27 February - 16 March 2013

Opening Night | Thursday 28 February, 6-8pm

Sarah Bunting

The works in “Incessant Ruthlessness” are a highly subjective attempt to process the transitive, traumatic nature of recent history via painting and sculpture. Isolated subjects, whose gaze is often absent or invisible, perform inexplicable tasks, combining the melancholic with the blackly humorous as a reflection of our current political state. By disengaging from the authority of representation or history, the paintings are free to act as windows into parallel worlds, undermining what is mistakenly viewed as rational or even comprehensible.

IMAGES | Sarah Bunting, Untitled, painting, 2012| Images courtesy of the artist. 

Paranormal Activity

Through painting, Sarah Bunting creates spaces where objects and outsiders arrive, unexpectedly, to be questioned. In the exhibition Incessant Ruthlessness, a form of the timeless present is created—here, nothing escapes the past, the future is a darkling dream, and the proverbial headspace is full of schema for how to uncover the ridiculous, in life and in politics.

The rooms in Bunting’s paintings are filled with absurd arrangements of objects borrowed from history. Planes of dripping colour are the only implications of an architecture for this in-between zone, where objects such as propaganda posters, scientific contraptions, recording machines, pipes, weapons and musical instruments make their unlikely appearance. Within these rooms, all objects rest in suspension between the internal pictorial space and the external space—cosmic or historical—from where they have arrived. The slippage between the two zones occurs without rules: what might appear, and from where, is at all times uncertain. Here, in considering French philosopher Jacques Rancière, Bunting refuses any hierarchical investment of the objects that appear in her paintings, and instead populates the pictorial space with a symbolic equality that only increases the viewer’s curiosity.[i]  In this sense, the viewer must engage with the artist’s absurd and oddly humorous assemblages, wondering how these elements came together to populate this parallel ‘present’.

As Bunting’s objects collect in a spatial cabinet-of-curiosity, the figures in Incessant Ruthlessness are equally perplexing. The subjects of this world haunt us with their facelessness, isolation and unbreakable concentration. These loners exist among the compendium of objects, sometimes engaged with them, appearing to have been summoned from the same ‘outer space’ of the painting’s frame. Their busyness is comparable to the subjects found in the work of Michäel Borremans or Adrian Ghenie, as they avoid the viewer’s gaze at all costs, instead performing tasks that are indefinable and possibly unimportant. Here, Bunting’s approach to figuration (or more aptly, the “Figure”) is Deleuzian, isolating her subjects and therefore avoiding overt narrative.[ii]   As it is a ridiculous yet compelling task to link the objects from this strange place, it remains equally difficult to know where these subjects have come from—each isolated, summoned to the painting and its politics by a seemingly paranormal activity. Perhaps the ruthlessness in this case comes from the artist herself, as she leaves her figures alone among the clutter, protected from the absurdity only by the occasional hazard suit.

From this absurdity we find the politics of Bunting’s paintings is actually, more precisely, the trauma of a contemporary one, relayed in a phantasmagoria of images from pop and political culture. It is here that painting’s ability to fantasize allows the traumatic reminder of past politics to chuckle among the odd connections between things, times, and ideas. As artist and psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger proposes, contemporary art is “itself exploring this zone between the Imaginary and the Real”[iii], and it is with this in mind that Bunting summons the bona fide fear, wonder and discovery of Western culture into a contemporary moment of senselessness: a senselessness in how politics is executed but also received. Here, it is painting that has the strength to conjure an indistinguishable time, a world that runs parallel to both the past and the present, while establishing a laboratory for our future phantoms.

Laura Skerlj is an artist, writer and current candidate for the Master of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

[i] Ranciere, Jacques, The Politics of Aesthetics, London, New York: Continuum, 2004

[ii] Deleuze, Gilles, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004, p36

[iii] Pollock, Griselda, “Aesthetic Wit(h)nessing in the Era of Trauma”, EurAmerica 40, no. 4 (2010): 834