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Turgid Birds

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The Ready-Made

Et al at Jonathan Smart Gallery
9 May 2006 - 28 May 2006

by Harold Greaves
31 Comments
Article of the Month June 2006
2006_06_02_849739

O'those turgid melodramatic birds; conditional surrenders in the face of apathetic follies.

Eddie Clemens' British Racing Green is best described as an emotional facade.It's just the one, replicable, silk tissue fluttering in the updraft.Its white semaphore issues surrender in such a pitiful way.The subtitle, the phenomena of tissue boxes placed in rear car windows exacts a dutiful revenge, like a pliant son at the behest of some monolithic order.The work is encased in this social wrangling, this pliant valedictory condescension that it's really quite mute.It's an insolent work with its own peculiar manners.

Clemens' practice is a world away from et al.'s which has all the hysterics of modernist refutation and squeamish nationalism, but then the sense to which L.Budd deploys pantomime as an automated gesture of acquiescence, of an informed affectation isn't so far off Clemens' clean looks.Even more in common though is the way both shows seem to work out against the pitiful pretence of the cursive fictions and cultural appeasements of today's society.In British Racing Green you have the automated banality of signification with no substance whereas et al's In The National Interest deploys a saturation of content, a pantomime of assured mastery.

et al In The National Interest, mixed media installation, Jonathan Smart Gallery, 2006

et al's vitrines of blanched memorabilia are evocative capsules of displacement.The blanching, the white pour, freezes content aggressively.It relies to a large extent on a vindication, a merciless appropriation best seen in et al.'s I cannot forgive series.But this sentiment is also there in the vitrines where books are left behind, blurred open, and given over as irrefutable objects.This blanching blunts the openness of scientific enquiry in its unwavering, rationalistic certainty which always hollows even the most speculative and tentative of hypotheses.This moment is at its most acute in et al.'s prominent placement of the book title, 'can the brain ever be full', which takes its original moment of speculation as a chapter heading and turns it loose in the realms of dead weight psychoanalysis, phrenology and cyborg avatars of clear thinking rationalism played out against schizophrenia and human fallibility.This clinical obsession seems to waver over the vitrines which combine books with broken end, wrought iron, architectural ornaments and mocking, nationalistic refrains of tokenistic birdsong.Ostensibly, the wrought iron fixtures are the remainders of CJ Arthur Craig and Sons (another et al. enterprise) who cashed into that speculative moment of a cursive culture.Now pitilessly mocked through a mimicry of fashion these blanched objects offer the speculative moment of curtailment and obsolescence.These wrought iron fixtures become haunting bedfellows in a vitrine of deadweight narratives that haunt and hollow our tumultuous culture of excess which is best sounded out by the garbling birdsong that competitively dopples throughout the two adjoining rooms of the show.

Unless the gallery attendant or visitor has grown tired of the birdsong and switched it off, In the National Interest is overdrawn (perhaps even overwrought) with birdsong.Robyn Ussher has pointed out the pertinent and timely correspondence of the et al. Venice debate and the public outcry which censured National Radio's decision to drop its birdcalls from its roster.1This is a neat biographical detail but it's more pertinent to say that the over saturation of et al.'s bird song would have always played out this turgid embracement of totemic birds as a supposedly wholesome expression of idealised nationalism.As Douglas Reid has pointed out, birds play an important, totemic presence within Pakeha nationalism that allows a pluralized, hegemonic assurance over nature and presence.2Similar to the ways John Newton has shown how the South Island myth of absence and male perseverance co-opts a nationalistic myth of servitude before the land as an enabling rhetorical sentiment that validates settler pioneer ability as a challenge that not only erases but also compliments the indigenous rhetoric of Maori without a perceived offence, Reid has also shown how the totemic presence of native birds within a national iconography bolster New Zealand's proprietorial decency as a universal, humanistic endeavour.3Moreover, Reid has argued that the mythic presence of a land of birds that pre-empts Maori settlement allows Pakeha nationalism to develop a wider, rationalistic enterprise of settlement which has never been that far removed from the fraught and overloaded civilisation rhetoric of European colonial enterprise which New Zealand is still couched within.The convenient crutch of the totemic bird is that it speaks of an isolation, not only of New Zealand itself, but also of Pakeha nationalism in a way that is supposedly sympathetic to Maori presence.There's no-one better at turning this into money spinning paintings than Bill Hammond.


Bill Hammond Jingle Jangle Morning, acrylic on linen, 1800 x 1200mm, 2006.

