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new growth, new directions

josephine skinner: primavera 2009, museum of contemporary art

Autonomous Improvisation V.1 Autonomous Improvisation V.1
Wade Marynowsky
Since its inception in 1992 Primavera has become one of the most highly anticipated shows in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s yearly program, offering a selection of works by Australian artists under 35—a promise of thing to come. This year guest curator Jeff Khan, known for his artistic direction of Melbourne’s emerging and experimental arts festival Next Wave, scattered around the city from underpasses to art spaces, has (not surprisingly) focused on interdisciplinary and expanded practices that engage social connectivity.

But selecting artists for a major art institution exhibition who “propose a departure from fixed studio practices and exhibition-focussed styles of art making” (Jeff Khan, catalogue essay) can be as problematic as it can be progressive.

One of the highlights of Primavera, the performance project Pie (2009), by collaborative duo spat + loogie (Kat Barron and Lara Thoms) with Willoh S Weiland, serves as a key example. Dressed as waiters on the MCA lawn spat + loogie invite whoever is game to sit with various curators who have been recruited for the task, for one to one 10-minute discussions. The duo offer inspiration by providing a ‘menu’ of accessible and witty topics that invite probing questions around the nature of contemporary art, including “Is skateboarding art if you slow it down?” and “Are these tourists making video art?" Offering participants the opportunity to throw a cream pie in the curator's face at the conversation's conclusion, spat + loogie ensure that each pays the price for stuffy art-speak or meaningless waffle.

But blink and you’ll probably miss it. Taking place just five times over the course of Primavera and with only a few tokenistic cream pies and some photographs in the gallery, Pie raises the wider issue of how performative or ephemeral practices can sustain a satisfactory and much needed presence within the institutional sphere. The beauty of Pie is that it values its participants and engages art goers and random passersby alike, but it's disappointing that the majority of Primavera visitors will simply miss out.
Pie, Primavera 2009, MCA Pie, Primavera 2009, MCA
spat + loogie

In contrast Christopher LG Hill and Andy Best both explore the social act of art making via collaborative projects that result in substantial gallery exhibits. Hill investigates ideas of value and exchange through collaborations with his art peers that often generate sculptural installations, such as Clique (2009) in Primavera. Clique consists of a democratically arranged ring of modified, almost anthropomorphic chairs interspersed with subtle sculptural assemblages. As if standing in for their makers they reflexively symbolise the collaborative process and open dialogue that created them, while Best’s practice revolves around the documentation and promotion of a semi-fictional art community called Oom—a small group of young trendy artists (his friends) who get sloshed and smoke spliffs, make naive paintings that appropriate cult symbolism, play in the woods and sleep in caravans. His installation in Primavera includes grainy mobile phone photographs, access to the Oom website and, as the centrepiece, the Oom Unit (2009), a small caravan made of logs, housing an unmade bed littered with peppermint tea and sesame snaps—think “Tracy Emin quits the London scene to become a gypsy.” However, the artists' installations, symbolising the ‘aftermath’ of their social connections, aren't as compelling as the territory they explore conceptually and performatively.
Oom Unit, Primavera 2009, MCA Oom Unit, Primavera 2009, MCA
Andy Best

Wade Marynowsky and Michaela Gleave offer more satisfying experiences. Marynowsky’s Autonomous Improvisation V.1 (2007), re-casts Sydney’s performance art community into a B-grade horror movie spectacle. With digital candelabra, warped sound styling and ominous lighting, he improbably combines automated computer technology and 19th century gothic kitsch. As individual improvisations appear in stilted bursts and in randomised sequencing across three screens, surreal narratives emerge that create an entertaining and provocative metaphor for ‘community.'

The outer appearance of Michaela Gleave’s Raining Room (Seeing Stars) (2009) belies the presence of a romantic and bewitching phenomenon that surprises you once inside. There, continually falling, harvested rain drops glisten and flicker like diamonds in the dark. But beyond simply housing a saccharine illusion the exposed nuts and bolts of the external architecture and visible rain-making apparatus ask us to consider the entrenched infrastructure that distances urban dwellers from a connection with the natural world.

The remaining works in Primavera are comparatively unassuming but reward contemplation. The result of Christine Eid’s research into taxi-drivers in Lebanese-Australian communities is wall mounted rear view mirrors and taxi lights bearing drivers’ names. While this verges on the literal, the accompanying short film, Transit (2006), is a sensitive and emotional account of the experiences of the artist's father as a cab-driver.

Kinetic artist Ross Manning creates everyday automata from playful junk assemblages that produce alluring and colourful visual effects from refracted and mediated light. His confusingly complex yet lo-fi constructions wryly invite us to question our reliance on the ‘invisible’ technologies that permeate modern life.

Rather more serious in tone is West Australian artist Roderick Sprigg’s installation Mechanical Nuisance (2008), an investigation of masculinity within isolated farming communities. Using discarded safety mechanisms from agricultural equipment, Sprigg has constructed a dining table that darkly resembles a sort of torture chamber. Together with video projections of himself and his grandfather at work, Sprigg’s installation sombrely suggests that despite isolating and arduous work, these men feel happier out in the fields than in their own homes.

Jeff Khan’s signature on this show is clear in the strong thematic association between works, playful cross-contamination (between Hill and Gleave) and the somewhat risky inclusion of performative and non-autonomous art forms. The show proposes an exciting new future for Primavera as a platform for dynamic practices—both artistic and curatorial. While overall the work in Primavera 2009 offers less of the wow factor than past shows, this community-minded grass-roots Primavera is more of a grower.

A longer version of this review will appear in RealTime 93.

Andy Best, Christine Eid, Michaela Gleave, Christopher LG Hill, Ross Manning, Wade Marynowsky, Roderick Sprigg, spat+loogie with Willoh S Weiland, Primavera 2009, curator Jeff Khan, MCA, Sydney, September 9-November 22

Images are courtesy the artists and the MCA

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg.

© Josephine Skinner; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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