Many thanks to artist and writer Rebecca Gallo for her words.
13.04.16, the latest group exhibition at Surry Hills’ Home@735, features an impressive selection of artists from across a range of disciplines and geographies.
A collaborative video and sound work by Tina Havelock Stevens and Cat Hope plays across screens in the living room, hallway and booth. The booth, a new, under-the-stairs black box, admits two viewers at a time to sit side by side, acting as a catalyst for intimacy between strangers. It is a fitting mirror for the video, where the two artist-musicians are shown in split-screen. Sydney-based Havelock Stevens’ drums are set up in a rustic kitchen, with pots and pans suspended from hooks and open shelves of crockery stacked behind her: different forms of percussion. Hope is based in Perth, and plays bass in a similarly domestic space, where instead of a massive bass amp in the foreground, we are presented a decorative wooden commode. These domestic settings make odd backdrops for the industrial noise the pair create. Together, Havelock Stevens and Hope create mesmerising sounds: flowing and crashing, soaring and pulsing, smashing and rattling. There is something personal about viewing these home performances, and it speaks to the way in which a lot of collaborations are made nowadays: online, from each artist’s bedroom.
Most Australian mainstream media images of the Middle East, certainly since 2001, depict war and oppression, so a certain paradigm shift is required when looking at Kern Hendricks’ photographs of young people in Iran today. Young Woman on the Caspian Sea, for example, depicts a lifejacket-clad young woman on a boat at night. The image of nocturnal boatloads of asylum seekers is one that the mainstream media confronts Australians with on a regular basis. On looking more closely at Hendricks’ image, it becomes clear that this woman is in fact quite glamorous – far too well groomed to be making a desperate escape – and probably out for a leisurely evening cruise. Other images document boys and young men in rural, urban and domestic environments. There is a rich history of cultures being documented by outsiders, and a parallel trajectory of people telling their own cultural stories. It will be interesting to see if Hendricks manages to avoid anthropological pitfalls of romanticisation and paternalism as he continues this photojournalistic project. The images in 13.04.16 are an interesting counterpoint to presumptions about Iran that Australians would likely bring to the table after years of media saturation and acclimation.
Presented in the entrance hallway and up the stairs, Teo Treloar’s drawings are rich in detail and nuance. In each image, a male figure in a collared shirt attends to some ambiguous procedure. Part schoolboy, part bureaucrat and part scientist, the figure is always looking with intent, but the object of his gaze remains frustratingly elusive. It is projected onto a wall beyond the frame; seen through an opaque prismatic viewfinder; shrouded in black or washed out in white. What we are left with is the immediacy of our own act of seeing. The detailed folds of each shirt, creases of each hand and the cross-hatching that makes up each background create a tight, anxious field, attesting to hours of painstaking labour. Much like the figure in the image, the archetypal ‘artist’ works on obscure projects, unintelligible to an audience until extracted from the mental world and made visible. Even then, the labour often remains unseen: a realist painting or drawing is traditionally considered ‘successful’ when all evidence of the artist’s hand is obliterated.
Lining the upstairs corridor is a series of Tarik Ahlip’s cast plaster reliefs propped on stained plywood ledgers. Geometric, quasi-architectural forms of arches, steps and arabesques rise and sink across rectangular slabs of white plaster. The material appears at once silken and hard-edged, with the decisiveness of architecture meeting the freedom of abstraction in the highlights and shadows of shallow relief. The ledgers appear bureaucratic, recalling decommissioned departmental in-trays or schoolhouse writing boards, however the works’ poetic titles suggest otherwise. Great House snorted and sprayed the liar with beer and Thus, her Breast was delineated by Two Palms, offered, as it were, read like excerpts from an oddly-translated biblical text. Ahlip’s combination of neatness and simplicity with the suggestiveness of illogical forms creates both tension and flow, making for a satisfying aesthetic experience.
Titles also play an important role in the work of Amber Boardman. They confirm what her paintings suggest: that ours is an absurd world. Like cryptic crossword clues, Boardman’s titles provide hints without giving everything away: Familial Triangulation Field Day Event; Middle Aged Selfie Hand Knitted Sweater; Neck Brace Perfunctory Hug. Boardman touches on neuroses, the torture of personal grooming and the outrageous awkwardness of human interaction. Her paintings quite viscerally embody this discomfort and ickiness in the sticky quality of paint and the grotesqueness of distorted faces and bodies. Suddenly make-up is women painting their faces with sticky, flesh-coloured oils; attaching synthetic strips to make eye-hairs longer; and streaking lips with garish, viscous red. This parody at times veers disturbingly close to reality, but rather than taking a stab at her subjects, Boardman seems to enjoy them in a childlike way, putting together a picture of what it means to exist in a body.
13.04.16 is a trip through a range of conceptual territory with some very accomplished artists, told through video, photography, drawing, painting and sculpture, all contained within the walls of a single terrace house.