Hammond's recent show, Jingle Jangle Morning is overwrought with totemic birds laying out ancestral myths of Pakeha nationalism.Brooding heavily over lacquered bodies, these paintings evoke oriental ornamentalism as an ode to Pacific Rim beatification as the land of plenty.Hammond's bird paintings have always identified with this quasi mythic world, which sits somewhere between the split of Gondwanaland and the formation of the Pacific isles.Jingle Jangle Morning plays up this angle heavily, with deliberate humanoid presences titled as ancestral possibilities.More deliberately though, is the ambiguous moments of the symbolic awakening that looms large in these tableaux worlds.Birds hang down in limbo readiness, while a moment of awakening is pulled together by the omnipresent bells and tambourines.This gives the paintings, especially jingle jangle morning, a symphonic pleasure, but it's also an aware readiness which makes me think that Hammond is possibly alert to his own complicity within the nationalistic readiness to adopt his totemic birds.As though to retreat into a pacific mythology which combines a spiritual paganism with a threatening misanthropic presence, his birds take on a malevolent attitude which sees them jauntily holding human bones in a threatening guise.


Bill Hammond The Verde Sea, acrylic on kauri panel, 500 x 600mm, 2006

Likewise, in The Verde Sea a bird swoops down to the approaching bell scene, baseball bat to hand, as though to reprimand the appearing dupe.This reproach also appears in the screeds which are lowered down to ancestral figures primed for oration. These could be those litanies of erasure and embarrassment that an ecological undermining of Pakeha nationalism and post industrial commerce could ensue.In fact such content would return to Hammond's earlier work which embraced the rock'n'roll neurosis of contemporary society in a similar manner to the poet David Eggleton.That his paintings dealt with this subject so spectacularly before such content grew mute in the face of a more appeased cultural exegesis is an embarrassment every critic should be moving to atone.

In 1999, Justin Paton picked up on this very thread in his judgement of the history revisionism of the '90s.4Lamenting what he called 'the laundry list of key themes in post-colonial art', Paton wondered why there was no one in 'the whole field of new New Zealand painting' that wanted to 'scrutinise the follies of public life in the present tense' (35).Holding out Richard Killeen's match-box works and the promise of Andrew McCleod to come, Paton hoped for a New Zealand painter who'd update history painting to include the present tense.Seven years on, I'm still left wondering where that direction might come from but I can sense it in work like Eddie Clemens.Clemens' facades are emotive devices, they flutter their hedged bets, which is as futile a sentiment as you'll ever get.


Suzie Pratt , video still from The Water Budget, 2006

Suzie Pratt is edging in this direction as well.Her portrait shots of sanitation products turn a landscape, television complacency on its side, animating a disturbing displacement between 'clean and pure' rhetoric and the facade of sanitised appearances.These works, both Clemens and Pratt's open out that gap between quick fix, instant appeasement and a longer narrative of beguilement.It's no wonder that Pratt is so enthralled by the economist Hazel Henderson who asserts an aggregated cost for chemical products by pricing in the ongoing ecological damage these innocuous devices bear.Clemens work seems similarly aggressive in its plying of banality in the face of urban myth.His bubble-gum and blade works which notarise the waterpark hydroslide greatest fear seems particularly malevolent but is probably less vindictive than his softer, quieter works which edge around the sanitation market.His personalised toilet rolls of 2001 may seem slightly quirky but in the face of toilet brushes grouped together to form forest glades (2001 & 2004) you start to see a correlation between the braggadocio of toilet paper companies 'renewable resource' rhetoric and the sheer excess of this industry at large.Bristling green, these brushes were that artificial schlock, that excess of pretence, which British Racing Green's tissue boxes mock so well.Just as similarly these brushes were absolutely expendable, easily renewable and instantly replaceable.Here again you have that facsimile lifestyle, that cursive script of appeased consumer lifestyle which is bloated in its uptake frenzy.The danger lurking behind Clemens' work, and Pratt's for that matter, is the quiet thread of obsolescence.Neither artist seems to make work that suggests this insatiable process of consumption can continue forever.If anything, Clemens' tissue boxes could just have been that conditional surrender.They seem to signal an artist's retreat into a quiet, convincing pastiche that is pitiless in its derision of contemporary society.


1 Robyn Usher, 'Fragments', The Press, 24 May, 2006; C1.

2 Douglas Reid, 'The Land of Birds' Baracuda 16 (Autumn/Winter, 2003); 1-10.

3 John Newton, 'The South Island Myth, A Short History', Australian Canadian Studies 18.1 (2000).

4 Justin Paton, 'The Shock of the Old', Listener (June 26, 1999);38-9.

 



Comments:
1 to 20 of 31
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Gee, good opening paragraph. et al as a 'hysteric'. That is an immensely

provocative observation that should agitate her geriatic feminist friends a little.

And Clemens' 'valedictory condescension' seems more about masturbatory condensation to me, or at least about bodily secretions or perhaps hygiene. All sorts of things happen in the backseats of cars. Wonder what Artbash's local undercover agent, Master Artwanker esq. thinks about that?
cvulture
95 comments since 12 Mar 2006
I don't think so

et al. has studied and mused on the hysteric for many, many years. JH, your penis is showing.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
You miss my point,CV. et al is not doing it deliberately as satire. There is a whole polemic

that revolves around the use of the word 'hysteria', examining the sexism of Freud and his predecessors. Call her [all right,"them"] closet expressionists [as I believe in some ways she is] and see what kind of indignant response you get. Many of the values she critiques are actually deeply embedded in the original 'Tweedie' self. 'Masculinist' gesturalism or strutting, a love of 'spontaneous' mark making, totalitarianism, kneejerk dismissiveness mixed with a 'reasoned' argument - they are all part of the Budd persona. Those complications provide fascinating resonances,
Art*anker
8 articles & 55 comments since 25 Jan 2006
I only wish

They were genuine tissues rather than silk. Or are they? I dared not touch, although I was temped.

