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Effluent Rising - Matt Gillies

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Effluent Rising

Michelle Armistead and Matt Gillies at The Fishbowl
13 Apr 2007 - 14 May 2007

by Paul Brobbel
30 Comments
Article of the Month May 2007
20070512Image0051-rsu Last year Matt Gillies was responsible for the Dunedin Beautification Project whereby city council manhole covers were appropriated and replaced with his own models, complete with slogans and caricatures. This work, with its playful vandalism and cheeky anonymity, is worth keeping in mind when regarding Gillies’ latest performance, essentially an escalation in response to similar themes that drove his earlier work.

Governmental systems, their bureaucracies, absurdities and ultimately their stifling and suppressive nature are the concern as Gillies targets the responsiveness of public systems to political thought. However, this time the performance forsakes the subtleties of his Dunedin project. If that were to be considered a charming but wry subversion of public space then his acts in New Plymouth must be seen as much more confrontational.

Dressed in the reflective overalls that designate a worker conducting official business Gillies performed one March afternoon before a small audience outside Puke Ariki, New Plymouth’s regional museum. Reading from transcripts, Gillies reenacted famous activist performances from years past. These transcripts were then stuffed into a nearby drain, the resulting overflow providing the title for Michelle Armistead’s documentary exhibition of Gillies performance.

The location of the performance is central to the thesis explored by Gillies. New Plymouth is something of a poster-child for the regeneration and reinvention of public space. At the forefront of this status are the cities foreshore location and its museum. Here Gillies invokes the lore of activist performances to inflict a wound upon paradigms of public space. It is an attempt to expose weakness in the systems of normality and social order and to draw out alternative and marginalized systems of thought. The resulting surge of subterranean effluvia alludes to the spirit of ideologies that flow beneath the surface of our systems and burst forth when pressured (or perhaps merely stimulated).

The ineffectuality of documenting a performance like this is explored in Michelle Armistead’s curation of Effluent Rising. The documentation itself consists of two series of photographs; both intimate and distanced (suggesting two modes of seeing the same thing), arranged episodically. The lack of text throughout the exhibition (labels, prose or otherwise) leaves viewers attempting to find a narrative based solely upon these images. It is a fraught task and one that leaves the viewer seeking first-hand witness accounts to embellish a reconstruction of events.

Here the vexations that surround performance art such as Gillies’ are observed through the differing modes of experience among the works’ audiences. The small group of observers who directly experienced Gillies performance represent only a minority of people who will engage with the work (consider also that the performance itself was a recantation of other performances and we have a particularly layered event to document). Those who meet with the work post factum necessarily desire documentation that compensates for a missing experience. Opening night conversations consequently highlighted a clear discontinuity between those who witnessed the actual performance and those who were witness to its documentation. It becomes clear this is a show that wants to work through dialogue, requiring and demanding its own mythology.

This comes into being with the artist’s invitation to his audience to compose their own response to Effluent Rising through notebooks distributed through the gallery. Each handmade book includes material from Gillies’ own performance as well as those of other artists and pages for the audience to append their own contributions. These are mailed back and forth between the artist and participants, presumably growing new twists in narrative with each increment far beyond the brief life of the exhibition. The effect is to provide a material stimulus that keeps the audience engaged with the story of the performance.

Effluent Rising is then very much a work in progress. A retrospective review will be necessary for this participatory aspect to Gillies’ performance, in-fact for the work as a whole. He has left the ball in his audience’s court and it should be fun anticipating the length of the rally.

Paul Brobbel
20070512Image0015-rsu


Comments:
1 to 20 of 30
allblackwinz
Flake
46 articles & 641 comments since 26 Jan 2006
was the initial action really that interesting to warrant more attention? "Cheeky" like up it's own arse, what possible use or connection could anyone want to make of this act, for christ sakes look around would you! Schools out!
nznancy
12 articles & 232 comments since 13 Aug 2006
Art has been outwitted and overtaken by life: Our City (please note: icky).
anne
1 comment since 27 May 2007
I would just like to clarify that the black and white photographic documentation was photographed, processed and printed by myself, Anne Basquin and that the digital documentation which is in color was taken by Rory Harding. Michelle Armistead curated the show but did not have a part in the actual photographic documentation as implied in the review. I don't think this was made clear at the show either so I just wanted to let you all know.
Paul Brobbel
2 articles & 4 comments since 29 Jul 2006
Apologies.. That was a point I had hoped to make but I didn't have the details at hand.
Abi Stankovich
9 comments since 30 Mar 2007
I'm over here, Portnoy.

