19 January - 5 February 2011
Curated by Shae Nagorcka + Julian White
Opening Night | (Day of the week, Month spelt in full, time 6 - 8pm)
Mari Adams, Sam Barbour, Fiona Boyd, Zoe Croggon, Jessica Honey, Adele Macer, Esther Stewart + Alice Wormald
Debut is in its seventh incarnation. Every year since 2005, a curator nominated by the Blindside committee visits the graduate exhibitions of Melbourne’s major art schools and invites artists to exhibit early the following year. This years curators, Shae Nagorcka and Julian White, have selected group that, if we are being overly simplistic, could be described as formalists. However, the methodical and prescribed practices displayed reveal a deep emotional understanding of the often-overlooked subtleties of our everyday experiences that, taken en masse, make up our lives.
Formalism: strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms.
Far be it from this writer to tar a whole group of artists with the mannered brush of formalism, but considering the current group of Debut artists, it certainly provides us with an interesting avenue of discussion. Interesting because, in this show, surface is important. And as the audience’s primary point of contact with the work, surface should be important. Like it or not, a beautiful, well-crafted thing will be popular, even if it lacks function or intent. However, in art, how much can we derive from purpose or intent? Consider the work produced byEsther Stewart, Folding. Primary colours, shiny steel hinges, strange geometry “ Stewart cleverly locates our appreciation of function and twists it into the malfunctioning. Parts that we recognise as being for working and doing – hinges, clean formica tabletops – are repurposed into components of geometry, of gently recurring shapes and colour.
This collision of function and appearance continues in the work of Zoe Croggon. Combining cartographic ephemera with kinetic sporting imagery, Croggon’s photocollages represent a strange sort of alchemy – arms become a shallow gradient and desperately twisting knees become a panoptic surveyors map. The fluidity with which Croggon has managed to combine these images pronounces the unease they generate: the viewer recognises parts (and the functions of those parts), and they fit in a way that is perfect, yet deeply unnatural.
So what should be said of this Debut group then? That they merely exist in the aesthetic, destined to be glorified set designers in othersâ€™ wealthy lives? Probably not. Rather, the seeming aversion to the crafted, to the finished, of recent years appears to have given way to a curious balance between pure aesthetics and the mechanics that generate them. Consider Sam Barbour’s work, A Victory for Uncertainty. Initially, it presents as a work planted in the aesthetic – hypnotic waves of triangular black and white wash over twin TV screens, joined by a plank of steel. However, the direction of these triangles coincides with the weight loading of the steel. Forever forced up and down, A Victory for Uncertainty operates like a moebius strip, perpetually and infinitely cantilevering, condemned to be almost and never falling apart.
Considering movement of aesthetics and function within these works, what then can we make of Jessica Honey’s works like Louise and Lydia? Buffed, burnished and bearing a curious resemblance to Michael Douglas in Wall Street (even the girls), these terrifying little children are a curious inversion of previously discussed mechanics. Here, function (the function of being a person) seems to be cast off, for the pure, winning aesthetics of wealth and class. These yacht-owning children are possibly the most successful exercise in formalism here; they exist on what seems a purely aesthetic level and the superbly rendered expressions of disdain on their faces seems to reinforce this. They know it’s all surface, really.
So can a compelling argument be drawn from this text? Probably not. But in lieu of that, what of the relationship between formalism and more cerebral, or personal, interpretations of art? Possibly that those working and learning within and around art right now are less preoccupied with labels than the rest of us. Also that what we consider to be formal aesthetics ‘pure surface’ often possess a dynamic interior beyond that analysis. Function can be beautiful, right?
- Shae Nagorcka, 2011