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The Aesthetics of Joy – The Infinite International of Poetics

In Melbourne on February 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm
Presented by The Office of Utopic Procedures, Curated by Bernhard Sachs and Brad Haylock, West Space, 29th January – 13th February 2010

Lizzy Newman, 'Untitled', 2009

Dear Rose,

If you have had the chance to see one, then I think you may have noticed that there’s nothing conceptually simple or straightforward about a Bernhard Sachs curated project, although he would probably say different. And the 4th and latest incarnation from The Office of Utopic Procedures, co-curated by Brad Haylock, is no exception.

The Office of Utopic Procedures started in the usual way as an exhibition title for the first project in 2001, also at West Space. It’s since become the moniker for a group operating in and out of institutions and galleries and soon to be mobilizing annual exhibitions, events and performances, publicised through its very own website. Office more broadly explores the theoretical and aesthetic chirality within concepts, beginning with Utopia, following with Dystopia (in ENDGAME Late Capitalist Realism at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery in 2006), and now in its latest incarnation, ‘joy’. What, you may well ask, will be next? Personally I’m hoping for ‘despair’.

The latest exhibition brings together a group of artists chosen as much for their eccentricities as their uncanny ability to confound by applying a cynical counterpoint to seemingly straightforward subject matter. But in the world of Bernhard Sachs and Brad Haylock, nothing – especially joy – is ever simple. The project uses all three of the West Space galleries and features work by 13 artists. There are a few truly ecstatic moments, like Brie Trenerry’s Uccello featuring 48 white doves flying, apparently mating and generally cavorting, in an enclosed pristine white space that was littered with colourfully striped eggs during the two-hour opening. Or Lizzie Newman’s wall of beautiful fabric work and canvases dipped in the colours of the Mediterranean, again perhaps simple and elegant on the surface but when the work is made by an artist who’s also a Lacanian psychoanalyst, we know that’s probably not solely the case. Kellie Wells’ fantastic projection The Joy of Living with corresponding paintings doesn’t seem overtly about joy either but a continuation of her video performances exploring physical and psychological endurance, this time combined with the geometric abstraction of red/orange surface colour and cream-coloured lines.

Kellie Wells, 'The Joy of Living', 2009

The Aesthetics of Joy: The Infinite International of Poetics is as dark and gritty a foray into joy as ENDGAME was a sterile and hermetically sealed taxonomy of the dystopic – albeit a surprisingly jaunty and colourful one. Even the walls of the gallery, which have been painted International Klein Blue (IKB), don’t float the artworks into the infinite as they should but give them a background of haughty royalty that fuels this double-edged exploitation of joy, exuberance and excess. But to me, nothing says joy less than Paul Quinn’s chilling photographs of miniature model tableaux of wartime atrocities, namely rape, complete with grizzly fake-blood, being perpetrated by soldiers with ridiculous hard-ons.

Reflecting on one point of the curatorial premise, that the ‘exhibition considers resistances to the authoritarianism of definition’, it’s not surprising that these works are so slippery in their interpretations. Central to the exhibition is also the notion of the poetic international, seen as a direct result of ‘a history in art of exuberance and its complications’ with three major references, the aforementioned IKB, Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International and pretty much anything to do with Marcel Broodthaers. And perhaps that’s what all of the Office projects have had in common, an observation of the human condition and our flawed and failed aspirations. We think, we build (or in the case of Vladimir Tatlin we do not build), we dream, we fail (as in the case of Pruitt-Igoe) and inevitably we resign ourselves or start again. It’s not in fact about the simple joys and pleasures of living. Be that, me: wild honey on a piece of fresh bread or, you: finding your dobbelgänger picture for your facebook page. This is joy seen through the eye of an artist and through the filter of our globalising aspirations. And tragically or not, there are many things in this world that bring these strange humans happiness and get our rocks off.

Love,

Meredith

Review by Meredith Turnbull to swap with Rosemary Forde
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