St Paul st Gallery AUT

Past Exhibitions

PX Snow Falls In The Mountains Without Wind

Whitney Bedford, Richard Bryant, Amelia Harris, Dil Hildebrand, Colin Lawson, Saskia Leek, Patrick Lundberg, Michel Majerus, Fiona Macdonald, Isobel Thom and Barbara Tuck.

Curated by Jan Bryant

20 September 2007 - 12 October 2007

PX SNOW FALLS IN THE MOUNTAINS WITHOUT WIND (installation view), 2007.

Snow falls on mountains without wind is the second part of PX.

In trying to understand the difficulties of painting, and what it might be to be a painter today, or, rather, what it is to work in the midst of painting's continual presence, like a child alone, picking away beside her bed at tiny cracks in the wall, sizeable fault lines open up. And these lines, which begin imperceptibly as invisible fissures but seem to diverge, chasm-like, chart the same ground: they declare to be about painting's (principled) way of being/acting in the world. And since we are speaking of lines, we find here lines bifurcating - some become lines of flight along which new ways of thinking proliferate, while others pull us back to earth, to sedimentary thinking (the difference between unbounded hope and the despair of conformism, between lightness and heaviness).

The lines that structure the first part of PX, A purposeless production / A necessary praxis — gestural, expressionistic, irresistibly magnetic — noisily coalesce around the wounded corporeality that haunts modernism. Snow falls on mountains without wind speaks also of the complications, confusions, and contingencies of what it is to paint, and what it is, then, to receive painting, but it is trying to pose a different relation. The lines here are measured by their weightlessness and in their capacity to form certain kinds of sensibilities... humorous, multiple, fleeing, doubtful, scratching, decorative, chimerical, folding, irresolvable, obscuring, hesitating. Where George Bataille called it heterology, Jacques Rancière has framed it as upsetting “the distribution of the sensible“: how art practice has the potential to change given perceptual forms (this is its political potential), and in turn unsettle existing ways of looking and thinking. But it does this immanently, tentatively and on its own terms. Images have a distinctive character, “untouchable“, as Jean-Luc Nancy has shown, which is his way of saying that while we can feel both the surface of an image and everything behind the image (the support, the wall, the canvas, the screen...) the image itself remains always beyond touch.

Saskia Leek speaks of this as the “pictureness of pictures“. Her paintings begin at the very heart of another picture's essential attraction - its colour, its composition, its blankness, its airlessness - a lure that continually shifts and slides. Some of her 'references' began life as “paintings by numbers“, others as mass-produced landscapes: each picture poses its own, specific dilemma. But it is only in the course of re-painting the original picture that the “pictureness” of each picture is unpicked and reassembled. This process comes closest perhaps to actually “touching” the original image, even while it enacts a specific and conscious distancing - many removes, we might say, from autobiography, from hierarchy, from the original image or from the specificity of its subject matter. Nestling behind the picture's reworking is a belief that anything can be “fixed” or transformed and this is always provisional, for even after the title has been added (the trigger for considering the work finishe)), the picture may still be picked apart and reassembled once again.

The landscape(ish) forms in Barbara Tuck's paintings are also restless (brittle), dissolving from sea-traced topography to the decorative, while also evading the surface-ness or flatness that frequently orders or grounds decoration - the lace-like configurations seem to plunge through depthly, hollow space. There is a further moment, though, when the paintings' mimetic magnetism (the sky-like ground?) draws us back from the decorative to reveal complicated configurations of microscopic life forms. The works are internally complex, disorientating, and this is achieved as much by the images' instability (their refusal to settle on a single-representational system), as it is by their scale. Their size ensures that the viewer is able to focus on the concentrated forms, without being submerged by the might of the image. This is their subtlety, their force.

When Dil Hildebrand talks about creating “an intersection between landscape and architecture“, these differing elements are not melded into comfortable synthesis but remain compellingly confused: landscapes formed as much by reflections emanating from “artificial” means as they are by “natural” light, picture frames that transform into window frames as they advance through the deeply wrought perspective, and then the surface of the bare canvas (perhaps its most enticing moment) is marked by light reflections, as though the work has been framed and protected by glass. Although, Hildebrand's work is not just about the unravelling of certainties that we bring to the separate realms of nature and architecture, it is also about the “framing” mechanisms of art practices - the cultivating of wilderness into landscape, and the separation of the natural from the theatrical, for instance, or the divisions and institutional hierarchies which divide painting and installation.

