

Dammit, now you've made me wish I was in Melbourne again :-) Alas, I won't be back there for at least another year.

Looked great and I really wish I could see the 'Alice In Wonderland' thing and experience it. Oh well, at least I've got the Grand Canyon not that far away :-)

Scrivener said...

Looks like a fun, interesting experience. Love that boxcar turned on its end.

Mel said...

The sleeping bag one looks very Ricky Swallow (using hard substances to mimic soft ones). I also kind of liked the animal moulds. The container one looks amazing - wish I'd been there.

I feel embarrassed for the sculptor who did the one that says "Suicide".

St Antonym said...

How extraordinary. Your photos are very good, and the commentary is well-informed. I found myself agreeing with you.

My favorite piece was the one with the upside-down row of shark-fin looking thingies (third from last). Most excellent.

The Fantastic Four was cool too, and the winning entry is quite nice (without all the eighteenth-century jargon, which rather mars it).

A nice walk, on what seems to have been a nice day.

Lucy Tartan said...

The winning entry was much, much better than this photo shows. Up close you could see how intricately and well it was put together. And that in turn got you thinking about the paradox of actively making a wreck rather than arriving at one after a process of destruction.

As far as artists' statements go, that one wasn't bad at all. It didn't annoy me, it wasn't obscurantist or pretentious, and it had actual content. If I had any objections to it they would only be that it collected and suggested a bunch of associations which maybe the work wasn't entirely up to the job of encompassing. This is not exactly a criticism, because that irresistible island / shipwreck / Tempest / Crusoe motif is probably bigger than the significatory capacities of most art that invokes it, these days.