I'd buy one as a cover for my real tissue box. Blow my nose on the art you know.

I graduated from back seats several years ago now, but given the small DC power requirements, you could doubtless wire one into your car and actually place it behind the back seat. Perhaps if they don't sell well, Helen Calder could use one in the back of her Mini Cooper, which also happens to be British racing green (!). Even stick a price tag on it and a phone number. A mobile exhibition and advertisement.
nickaustin
4 comments since 24 Feb 2006
etal

it's interesting that there has been so many different interpretations of the 'in the national interest' show on at JS. compare this review with the one in the press, and then to Populuxe's as well. Also JS has put another interpretation of the show on lunchbox. Will the real l budd please stand up?
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Ah, what artist would do something stupid

like that? Artists love it when different curators slug it out, squabbling over the 'meaning' in their work.
cvulture
95 comments since 12 Mar 2006
strange expressions

The vulture thanks John Hurrel for the short lecture on hysteria. So very inspiring. If it's not too much trouble, could you take some time out of your schedule to give us a few well chosen words on root vegetables? I'm sure everyone would benefit. J, call et al. an expressionist by all means (you don't need to worry about the closet bit even). I'm sure they would be delighted or, more probably, not care.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Ever wonder why a vulture would have a curiosity about

root vegetables?

Look at the last footnote of

John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
cvulture
95 comments since 12 Mar 2006
Ever wonder why..

..when JH Googles it refers him to a Creationist site. God invented Vultures, God invented vultures.... ok, ok, we believe you.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Root veges, CV. Good for the eyes you know..

Even for vultures. That was how the Brits won the war.
dollyhaze
7 articles & 27 comments since 30 Jul 2005
ugh

the et al collective should not be viewed in such 70s outdated victorian claptrap terms as "hysteric."

startling vitrines that refer you into white blindness, pastel text that crosses you out refer to poststructuralist ideas of the centered being. something gapped between language and meaning is not restricted to gender.

the l budd show is concerned with more than just gender issues. 'in the national interest' show has nothing to do with gender.

this show is about pantomine.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Exactly right DH, which is why I pointed that loaded term

out.
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Not so sure.

Wasn't there a bit of a hysteria in the rejection of modernism? Kind of a blocking out? That's what HG is getting at.

Every generation and every artist has blinkers firmly in place. That denial of the past is kind of hysterical. ;-)
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Good observation indeed, Artbasher.

HG writes that hysteria links a rejection of modernism, et al and NZ nationalism. Or does it link et al, modernism's refutation of its own past, and a hesitant nationalism?

A bit ambiguous perhaps. What is doing the refuting? What is nationalism squeamish of? My comment was about HG's point about et al's practice 'having all the hysterics etc.' Maybe I was trying too hard to stir the pot, but I think my observation was worth saying.

A lot of things writers can say now that couldn't be stated twenty years ago.
dollyhaze
7 articles & 27 comments since 30 Jul 2005
these are the fragments i have shored

the et al collective does not try and refute the past. l budd and b readymade in this show gathers up fragments from previous work and discusses the instablity of modern truths in a time of doubt and discord.

if anything, mark kramer is right when he discusses the collective's work as a broker in shadows, semi opaque work that fulfills the longing for a secret melancholy that finds it's answer in the shallowest of grief. et al is about human players, it is not limited to the feminine mystique.
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Question for dolly...

Are you part of The Collective now, or just their PR agent? - which is what The Collective needed for Venice...

Oh god no! it's spreading!
cvulture
95 comments since 12 Mar 2006
PR

art needs PR like a fish needs a bicycle
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Speaking of PR...

Perhaps I should start a new thread for this, but I got an email last week from, yes, an art PR agent! He wanted to pass off advertising as news on Artbash. I have disdain for such an approach and told him so (politely). I've posted links to the McNews below. His emails were pretty funny. I could post them too if anyone's interested.

Press Release The First (regarding an artist who sells all her work online)
Press Release The Second (I didn't bother to read it really)

Just imagine if et al died, and there was an et al foundation that approved official works and stuff.

I'm mocking too many things at once to be at all healthy. Please, don't take it to heart anyone.
Populuxe
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
We are et al,

lower your vitrines and surrender your white cubes.
Your aesthetic and persona will be added to our own.
Your practice and bric-a-brac will service us.
Resistance is futile.
You will be assimilated.

Out of curiosity though, why was none of this discussed when I reviewed the show? - or do you all really hate me that much? (sulk).

Hysteria? Goodness no - et al is one of the most logical, analytical and clinical subverters of that kind of nonsense practicing anywhere in the world.
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