review swapper

horoscope ecologies + We Are Building A Civilized Space Here

In Melbourne on January 29, 2010 at 2:25 pm
James Deutsher
Y3K, Melbourne, 16 January – 6 February 2010

James Deutsher, 'We Are Building A Civilized Space Here', 2010

Dear Rose,

I popped back into Y3K last week and spoke with James Deutsher about his solo show “horoscope ecologies + We Are Building A Civilized Space Here” which you had asked me to review.  When I first visited the show, at its uber-chilled afternoon opening, I was worried that my review was going to be much less in form and content and clever musings than you might have hoped.  I couldn’t seem to get the connection between the architectural assemblage in the main space – a loose recreation of a tacky day-spa waiting room – and the collages in the side space: paper (blank and photocopies of book pages), blue sticky tape, odd pins, parched leaves, stickers from san pellegrino bottles, price tags, chocolate wrappers etc. tacked onto core flute.  On the wall of the main space were three framed photos of what seemed to be a minor car prang.  Knowing that James likes to bring some conceptual weight to his work, I was sure I was missing something.  And I felt frustrated/embarrassed that my appreciation of the show was dominated by my amusement at certain formal choices, plus a mild intrigue that, unlike much recent work fetishising found and foraged objects, James’ materials were persistently banal.

I am happy to report that after revisiting the show and talking with James, I think I have had a minor breakthrough in how I could/should be getting more out of what we have jokingly called “Gen Y” art. Firstly, it turns out that there isn’t a strong connection between the sets of works, because the show comprises 2 (perhaps 2 ½) separate themes, hence the double layered show title.  The day-spa construction reflects James’ interest in how materials can be used in a design context to control a space, and especially, how mass-produced IKEA chairs, generic two-dollar store massage devices and cheap Ming vase knock-offs are habitually used to create a personal sanctuary.  At both my visits, I noticed visitors (umm, including myself) gravitate to sit and relax in the space, which I guess proves that many of us have been conditioned to feel comforted by a bland semblance of tranquil pampering!

James Deutsher, detail from 'horoscope ecologies', 2010

The collages in the side space connect to James’ participation in A Constructed World’s SPEECH and What Archive? projects.  Made over a four-month period, they are a personalised archive of incidental happenings during that time: mineral water that was imbibed, paper that was lying around.  An appliance energy-rating sticker marks delivery of a dishwasher one day.  (Incidentally, James must have a highly refined taste in confectionary because most of the chocolate wrappers are Dolfin, which is a ridiculously creamy Belgian treat only sold in fine food stores.  He had one sticker from another brand called Antica Dolceria Bonajuto which he tells me is even better, so I’m on the hunt…)

Although most of the collages are wall mounted, one sits on the floor in a Perspex case so that both the front and reverse sides are visible.  A Kiwi customs declaration on the reverse reveals that the collage was mailed back to James from a gallery in New Zealand. Apparently, he had sent it for a show in our homeland, which he didn’t attend.  James seems to enjoy thinking that his closed personal archive moved into another experiential situation of which he has little inkling.  He has sent other collages away, including to a friend in Hong Kong, who he suspected might have just stuffed it under his bed.  Not knowing what happens to the works seems to be the captivating factor.  As James talked, I felt my penchant for cheap thrillers surface, and my mind began to indulge in farfetched scenarios of the intrigues that travelling artworks might witness.  Of course, as the mundane materials in James’ collages reminds, I suppose that if one could be omniscient about the incidental archive of most artworks’ experiences, it probably wouldn’t make great television.

In one of the collages, there is an extract from a semiotext(e) publication, half-obscured by plastic wrap: “…never has a context been so indifferent, and demanded in return – the price of survival – such an equal indifference…”  So here’s my minor breakthrough:  although the works in this show stand formally as art objects, they set the stage for a certain indifference in the case of a viewer who sits outside the ongoing discussions of SPEECH and What Archive? and who is unfamiliar with the longitudinal process-based interest of the artist. Ultimately, it was the conversation with James that really provoked me to think and reflect and appreciate the ideas and provocations and processes underpinning the show.  In this sense, the works acted as points and counterpoints for our discussion, which though brief, has prompted me to think over the intervening days about unexceptional traces and individuality and the tensions inherent in the mass production of items designed to appeal to a personal sensibility.  I guess I was seduced by the slick gallery setting into prioritising objects-as-manifestations-of- an-art practice over dialogue-as-art-practice.  And perhaps I had also fallen prey to an entitlement pathology: assuming that merely visiting an exhibition automatically entitled me to be party to the conceptual dialogue underpinning the work, without acknowledging that I needed to make more effort to engage in the dialogue myself  (and that some dialogues might remain closed to just the invited few).

Talking of conversations that take more weight when you are part of those in-the-know: the framed car scrape photos were in fact printouts of images that our mutual friend Hao Guo had emailed, proudly illustrating the metal scars of his first accident as an officially licensed Chinese driver, 3 days after he had finally, after months of dedication, successfully passed his license.  (Maybe the incidental archive of Hao’s daily life might make good television after all…?!)


Review by Fayen D’Evie to swap with Rosemary Forde
  1. Thanks Fayen, these are very clever musings! And I like your little breakthrough…

    Maybe the questions you get to about prioritising objects over dialogue, or the entitlement vs responsibility of a viewer, aren’t really so minor though. I think we all tend to have a presumption that we should be able to ‘get’ something when we go into a gallery and feel frustrated if we think we’re missing something. I’m kind of split on how I feel about this. I think you have been an exemplary audience in this case (did you feel like you were a detective yourself?!), but not everyone will have that level of experience with a work.

    Anyway, I like that the horoscope ecologies work is tracing things that are intangible and so it seems natural that some parts might remain unknowable.

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