There are intersecting systems in Patrick Lundberg's wall cuttings: the first is the patterning system, the controlled decorative schema, which is pre-determined and carefully planned for the space; and the second is the system that structures the space and which sits clearly beyond his control - the wall itself, its materials, its skeletal frame, its past interventions, the layers of paint, plaster, glue, dirt, and so on - the effect, in other words, not only of the architect's and client's enterprise but also of the activities of the people who have traversed the space over time. There are always moments and places when one structure receives the other (the wall's receiving of the design) with the least opposition: at other times it becomes resistant. And then there is the scratching through of the layers that produce shifts in shades and depths of colour. These are accidents that end up determining the work's final form. Lundberg's “carvings“, despite their impermanence, are grounded in the material fact of the space: the scale of the room, the wall, its materials, his design and of Lundberg himself are all in play during the course of production.

Fiona Macdonald's painting began as a remake of Eva Hesse's 1967graph work, but in the arduous process of its re-making... and in the repetitive re-inscription of each square of the original graph paper... and through the substitution of flocking for pencil... and through the pushing of the work through a range of conceptual practices... and through the suppression of all aesthetic decision-making... too much ground was crossed. And despite the circumventing of aesthetics in the process of its production, by the end, aesthetic leakages, full of jokes, seeped uncontrollably from the work: the badness, the big, black mess of flocking (and its inevitable reference to Reinhardt), the weird staining at the edges of the flocking (Rothko), its semblance of autonomy and its presumption of presence, all the claims about art that Macdonald firmly rejects. The jokes are bitter.

Isobel Thom's paintings form a continuum out of which small deviations slowly surface. They are not so much a series of works, therefore, but could be seen as the same work, affected by a shift in time and perspective. In a similar way, Colin Lawson says that he “works under conditions of restraint rather than freedom.” The works are tightly controlled. He doesn’t try to articulate what he’s looking for. He doesn’t give it a name and he claims that there is no style, but ” its execution does require a heightened form of concentration and a play of extended thought and memory.” From afar, they are paintings that try to disappear into their surroundings but the viewer is welcome to take a closer look, for it is only then, once the viewer comes very near, that the tiny brush strokes are revealed and the surface is transformed into a thick and broken shell.

Whitney Bedford says she uses the shipwreck as a metaphor for contemporary social and political ills. The displacement though, from contemporary images to historically loaded ones, motifs for European commercial and imperial interests, have been painted at the most anxious moment of the narrative - when the ship has just lost its battle to survive, or in the moment when ghost ship spectres intermingle, or in the calm passing of the icebergs, which are beautiful spectacles but dangerously seductive, like islands of sirens, waiting at that very instant to devastate its passers-by, Bedford is slicing an instant out of the continuum of time. As such, though, she has suspended time just before the tragedy has entered the world as a “moment” of history. In the midst of this, nonetheless, is the humour and playfulness that animates all of Bedford’s work, and which is found even in the overbearing weight of the paint, coalescing in abstract flurries of Turneresque madness.

The referential source for Richard Bryant’s work is a collection of tear-sheets stripped from fashion (and more latterly body-building) magazines, which have been compressed on the surfaces of his paintings, like a skin imperceptibly slipped over the canvas. This is the medium which he feels best entraps (condenses) the sensibilities of lives lived with the intense pressure of the present moment. He copies the magazine images by hand into masked sections of the canvas, allowing improvisations and mistakes to unravel the original reference. In the painting process, the energy of the original image is dissipated, replaced by a distinctly painterly one. A sense of time cannot inhere in painting in the same way as it does in the magazine reference, for in attempting to intensify the intensity of the tear-sheet, in trying to bring it into painting’s field, the gap between painting (its essential non-referentiality) and fashion magazines (with their timely and inescapable disposability) is widened not elided.

Sitting at the periphery of Richard Bryant’s work is the energy that animates fashion (the flux of the aesthetic). Michel Majerus’ stencil work, What looks good today may not look good tomorrow, directly confronts the presumption that art can be bracketed from fashion, that art is somehow more durable than the aesthetic force that morphs across its surface. Majerus’ body of work, often produced in massive dimensions, teetered at the very edge of aesthetic collapse. He brought disparate elements together but never unified them, “a visual dissonance” as Daniel Birnbaum described them. Was the typeface chosen by Majerus for What looks good today may not look good tomorrow, clumsier in 1999 than it looks today?

Alla Sosnovskaia + Amelia Harris were asked to respond anyway they wished to “Painting”. Russia, a video work, is a practical painting. “We painted the "Russia" sign and wanted to travel from Birkenhead to Russia: 6 minutes of hope and agony are looped to infinity.”