Wednesday 17 February – Saturday 5 March 2016
Curated by Xanthe Dobbie + Caitlin Patane
Opening Night + Performance | Thursday 18 February, 6–8pm
Join us for the Opening Night celebration with Performances at 6.30pm and 7.30pm by Tonahalfbish
(Annabelle Hayes + Bronte Berenger).
Alexander Dathe, Isabelle de Kleine, Aaron Hoffman, Ruth O’Leary, Danielle Reynolds, Joshua Stevens, Tonahalfbish + Sean Whittaker
In its twelfth year, BLINDSIDE’s annual project DEBUT brings together a dynamic selection of Melbourne’s Fine Arts graduates from RMIT, VCA,
and Monash University.
DEBUT XII presents a collection of the most outstanding works from emerging artists spanning performance, installation, print and screen.
Image | Ruth O’Leary, Peaches, ft. Sanné Mestrom's 'Weeping Woman', 2015, video still | Image courtesy of the artist.
At first glance, failure seems to be the flavour of Debut XII, Blindside’s 12th annual survey exhibition of new artistic talent. But look a little closer and you’ll find that this is a failure lined with hope - in many cases an assertion of disbelief in failure as a negative. This year’s selection is curated by Xanthe Dobbie and Caitlin Patane, and comprises eight works by recent graduates of Melbourne’s three major Fine Art institutions: RMIT, MADA and VCA.
Whilst the methods and messages of the respective works differ vastly, the exhibition’s collective voice speaks volumes about the feeling of emerging from the safety of the institution and into the great unknown. In what, for most, are graduate works reframed for a gallery context, these artists carefully negotiate the difficult territory between student and practicing artist, aspiration and self-doubt, failure and success. Perhaps Danielle Reynolds says it best when she speaks of ‘enduring a dystopia with the hope of a utopia’.
Reynolds’ contribution to the exhibition is a mixed media installation titled A cheeky glimpse of a vacuous hole. A robotic vacuum cleaner crowned with an artificial fern moves awkwardly about the space while an LCD screen plays a video of a rock on a string banging into the walls and floor. An iPod mounted on the opposite wall plays Vanessa Amorosi’s Shine on repeat. The motivational pop anthem, whose refrain “Everyone you see, everyone you know is gonna shine” was originally written as “Everyone you see, everyone you know is gonna die”. As Reynolds reveals, Amorosi was encouraged to change ‘die’ to ‘shine’ to be more uplifting. This contrast highlights the tension in Reynolds’ work: a light-hearted approach to the ultimately tragic sense of life.
Sean Whittaker takes a similar approach in his video installation Half Full Extent, a tongue-in-cheek examination of the the role of aspiration in contemporary culture. A television screen shows a section of wall that a disembodied roller paints into. The colour of the paint in the video - a vivid, almost Yves Klein blue - corresponds to a matching stripe of blue paint on the actual wall where the screen is mounted. The looped nature of the video makes the task of the roller Sisyphean in the sense that it never succeeds: a tragic figure so caricatured it becomes slapstick. In Whittaker’s own words, the work ‘probes the push/pull relationship of effort and reward, questioning the importance of both whilst simultaneously commenting on the nature of optimism and pessimism and where the two intersect.’
The notion of intersection is important to Alexander Dathe, who shares an interest in the spaces between things. His work Bunch of Bananas consists of a bunch of green bananas placed on a broken concrete title on the floor of the gallery. Naturally, the bananas will ripen and discolour during the course of the exhibition, making the work a durational study of the contrast between synthetic and natural. This, according to Dathe, creates a point of intersection ‘between formal harmony and a state of entropy’.
Similar concerns are at play for Joshua Stevens, who says that his Wicker Work ‘operates in the grey area between tasteful and putrid.’ Referencing mass-produced decorative picture frames, Stevens’ handwoven large-scale wicker imitations which house the faces of women from the original stock photos draw a comparison between the fabrication of sentiment and the assumed authenticity of the hand-crafted.
Aaron Hoffman’s work Untitled is gold-coated latch which is installed in a small area of wall. Rendered useless by the installation, the latch nonetheless creates a sense of anticipation and growing anxiety, as if the wall will open up at any point, thereby shifting expectations of the functions of both object and space. As Hoffman notes, ‘by intervening in the function of objects, I challenge their fate in relation to open and closed systems, redirecting their course to visually agitate the uncanny.’
Ruth O’Leary also intervenes in the function of objects. The set for her video Peaches is Sanne Mestrom’s public sculpture Weeping Women, which resides in the Ian Potter Sculpture Court outside the Monash University Museum of Art. This sculpture captivated O’Leary because it is so reminiscent of modernism despite being intended as a feminist statement against modernism. By building walls around the public sculpture and thus making it into her own set, O’Leary questions what ‘public’ means. That the sculpture takes the form of ‘weeping women’ is significant - the female body is seen as public property, and therefore a place where moral judgements are passed, as in the scene where her character Peaches is pregnant and smoking, and therefore ‘bad’.
Some of these ideas are echoed in Isabelle de Kleine’s ‘moving portrait’ Untitled Collage #1 which the artist describes as ‘a figure in a constant state of change, yet constrained to a singular act’. The digital video collage presents a fragmented moving image of a woman slowed down to a tenth of its original speed such that, at a glance, it might be mistaken for a still photograph. This reflects the way in which reality can be distorted and misinterpreted by glitches in our perception.
Glitch is also the key for Annabelle Hayes and Bronte Berenger, whose work as performance duo TONAHALFBISH operates in the gaps between sense and nonsense. In their own words, they are ‘two girls forging their path, paving the way with crushed dust and sand.’ TONAHALFBISH will perform Yoyo at the opening of Debut XII, with residue of the performance to remain as documentation for the duration of the exhibition.
With a quiet confidence and a good sense of humour, Debut XII asks that you reconsider notions of failure and success that oppose each other. On the whole, the artists involved in this year’s exhibition seem much more interested in places where the two overlap, and the discoveries that can be borne of these places.
In the words of Samuel Beckett, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better’.
- GEORGIA ROBENSTONE