These carefully manipulated photographic prints by Australian artist Tim Maguire capture the simple beauty of one of his favourite subjects.
Tim Maguire first came to national prominence in the early 1980s with confident landscape paintings that reassessed canonical Australian outback scenes. His interest in landscape has since been inflected by his long residence in Europe, but much of his work still revolves around the metaphorical powers of landscape, whether Australian deserts or urban European scenes, as in these oversized prints.
Maguire describes Trees and snow as:
. . . a fusion of both photographic and handpainted elements. The trees I photographed in East Sussex, and the painted snowflakes, were based on photographs of snow collected from various sources at various times. Hence, the more generic title . . . [but] one could say that the reference to location in the titling of recent works reflects a growing interest in the specificity of place.1
Whether Maguire’s works are based on photographic studies of specific locations or incorporate a more generic visual language, they are always submitted to a rigorous process of selective intensification and re-colouration. He ‘begins with a found photograph that he then puts through a computer program, separating the image into three colour components: Cyan, magenta and yellow . . . the photographic image is pulled apart, “handled” and put back together again’.2 Using advanced digital techniques, and deploying extremely sophisticated printing techniques that permit the production of these very large prints on paper, Maguire then works with a master printer in Paris to refine the visual and emotional effect of the final images.
The prints depict, as the titles suggest, ‘trees and snow’. Or rather, that is where they begin. They have since been dramatically enhanced, glorified by the application of digital techniques that allow Maguire ruminate on the processes of perception and image-making. The ceaseless moment of the falling snow and its beauty both attract and fascinate him.
Endnotes 1 Email from the artist to Julie Ewington, 14 October 2012. 2 See Ruth McDougall, ‘Tim Maguire: An uncertain place’, in ContemporaryAustralia: Optimism, [exhibition catalogue] Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, p.143.
This major exhibition features new works and key loans, alongside a selection of works from the QAGOMA Collection, from one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists. The show sees the Gallery transformed into an immersive environment: a ‘memory palace’ in which visitors can discover sculptures and photographs spanning more than two decades of the artist’s practice. Here, we elaborate on two stunning works in the exhibition.
Barnett Newman famously described sculpture as the thing you bump into when backing up to look at a painting, and it is precisely this quality that Michael Parekowhai values in three-dimensional objects: their power to intrude on your space, to take you by surprise, and in the process, draw you into his cosmos of interwoven forms and narratives.
Time, performance, memory and reflection are some of the many devices Parekowhai puts to use in his works, and each, in different ways, reiterate the same point. As a medium, sculpture demands space, of course, but also time. The works themselves might not move, yet they take and demand time from us. They also exist as pieces of time made tangible: the time taken to make, the time we spend looking, and the time when we eventually move past them — from the present into our future while the sculpture remains where it is. By dramatising the temporal, Parekowhai animates and transforms the most ordinary everyday habit of looking.1
While primarily known as a sculptor of large-scale, intriguing works, performance has also been a recurring interest for Parekowhai, in one way or another. Often the references are elusive — a frozen moment caught on camera, or cast in fibreglass — or in objects that conjure the potential for activation. Parekowhai has often brought viewers to a place of stillness and silence, but with He Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story ofa New Zealand river 2011, he flips that equation: this is a work you might hear before you see.
Many years in the making, this glossy red concert grand piano is covered in complex carvings, made in what looks like a traditional Māori style. Dense networks of pītau spirals, spirit guardians and mythical manaia creatures extend from its legs to the top of its open lid, set amid strips and circles of inlaid pāua shell, the light dancing as it glances off these intricate surfaces.2 As with his other works, this piano is a complex weave of associations and translations: in-jokes and snippets of personal biography sit alongside art-historical playfulness and big-picture cultural critique. Its varied and seemingly disparate references include, among other things, Jane Mander’s 1920 novel The Story of a New ZealandRiver and its translation into Jane Campion’s celebrated 1993 film The Piano. But this is also a playable piano that ‘engages both the potentiality and ultimately the actuality of performance’.3
While sculpture tends to sit solid and quiet, sound travels. Indeed, when Parekowhai heard the work played at its debut, he said, ‘no object can fill a room like sound can’, describing how, in the playing, ‘the object disappeared’.4 Notes heard in music act like words, marking the present in reference to what went before and what’s on its way, in a phrase or a score. In a gallery space, on average, visitors spend only around three seconds with a work of art before moving on, but He KōreroPūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a NewZealand river deliberately gets in your way. It carves a path through space, and relies on time to draw you in. It takes time to understand the object making the music as well as its mutability. It is only when the work is played that it is made complete — a loop between artist and object, between performer and audience, is finally whole.
