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Beauty , boards and boredom

Jena Woodburn

Three distinct categories of work exist within Scott Redford’s exhibition I’ve got my spine/I’ve got my orange crush. Yet though the shockingly pink Surf Paintings, the almost abstract photographs of the Urinal series, and the Dead Board video works are segregated, they are thematically interrelated by their references to homosexuality and in the use of the surfboard motif. These also mark them as a continuation of Redford’s previous distinctive explorations.

The large Surf Paintings are made, like surfboards, of resin-coated Styrofoam. Painted onto this foam base are sketches of Gold Coast scenery: high-rise buildings and palm trees, all in evocative silhouette. The smooth, highly reflective works initially seem all impenetrable surface, and, struck by their size and intense colour, the tendency is to regard them as a group and at a distance. But beneath their shiny seals the painted foam is grainy, like layers of multicoloured sand, and a closer look at the fine washes of pigment reveals their painterly qualities.

Redford has boldly—brashly?—interspersed these works with pieces that are similarly highly-coloured but otherwise blank, except for attached surfie-logo-like stickers, or text: “Our goal must be nothing less than the establishment of Surfers Paradise on earth.” Secret Surf Painting gradates horizon-like from pink to purple, accompanied by a plaque that proclaims: “The content of this painting is invisible; the character and dimension of the content are to be kept permanently secret, known only to the people of Surfers Paradise.”

The surfboard is, for Redford, linked to homosexual sex: his catalogue interview with Chris Chapman recounts a story about a well-known surfer who strapped boys to his favourite board before having sex with them. While this link may be personal, Redford also works with a more commonly recognised gay sex location in his Urinal series. The dark and gleaming close-up photographs present this quotidian hardware as surprisingly beautiful, the scratched surfaces burnished by the flashlight and coated in streams of water trickling in skittery rivulets down the dented, rusted facades.

The contrast of the brightly-coloured Surf Paintings with the dark and impervious metal of the urinals seems to pit the glitter of the tourist strip against the secret confines of the public toilet. The Surf Paintings are almost iconographic, potential mottoes of Gold Coast publicity. Possessing an entirely different glamour—not to mention comfort and hygiene—the appeal of the urinals is far more private. Each Urinal work’s title is followed by a location—(Surfers Paradise) or (Fortitude Valley)—and, so noted, they seem to function as mementos, fixing an encounter firmly in history like a scribbled phone number or snatched Polaroid.

The surfboard motif is continued in the video works Dead Board I, Dead Board II and Dead Board III (a “dead” board being one that no longer floats). In the first a surfboard leans against a parked ute; written on it in large red letters is the word “DEAD.” A young man takes a handsaw from the Ute and cuts the board in half. As it collapses, he stands back and regards it for a moment, before glancing toward the camera as the shot fades. Dead Board II shows 2 men cutting up surfboards and spraypainting “DEAD” on the boards. The excruciating Dead Board III features bikini-clad models—all perfect skin and limbs and hair—performing the same task in the more upmarket setting of a Gold Coast hotel room. In the catalogue Redford explains the girls were chosen to replace the boys in order to please his (straight) video collaborator. This last video is painful to watch: the girls are uncomfortable and horribly inexperienced at wielding the saw, coming fascinatingly close to severing fingers or scraping expanses of smooth tanned flesh. After they finish their chopping and hacking they stand and leave, admirably concealing their relief. The floor of the empty room is left littered with sorry and broken boards, not unlike, in the setting of the expensive hotel, prone lovers exhausted by their exertions.

Unlike the finely executed Surf Paintings and Urinal photographs, the Dead Board videos are an inelegant case of point-and-shoot. Redford was assisted by different artists on all 3 bodies of work, but the disappointment of the Dead Boards cannot be blamed solely on the shortcomings of the video. Rather, they have the off-putting sense of being made on a whim, and as such demonstrate the considerable distance that often exists between concept and manifestation, a distance that must be negotiated with care. Unfortunately, in this context the accompanying catalogue validation becomes almost humorous, if not objectionable. The repetitive screeching of the handsaw possibly does illustrate the “concept of modernism as an endlessly recycled paradigm.” But there’s a difference between “a play on the idea of boredom” and just boring.

I’ve got my spine/I’ve got my orange crush, Scott Redford, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, March 28-May 4

RealTime issue #55 June-July 2003 pg. 34

© Jena Woodburn; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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