Art, as it implicates and embroils itself in life itself, becomes, more and more, a subsidiary event. The artist, henceforth, must hysterically reinforce his or her own (self)importance. Anonymity, Mr Brobbel, is hardly viable in such circumstances.
allblackwinz
Flake
46 articles & 641 comments since 26 Jan 2006
Yay skankabitch
Populuxe
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
El Al is the bastard love child of Joseph Beuys and Fernando Pesoa, with Ern Malley and Duchamp as fairy godmothers.
Abi Stankovich
9 comments since 30 Mar 2007
Over here again Portnoy. You’re a sweetie, but don’t you live in Christchurch? I have a life, hence my belated response to John Hurrell’s plaintive cries that we validate our heretical assertions. I’d also say that when an artist of et al’s modest abilities is elevated, through the machinations of a cloistered few, to the stature she has now attained, one invariably wants to ask of the wisdom of prolonging debate about that artist’s work. Notwithstanding specific “influences”, as noted by others, and I would add here the “Cell” works of Louise Bourgeois, or specific affinities with works by artists the world over – e.g. there is a young artist out of Detroit, Tamara Dean, who has likewise mashed together the voices of senators, media stars and the like, while I have seen other artists riffing on the slogans of modernism, e.g. of artists in Russia in the early part of the 20th century, making uncertainties of certainty with that validated cynicism of post-modernity – the mode in which et al works is a common and globalized one. Its piecemeal nature is so much a part of contemporary installation that it fails to stand out above the crowd, and yet et al has succeeded in eluding specific critical analysis or attack. There is an obvious reason for this, the work hedges its bets on everything. (This ‘neither one thing nor the other’ ethos is, again, so much a part of art after high modernism that it has assumed an irrefragable triteness.) By way of example, to criticize the work on the basis that the specific shade of gray employed by the artist, its specific blankness, in itself an adroit admixture of the corporate and the technological, is applied as a veneer that attempts to conceal, yet only draws attention to, the conceptual uncertainty of the underlying project, (I once read, in a review essay by one whose name I can’t recall, in the “Listener” I think, that et al’s art is fabulous as a consequence of its “conceptual certainty”), is inevitably to beg the retort that this is consciously, deliberately so, just one of many layers of signification.

More and more, art orients itself toward physicality at the expense of originality, so that artists, lacking the latter, have found a natural outlet in the assemblage of found objects or manufactured objects having a direct mimetic relationship to the general characteristics of the generally visible factors of reality. Often, this only accentuates a prosaic literalness in minds void of an authentic aesthetic proclivity. This results in a continuous physicality, in the filling of space, without the advantage of direct handling and aesthetic, as opposed to literal, immediacy. I would say that an embeddedness in the very social phenomena the artist hopes in vain to “deconstruct” is the inevitable consequence of such literalness. Often, this continuous, literal referencing will also lead to a presiding evenness of pressure on the senses of the viewer, confirming them in their predetermined response to the work, whether negative, positive, or neutral. In other words, I guess I would say that et al’s work lacks any spark that might ignite a newfound awareness or sensitivity to either imaginative or else existing prosaic spaces.

Sure, such art, like much contemporary practice, does have an initial hit and an arresting occupancy of space. The advent of installation indeed managed a newly spectacular art experience (severely muted in et al’s case) and also the illusion of the weightiness and density of signification that were so much a part of older conceptually-oriented practices (but which tended to be eschewed at first in favor of singleness and singularity of address). The installation discipline or indeed “style” has eliminated the assumptions of the traditional media, and their solutions, provisional and partial though they be. Henceforth all the problems bound up in these media are to be relinquished. One might expect that this new uncritical space would produce an entrenched traditionalism, and it has, though for the moment it has also released the artist to engage with the concerns of society in a freer way, or a way which brings with it no ramifications for either the artist, the art, or the society. I am suggesting, I guess, that this is precisely because installations like those of et al offer no new areas of artistic discovery.
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006
So Abi, what have you discovered lately? Anything significant or worth discussing?