Elsewhere, Parekowhai has also created piano works that simply nod to performance. Perhaps one of the most succinct examples, in which time has been put on permanent pause, is The Horn of Africa 2006. Here, we bear witness to a suspended moment — a seal balancing a grand piano on its nose. The suggestion of an improbable performance is there, yet the possibility of sound and motion is absent, or rather, made still. This calls to mind the separation that exists between artist and audience, ‘the way the performer exists silently at the centre of an event that he can never quite join’.5 A beautifully poised object, the work also demonstrates ‘sculpture’s classic balance between gravity and grace’.6The Horn of Africa is undeniably alluring, and the gleaming brilliance of its surface is perhaps as important as the object that makes it possible. It takes a lot of looking to find the artwork within its glossy black sheen — the dazzle only gets brighter when light hits it — and your own reflection is always getting in the way.7
Reflection is a useful device for Parekowhai and, as Ali Smith wrote in Artful, at one level:
. . . [it] means we see ourselves. At another, it’s another word for the thought process. We can choose to use it to look into the light of our own eyes, or we can be light sensitive, we can allow all things to move over and through us; we can hold them and release them, in thought.8
And this is precisely how The Horn of Africa operates. It’s highly shiny surface is one you can see yourself in, or rather it’s one placed so you can’t not see a vision of yourself in it. No matter where you move, no matter the angle of approach, it is impossible to escape the many reflections shining back, whether acknowledged by others, or by the silence in space when everyone’s gone home for the night.9 One of the simplest and most striking aspects of freestanding sculpture is the way it draws your attention to ‘the many-sidedness of any art experience’, an effect that is amplified ten-fold when the work is highly reflective.10 We approach such a sculpture wondering where the artist stands, and when confronted by our own selves looking, we’re left wondering where we do.
You might say that Parekowhai’s solitary objects carry the echoes and reflections of all the others Parekowhai has made, as well as those he is yet to make, evoking memory impressions for himself and the viewer that zing backwards and forwards across time. Just as time translates our lives into sequence, and into meaning, it is from within this fractured space that we connect with Parekowhai’s work. From another vantage point, Victor Klemperer once wrote of ‘a shatteringly present past’; a nod, perhaps, to the way stories tend to repeat themselves, but always to new ends11 and, as Michael Parekowhai’s practice also suggests, always towards one particular end — the renewal of vision.
1 Briony Fer, The Infinite Line, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2004, p.3.
2 Justin Paton, ‘Weighing in, lifting off Michael Parekowhai in Venice’ in Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, Michael Lett Publishing, Auckland and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2011, p.23.
3 Gregory Burke, ‘The virtuoso effect’ in Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, p.34.
4 Michael Parekowhai, http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/he-korero-purakau-mo-teawanui-o-te-motu-story-of-a-new-zealand-river/5267, accessed 29 September 2014.
5 Paton, p.xiv.
6 Paton, p.xiv.
7 Paton, p.xiv.
8 Ali Smith, Artful, Penguin Books, London, 2013, p.186.
9 Paton, p.xv.
10 Paton, p.xv
11 Quoted in Smith, p.38. Above and previous: Installation view of He Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river 2011 at the Venice Biennale, 2011 / Wood, ivory, brass, lacquer, steel, ebony, paua shell, resin, mother of pearl / 2011-0046-1/A-N to N-N / Purchased 2011 with the assistance of the Friends of Te Papa / Collection: Te Papa Tongarewa Musuem of New Zealand / Image courtesy: Te Papa Tongarewa Musuem of New Zealand / Photograph: Michael Hall
Changes in our media technology and consumption, along with changes in the concept of the art museum itself, have sparked a renewed interest in performance art. Bree Richards explores the issues behind the medium as well as what to make of what remains once the ‘show is over’. Opening tomorrow at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), ‘Trace: Performance and its Documents‘ brings together new commissions with historical and contemporary works from across the Gallery’s Collection.
