TITLE IS IMPORTANT
3 – 20 August 2016
Curated by Laura Couttie
Opening Night | Thursday 4 August 6 - 8pm
Performance by Jacqui Shelton | Two half-hour readings/murmurings | Thursday August 4, 6:30pm + Saturday August 6, 12.30pm
David Attwood, Catherine Clayton-Smith, Jarrah de Kuijer, Eitan Ritz, Jacqui Shelton, Gemma Weston, Sean Whittaker
In galleries and exhibition spaces, we are shown completed works and resolved outcomes. But what happens to the projects that don’t make the cut; works that are discarded or rejected; ideas that are dismissed and not pursued?
By revisiting and re-examining artworks, ideas or propositions that have been left, either literally or metaphorically, on the cutting room floor, the artists in Title is important. have been invited to explore potential, self-censorship and resolution in their artistic practice.
IMAGES | Jacqui Shelton, be hopeful that we can become what is not required of us, 2016, live reading of 11 full Moleskin notebooks from the years 2012-2016 | Images courtesy of the artist.
TITLE IS IMPORTANT.1
My notebooks are a chaotic jumble of random thoughts, scrawled notes to myself, names of artists and artworks, to do lists, shopping lists, quotes pulled from texts I’ve read, half-baked ideas for exhibitions I’ve never pursued. Some notes to myself, such as the underlined “Get Twitter!” or “work on personal brand” have never been followed through beyond that initial act of putting pen to paper. Others are propositions for projects that have been realised already (such as this one) or may be in the future.
In galleries and exhibition spaces, we are most often shown completed works, ideas that have been pursued and fulfilled, resolved outcomes. The epitome of this is the ‘masterpiece’, being a work that is considered complete and not lacking in any sense. Virginia Woolf once explained a masterpiece as “something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it’s there complete in the mind.”2 The cult of the masterpiece is such that processes of value judgment, critique, self- censorship and revision inevitably form a crucial part of an artist’s practice. But what happens to the projects that don’t make the cut, works that are discarded or rejected, or ideas that are dismissed and not pursued? And how does an artist decide what to pursue and what to abandon?
In 1979, British video artist David Critchley made a work entitled Pieces I Never Did, revisiting and staging a series of potential artworks that existed only as notes in his scrapbook. The work in its original state consisted of three screens: one in which the artist, directly facing the camera, simply explained to the viewer a series of ideas that had never been completed; and the other two screens which showed the artist acting out these potential ideas. In his artist statement Critchley explained why some works are pursued and some works are not:
The decisions made in choosing to do one piece of work rather than another are complex and must relate to many different expedients, such as money, political climate, pressures within an area of work from a formal point of view, deadlines to meet, and so on. Often, without consciously taking these factors into account, some works are left as notebook jottings while other, similar works are fully realised.3
The ironic act of creating and exhibiting a ‘finished’ work that celebrates unfinished ideas may have been cutting edge at the time, but this practice of self-awareness and self-critique are popular fodder in contemporary art today. Explaining the enduring relevance of Critchley’s piece, Clive Gillman wrote that, “...at its heart there remains a compelling glimpse into the mind of an artist wrestling with the core of his practice.”4 The candid honesty with which Critchley exposes and revels in the struggle of artistic process is certainly where the strength of this work lies. And undoubtedly, the reason this work still resonates is that the same struggle is still, and perhaps even more so, relevant today.
Taking inspiration from Critchley’s piece, the seven artists in this exhibition have been invited to revisit and re-examine some of their own artworks, ideas or propositions that have been left, either literally or metaphorically, on the cutting room floor. The responses are evidently varied, from those who chose to pursue works or ideas that they had previously abandoned, to those who created new works responding to their working process. What they have in common is a keen exploration and awareness of the ways in which potential, self-censorship and resolution operate within their own practice.
