Time extended, unfolded and re-mixed. Stories disjointed into non-linear sequences. Meaning suspended. Surreal, unrelated sequences that scratch against our instinct for interpretation, tease our tendencies to draw connections.
Narrative Arc, an upcoming exhibition at Brisbane’s Griffith University Art Gallery (GUAG) features a small but stellar cast of artists well known for doing exactly this. They have in common their filmic deconstructions of narrative devices and reflexive relationships to the work of other artists, film-makers, philosophers.
Curator Naomi Evans takes some time between exhibition installs and memorizing poetry to tell us about how it all came about.
Since we are talking about literature and narrative I feel like I should ask, what are you reading at the moment?
It’s not prose literature, but I have had John Donne’s Holy Sonnets on the go for a while now. I like to dive into poetry when I am between books. I am trying to commit all 18 to memory but only have about seven down so far. There are some incredible lines like ‘I am a little world made cunningly’ and I’m really looking forward to learning the sonnet that starts ‘Death be not proud…’. I am saving that one.
So, where did the concept for this exhibition begin?
The title Narrative Arc occurred to me only recently, a couple of months ago when I was proposing it for GUAG, but it probably began a few years back when I saw an early video called The role of a lifetime by Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius at the Istanbul Biennale in 2009. In it British filmmaker Peter Watkins talks about the nature of creativity and his self-imposed exile in Lithuania. His voice lilts and the ideas seem to hang in the air, while Narkevičius presents graphite sketches of Communist statuary on the screen, interspersed with grainy found amateur film footage taken in Brighton, UK. It’s not clear who shot the film and so Narkevičius trades on our desire to link and find meaning between disparate art genres when there is no clear connection. Watkins’ spoken reflections on life and art are deep, intimate and compelling and it became apparent to me just how much Watkins was part-producer of Narkevičius’ work. It was probably this dimension that sunk a hook in me and provided a genesis for this show.
What has been your methodology for selecting the artists in Narrative Arc?
Well I kept remembering artworks that feature this certain connection – that one artist might have with the work of another – not exactly ‘homage’, but contingent on that other person’s ideas or sense of vocation, and so if we were to visually represent that connection it might look like a bridge or spanning between art practices. Benoît Maire’s The spider web (2006) presents the audio from an interview with the great Italian philosopher Arthur C Danto, against a screen that shows nothing really - an interference pattern. But over the course of the short video, we hear a discussion about art, sculpture and our own epoch, which Danto talks about in terms of the end of the art object – by which he means the move towards concepts or ideas as being the crucial stuff of art. This point is beautifully and amusingly illustrated when Danto accidentally knocks over a little tableaux Maire has constructed on the table. This work has only been seen overseas at places like the Centre Pompidou, Paris, so it is great we’ll be able to present it in Brisbane. Ann Lislegaard has also made several works exploring science fiction texts and using 3D animation to re-present particular kinds of dislocation, often places or cities as with her work Bellona (after Samuel R Delany) which is featured in Narrative Arc. I was lucky to have worked with Ann Lislegaard in 2008 when I assisted curator Kathryn Weir on her exhibition Modern Ruin at the Gallery of Modern Art, and I knew Lislegaard’s piece would be incredible to present at GUAG. The piece invokes mysterious texts and dislocates narrative contexts from Delany’s cult classic Dhalgren (1974) and this creates a totality that seems at odds with the idea of narrative, and that creates a sensation of stasis that is enhanced by the work’s projection onto a 3D built screen that seems to float across the corner of the gallery.
Are there any new/commissioned works in the show?
Narrative arc came together as a way to present artists’ work that would hopefully expand the conversation around expectations of narrative, and I wanted to include the strong artworks I knew existed and that contribute to the conversation. I’m really pleased Carter’s first film Erased James Franco (2009) could be included in Narrative arc. It is not his newest, but I guess it is ‘recent’. Erased James Franco was described in London paper The Guardian as an example of ‘cine-karaoke’ – Franco performs lines from his onscreen appearances as collated and rescripted by Carter, who in addition asked him to deliver a performance at 50%. I think it is interesting to consider this ‘karaoke’ style in relation to the dismantling and restitching of narrative. Franco’s erasure might have happened more truly in his first level performances than in this second incarnation when there is a knowing critique of performance itself. I am still thinking about this one, how it works, why it is both wilfully boring and beguiling at the same time. The work also references the action of Robert Rauschenburg who requested a drawing from the older artist Willem de Kooning to erase. As the story goes, not only did de Kooning agree, he chose a drawing that he was sure he would miss. The most recent work in the show is by French artist Benoît Maire called L'Ile de La Répétition (Repetition Island) from 2010. It is his first feature.
If we imagined this exhibition to actually have a narrative arc, I think this conversation would be the exposition. Where then do you think could be the rising and falling action, suspense, denouement in this story?
GUAG has a terrific architectural structure that lends itself so well to exhibitions of screen-based artworks and so the small, tight group of artists will be presented hopefully with the full weight of their uniqueness. Perhaps the arc would be flattened or dismembered. The suspense would probably be in the time it takes to have scenarios unfold whether through the act of listening or reading. And I hope the resolution happens somewhere else, beyond the show. Allan McCollum once referred to his sculptures as seeking the state of ‘immanent meaningfulness’. I often think of this line and the way contemporary art can set you up to expect meaning, only to have it deferred.
Do you ever think of your practice as a curator as being like storytelling? Why is this?
I guess as a curator you have to ask if it is worth doing any show at all, or for me, can I justify the idea as having currency or weight in some way. Most ideas can be critiqued endlessly until there is very little left. I see a relationship between this way of working and the way artists use their studio or exhibitions as labs, or specific contexts in which to experiment and test ideas. I heard Julie Rrap explain once that she was asked what a certain work meant, and she replied that she didn’t know, and if she did know the answer, she probably wouldn’t bother making the work. I like the idea that understanding comes through the activities related to doing. I find it’s really enjoyable to experience an exhibition that is crafted to allow multiple viewpoints within a meta-narrative. At this stage I would just hope to preface an idea and hope each artwork would be allowed space and respect enough to be appreciated in their own terms.
Narrative Arc, curated by Naomi Evans
Griffith University Art Gallery [GUAG]
Queensland College of Art, South Bank, Brisbane, Australia
Exhibition dates: late September - November 2012 (TBC - check the website for details)