Performance art has undergone a resurgence in recent years, moving from the margins to the centre of contemporary art discourse. Several key museums have established departments, appointed curators, built spaces for presentation, and are now raising questions about how to collect and preserve performance.1 Alongside this marked increase in the number of works and venues, the medium has been embraced by new audiences around the world in ways that would have been unimaginable to artists working in the 1970s. Think of the effect that Marina Abramović’s endurance work The Artist is Present 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, had on the people who waited for many hours in long lines to sit across a table from her. Captured in a documentary seen by many more people around the world than saw the work at MoMA, the camera recorded the artist as she endured thirst, hunger and physical pain, as well as the responses of visitors confronted by her placid gaze — some wept,2 while others variously vomited, took their clothes off or proposed marriage. Just this year, music mogul Jay-Z presented his own take on Abramović’s work, as the basis for a video for his song about collecting art (‘Picasso Baby’), by rapping for six hours in front of art-world VIPs, including Abramović herself. The viewers’ response, however, was primarily to get up and dance.3
This renewal of interest in performative forms of art is being driven by a number of overarching factors: the abundance of new technologies has had a huge impact on the reception of performance, as it is now easier than ever to document and distribute; a growing trend towards self-surveillance and public sharing via online platforms and social networking; and the rise of mass media and a celebrity-obsessed culture. We live in a time that is essentially awash with ‘performance’, and the massive shifts occurring today are similar in scale to those that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. For the Italian Futurists in 1909, the train, car and plane were the basis for an evolving aesthetic. They were responding to the speed and thrill of these high-powered machines, transporting information and people around the world at unprecedented speeds. Today’s equivalent is the computer, and specifically, the internet, alongside a raft of ever more advanced technologies spinning us ever faster into the future.4
Art museums have also changed dramatically. From places of quiet contemplation, where visitors spoke in whispers in the hallowed halls of art history, they have been recast as active, communal spaces, where large audiences can congregate and, with increasing frequency, encounter art as a physical experience.5 A number of works in the Gallery’s Collection come to mind, which have variously seen visitors whooshing down a two-storey slide (Carsten Holler’s Left/Right Slide 2010), eating a meal with strangers (Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (lunch box) 1998) or listening to improvised music created by families of finches flitting between harpsichord strings (Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s from here to ear (v.13) 2010).
It’s true that, across time, artists have always painted, sculpted and drawn the human form. Yet recent art history has revealed a major shift in the way artists’ perceive the body: as ‘content’ of the work, but also as brush, frame, canvas and platform. Performance has been at the forefront of these developments for more than a century now, during the 1960s and 70s physical bodies were increasingly used to challenge the pretence of traditional artistic representation, and subsequent works were associated with an escape from the conventional museum with its wall- and plinth-based art.6 The fact that this era — which today is considered the ‘golden age’ of performance and conceptual art — is now history, also means the stories surrounding these works are now increasingly being told in contemporary art museums.
Mention of these ‘stories’ brings us to sticky questions regarding presence and absence — the apparent contradiction that lies at the heart of all performative practice. The upcoming exhibition ‘Trace: Performance and Its Documents’ seeks to explore this conundrum. It might seem obvious when talking about performance that ‘you really have to be there’, in the flesh, to get the story right. Yet if performance is only ever about presence, then what are we to make of the many traces it leaves behind?
While the experience of ‘being there’ certainly adds something particular — a subjective and personal relationship between an audience and an artist or performer — it is still possible to experience the work at a remove, whether via a screen, photographic documentation, or even a third-hand retelling of the action. In fact, geography and a lack of access to a time-travelling device mean the material produced for, about or during performance is the only way most of us can ever encounter these works. Historically, live work has become synonymous with its documentation, and in fact this is now a strength of art museum collections.
‘Trace’ draws out the relationship between temporal and embodied practice and its documents, bringing together new commissions with historical and contemporary works from across the Gallery’s Collection. The exhibition includes works by artists such as John Baldessari, Rebecca Horn, Bruce Nauman, Mike Parr, Campbell Patterson, Qin Ga, Carolee Schneemann, Sriwhana Spong, Song Dong, Stelarc, Ai Weiwei, Gosia Wlodarczak, Erwin Wurm, Zhang Huan and more. Spanning an array of cultural contexts and varying forms of performativity — feats of endurance, repetitive actions, shamanistic rituals and vaudevillian acts — the works in this exhibition also range wildly in tone: from the sublime to the icky to the out-and-out funny.