The first work you see as you enter the gallery space is Jarrah de Kuijer’s #ideas_never_made (2016). A large, vertical screen (an enlarged smart phone display) plays a scrolling loop of the artist’s own Instagram feed. The posts displayed are propositional works, images of mock-ups for artworks that were never made. This concept, displayed here in a gallery context, is one that de Kuijer has been revealing publicly through his Instagram account over the past few months. Social media, specifically Instagram, can be viewed as a form of public boasting: a public forum for people to show off a better, happier, more successful version of themselves. De Kuijer explains the reason for beginning this project: “I like that showing my ideas that never worked out, for whatever reason, subtly went against what most people expect from Instagram.”5 Before existing in the realm of social media, these ideas were (and still are) a much larger list in the artist’s Notes on his phone, and in a Microsoft Word document. De Kuijer explains, “I like ideas, having them and keeping them, even when they are bad. I like keeping them because sometimes there is something in there and you can’t get rid of it.”6 And so these ideas have become themselves works of art, taking Critchley’s confessional of failure into the twenty-first century.
Another work that explores the latent potential that lies in uncompleted ideas is Jacqui Shelton’s be hopeful that we can become what is not required of us (2016), which takes as its medium a series of the artist’s notebooks from the previous five years (2012 being significant as the year of Shelton’s first solo exhibition). When shown previously at DUDSPACE in 2014, Shelton individually framed the notebooks and displayed them stacked against the wall. The frame, a designator of a completed work or ‘masterpiece’, signified the notebooks as works of art in themselves, while also prohibiting the opening of the notebooks and therefore the potential for the ideas within to be revealed. For Shelton, “The value of latency is in the ideas you don’t realise exist yet and that can’t be put into words or even into form... The unsaid, the unsound, the potential for happening that has not yet been discovered.”7 For this exhibition, Shelton has exhumed the notebooks from their frames, placing them in a pile on the gallery floor. Their latent potential is activated through a performative reading, held on two occasions during the exhibition. Like a conversation with no beginning or end, the artist and a collaborator simultaneously read aloud from the notebooks at random. At other times the notebooks lie dormant on the gallery floor, closed yet full of untapped potential. Again, by exhibiting the notebooks themselves, Shelton elevates ideas to artwork, embracing the possibility and potential of unrealised propositions that lie within the pages.
For a water finds its own level (2016), Eitan Ritz revisited some previously unused fragments pulled from the process of creating other, finished works. The title of the piece comes from a saying that refers to either seeking equilibrium or falling into old habits and comfortable routines. For Ritz, both meanings resonate with the process he undertook in making this work, in both maintaining and resisting his usual process. When making a video work, the artist usually films many takes in order to capture a scene that properly illustrates his idea. The edits left on the cutting room floor (or in the computer’s trash bin as the case may be), can be viewed as alternate outcomes or solutions. These cut-offs, or unused scraps of imagery and sound, are woven together with text from the artist’s journal. By revisiting and utilising the literal outtakes from previous video works, Ritz has created a new, complete resolution in the form of a digital collaged tapestry.
Similarly, Gemma Weston has taken a previously completed piece and re-worked it into a new context for this exhibition, in Begging with Scraps (Self Portrait) (2016) and When All Else Fails (2016). An important stage in Weston’s artistic practice involves the compulsive creation of A4 drawings, which are produced in an attempt to find visual manifestations for difficult feelings, such as anxiety and paranoia. The repetitive drawings involve multiple layers, erasures and re-workings of previous ‘failed’ drawings, in an ongoing process of self-censorship, recycling and revising that Weston frequently uses. The hero drawing was previously exhibited in a series that, on reflection, the artist considers unsuccessful. The idea was to rescue the individual image from the cutting room floor and reimagine it. The original drawing has been scanned to create a series of prints, or imitations, and the original then sprayed over, erasing or concealing its potential, while at the same time being used to create new work: destroying or sacrificing the original in favour of an expanded sequence of copies. Hung in a series of three separate paintings, connected by facial appendages, the piece reads as an anxious, abstract self- portrait. Weston is interested in the concept of turning failure into something productive, as much of her drawing works are about the anxieties of self-representation and public appearance: “The simultaneous and conflicting desire to be seen and to disappear, and the pressure to maintain a consistently articulated personality, or personal ‘brand’.”8 This discomfort fits with the vulnerability of presenting something publicly that wound usually be self-censored.