Et al's artwork sounds really neat, I must try and see some.
liz
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
It's interesting what Abi has to say.
"I’d also say that when an artist of et al’s modest abilities is elevated, through the machinations of a cloistered few, to the stature she has now attained, one invariably wants to ask of the wisdom of prolonging debate about that artist’s work" maybe debate is all they have Abi, perhaps the debate is the work? initiated by the Cloistered few!

I would like to see some evidence (from International media, whom we are apparently impressing) of the success's of out Venice representations ! The only mention I have ever read was an overall review of Venice in "Art in America" magazine sometime ago that basically said Peter Robinson of New Zealand offered nothing new, and that was it, no further mention! However at the time we talked here about how successful Robinson's work was at Venice ?
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006

It is such statements as Liz quotes of ABI above that gets me steamed up...considering the various long-term development and achievements by the collective...is it tall poppy syndrome, or what?

Liz, from memory there was a reasonable amount of "press" on subsequent NZ Biennale exhibitions (post Robinson/Jacqueline Fraser), not that I've seen much on-line that I can point you to.

liz
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
I Imagine there are a large number of people with interests in the arts in NZ who would argue those achievements, as Abi and others do here. Are they all that valid outside the influential cloistered few that Abi talks of. Reminds me how a dealer friend once told me its not what's in an application for Government arts funding, it's how the application is written or who writes it. Does that mean it's not really that important what your doing as who validates you!

Does criticism equal tall poppy syndrome ?

I've been unable to find any international "press" on our Venice participation other than the piece that mentioned Peter Robinson, and I would love to see how the world sees us at Venice.
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006
Ive had a little scan and can't find much Liz, though I did stumble upon this blog by Graham Reid which I think is very insightful..hear, hear.

www.publicaddress.net/default,3208.sm#post3208
liz
5 articles & 165 comments since 24 Nov 2005
thanks Spider, I still can't find anything either, and I've given up.

Are we achieving anything by being in Venice if our presence isn't being reported on internationally? after all, those among us who go on about the importance of Venice to NZ arts, always refer to it as being "the" showcase to the contemporary art world. So does the lack of of international writings about NZ at Venice show us something ?
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006
I don't think commentary in print should be the primary validation. I wouldn't discount the value of "visibility" on the ground raising awareness and opportunities (the "cloistered few" in these forums is actually quite large and you never know your luck)...just like Lotto, you've got to be in to win. We have a lot to offer on the international scene, if only to be seen, but there are always so many barriers slammed in the way.
paul
1 articles & 141 comments since 11 Aug 2006
there is a reason that nz is not being writen about in venice, because what we sent was not worth writing about. I don't take it as any sign of our irrelevance or otherwise.
I think it is worth going to, but, I'm afraid we seam to always want to shock, or show something that, in our minds is provocative or of interest to european audiences, and in this we forget to just be ourselves. this used to be the case with music, when we gave up trying to out roll the stones, or out punk the pistols, everbody loved us. the visual arts are way behind, and I blame it on the fact we have the money controled by people with thier own agendas and theories to push. the indie labels worked for music, we artists need our own equivilent.
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006
So what would send (as far as art goes) Paul?

And in the case of music, what signalled the break away from out rolling the stones or out pinning the pistols? The "Dunners" sound?
paul
1 articles & 141 comments since 11 Aug 2006
if you really want to experience the asthetic that et al attempts to display, go to industrial otahuhu, it's all there. et al's work reminds me of the 70's when the middle class kids at my art school all dressed up like eastend punks and practiced cockney slang. it was "ersats" art, and it still is. i would have loved to have put those guys on the last tube to Mile End, and now I would like et al's industrial flower arrangement in an otahuhu carpark.
paul
1 articles & 141 comments since 11 Aug 2006
To get some press? I would send a group of people that hated the sight each other, could drink, and who wanted do the work "spontainiously."
To represent nz? I would send the same group except with the addition of an architect and an engineer.
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006

I think your idea for "to get some press" has been done to death, except the spontaneous artwork (as far as NZ goes)...I think that is a great idea...if pulled off by the right artists.

"To represent NZ" which same group?

I'm disappointed you didn't answer my music question.

We are probably in the way wrong thread here.

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