Alongside a key interest in questions of presence and absence, and in the body, ‘Trace’ explores several core themes. A number of works are about the gesture: simple bodily acts, behaviours and everyday situations are transformed into art, and the artists’ or others’ bodies are both object and subject. Another group of works deals with ritual and transgression in performance practice, where the body is treated as material with which to challenge social expectations, often in rituals that sought to perform a cathartic function. From here we turn to works that examine body boundaries — between the inside and outside of the body itself, and between the individual and social environment. Elsewhere, artists seek to extend the body through prosthetics, exploring alternative states of consciousness, transforming it into something more than human. Others take performance itself as subject, and so too, performing the subject — to investigate issues of representation and identity. And finally, there are those that deal with the echoes of performance. In these works, the body is often notably absent, yet the works carry a psychological imprint, the suggestion of a physicality after now, and are as much about that which remains as the original act involved in its creation. Whether recorded images, texts, objects or other remains, ‘Trace’ gives presence to the tangible residue of a performance. Alongside the works themselves, these remnants testify to the relevance of ephemeral work in the art museum: it appears, disappears, then reappears in various guises.
1 RoseLee Goldberg, ‘The performance era is now’, Art Newspaper, issue 240, 9 November 2012, <http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/The-performance-era isnow%20/27883>, viewed 8 October 2013.
2 There’s even a dedicated Tumblr: ‘Marina Abramović Made Me Cry’, <http:// marinaabramovicmademecry.tumblr.com/>, viewed 8 October 2013.
3 Emma Allen, ‘The rapper is present’, New Yorker, 11 July 2013, <http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/07/jay-z-marina-abramovic-pace-gallery-picasso-baby.html>, viewed 21 October 2013.
4 RoseLee Goldberg, interview with the author for das Super Paper, no.26, Sydney, March 2013, p.34.
6 Tracey Warr, ‘Preface’, The Artist’s Body, Phaidon, London, 2000, p.11. ‘Trace: Performance and Its Documents’ opens at GOMA on 22 February 2014.
Embodied Acts is an exciting program of performances, events and actions taking place in and around the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) during ‘Contemporary Australia: Women’.
Involving a diverse group of artists whose practices criss-cross between disciplines and interests, Embodied Acts foregrounds site-specific, performative and ephemeral forms of art.
Each of the artists, in variously humorous, critical, and sensual ways, presents works that offer new vantage points on the familiar worlds we inhabit and negotiate. This focus on the performative seeks to activate visual and auditory senses and shake up taken-for-granted notions about life and art.
Primarily taking place over the opening weekend (Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 April), Embodied Acts will see Rebecca Baumann collaborating with a pyrotechnician to send sheets of candy-coloured smoke high into the sky; ‘Performance Fee’, an endurance event by Brown Council, where you can purchase a kiss from one of the artists for $2; Hayley Forward and Jess Olivieri with the Parachutes for Ladies intervening into the Gallery spaces with sound and movement, working with GOMA’s own Gallery Services Officers and with other staff members on a one-off event that riffs on Busby Berkeley choreography from 1940s musicals; and Soda_Jerk’s multi-channel performance lecture on the temporality of cinema and its relationship to death.
Every night during the exhibition you’ll be able to see a projection on the GOMA glass façade, visible from the Maiwar Green, showing Kate Mitchell swinging from a chandelier; and during July, Lauren Brincat will perform ‘High horse’, a one-off tambourine sound happening, incorporating the video and sculptural objects she has made for the show, in collaboration with percussionist Bree van Reyk.
If you aren’t able to visit the Gallery for the performances, the works are being documented and will have an ongoing presence in the exhibition — as videos, as performance remnants, as YouTube videos or other web resources. This testifies to the continuing relevance of ephemeral work in the contemporary art museum: it appears, disappears, then reappears in various guises.
We would love to see you at the ‘Contemporary Australia: Women’ opening weekend program at GOMA, for more details about the artists and works in the exhibition, check out our website.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art stands and recognise the creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.