‘Wow’ is a positive exclamation, evoking surprise, pleasure or admiration. Catherine Clayton-Smith’s painting, wow (2015), was made one year ago yet never exhibited because she perceived it as a failure. The mix of oil stick on top of oil paint caused a cracking in the surface of the paint, rendering it unsuccessful. However, the painting stayed in the artist’s studio, over time taking on an originally unintended meaning. Clayton-Smith’s practice explores the multiplicity of subjective interpretation and meaning inherent in an image. Responding to the overwhelming nature of constant advancements in technology and a proliferation of visual imagery in contemporary society, she pulls images from a variety of sources, using and recontextualising fragments
in order to create new relationships and connotations. Like Weston, Clayton-Smith often makes smaller test works before starting a large one, or to tease out ideas, while also
SEAN WHITTAKER | Work Notes, 2015 | Collated phone notes, sharpie.
using strategies of repetition, deconstruction and layering to create paintings that oscillate between representation and abstraction. Clayton-Smith wanted to exhibit wow and even considered reproducing a more successful version of it, but eventually came to the conclusion that “this work (despite the flaw in physical condition) has already done what it needed to do.”9 In the modest scale of the piece and the perceived failure of the paint application, wow is successful, specifically because it ironically undermines its own declaration.
David Attwood’s work, Jules (2016), is a readymade copy of the DVD Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge (2008), a high production pornographic action-adventure movie, based on the Hollywood Pirates of the Caribbean saga. With a budget of $8 million, Pirates II is said to be the biggest budget pornographic film of all time. Attwood was interested in highlighting the irony of spending big money on special effects for a pornographic film, whose intended audience is watching for the sex and not for the narrative. He conceived the idea to produce an edited version of the film, removing all the sex scenes and saving the superfluous scenes that contain only bad dialogue and plot points. In searching for the film online to download, the artist found that someone had beaten him to it. A ‘clean’ version had already been made and was available to watch on Dailymotion.com. Surprised at this discovery, an ironic example of art imitating life, and discouraged by the un-originality of his idea, Attwood pursued the idea no further. Having tried again to find the clean version of the film, it seems to have disappeared from the Internet, prompting Attwood to revisit the proposed work. Instead of presenting his own edited version of the film, Attwood has chosen to exhibit the DVD cover, in order to highlight concepts of authenticity and ownership that the process raised for him.
Sean Whittaker views his practice as an on going series of possible solutions. At a previous exhibition at Bus Projects in 2015, Whittaker included an A4 page listing ideas that he had written down throughout the year. Compiled into a self-styled narrative, the list featured thoughts, notes and observations that both accompanied and influenced his practice: some became resolved artworks, and some never made it beyond the conceptual stage. Whittaker explained that, “featured alongside my work in multiple installations, taking a slightly different form each time...it has essentially become a work in itself.”10 Like Attwood, Sean Whittaker has chosen to revisit an idea that was previously abandoned, the result being Upon Reflection (2016). Using circular convex security mirrors purchased from Bunnings, the type often used in car parks or worksites, he has installed them strategically around the gallery space with the intention
of allowing the viewer to see the entire space at once. The mirrors are always visible, yet have the potential to blend inconspicuously into their surroundings. In the context of this exhibition, it does not matter whether this ambitious work succeeds or fails in its purpose. The security mirrors, a device for viewing blind spots, can be seen as a framing device for all the works, and for the practice of reviewing and reconsidering previously unseen ideas.
Ultimately, this exhibition is about failure. Or, more specifically, it is about the simultaneous capacity for failure and the potential for success, for as Lisa Le Feuvre rightly states, “Paradoxes are at the heart of all dealings with failure.”11 As a premise for an exhibition, there is an element of vulnerability at play for the artists, in exposing works that they had previously considered unworthy, or potential ideas that had not been followed through. While contemporary artists have been known to make transparent the artistic process, there can still be a reluctance to open oneself up to the vulnerability of failure. But regardless of success or failure, the process continues. Or as David Critchley once said, “after all, there’s always the next piece...”
- LAURA COUTTIE