Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

A Way of Calling

by Josee Vesely

15 Jun 2011

A Way of Calling

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 14 May – 19 June 2011

A strange melancholia pervades the works in A Way of Calling. Curator Melissa Keys talks of things “inconceivable and unrepresentable…A type of dark cultural matter”, suggesting there is a deliberate curatorial trajectory to keeping things vague and suggestive.

Interestingly, the least ambiguous work, Anne Shelton’s In a Forest is also the most successful. The photographs of oak trees, which were presented to the athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and since often referred to as the “Hitler Oaks”, are both banal and symbolically loaded in their now matured form. The usually life affirming symbol of the tree is corrupted by its associations with fascism and genocide; nature stands defiled and indifferent. These themes are further enhanced by their reversal on the adjacent wall, recalling roots, the past, disorientation and disorder. These are grim, honest, unfettered images with a strong conceptual impact.

Sheila and Nicholas Pye’s three video works are in stark contrast to this considered and sparing use of symbolism. Combining motifs from fairytales, magic, levitation, witchy charms, psychosexual anxiety and claustrophobia, the sets and themes seem overly stylised and almost twee. Two of the works are also highly derivative of Abramovic and Ulay (Death Energy, Rest Energy) and somewhat randomly the late 90s English film Disco Pigs. If this is intentional then it should be referenced in the catalogue.

Minimalism does work in Dane Mitchell’s Talisman (A Year of Sleep) where time, space, magic, gravity and dreaming are all suggested with simple and elegant sculptural agency. Similarly, even though Susan Fereday’s Confirmation (Veronica) is somewhat bewildering and cryptic, the themes of Catholicism and archaic feminine power are almost intuitively understood or culturally remembered, through her deft use of both curious and simple iconography.

Colleen Ahern’s paintings, some apparently recalling drug-induced states, are mostly borrowed from found images on the internet. Although this may be conceptually interesting in terms of memory, archive, false nostalgia and as a comment on the information age, the paintings are dull and inert (but ironically look good in reproduction). Forever, which sets a mimetic trace and invocation within the room, is the one exception.

Traces, ghosts, dreams, the uncanny and magical, the unimagined, the undefined, “things lost or vanished”, are all suggested in this exhibition. But by nature they are also, well, indefinable. It’s a tricky curatorial premise and one that is often lost in the austerity and ambiguity of this exhibition. The encounter is somewhat dislocated, sometimes pallid, often melancholic and probably fairly inaccessible. It’s also strangely intriguing.

Exhibiting artists: Colleen Ahern (Aus), Susan Fereday (AUS/GER), Jason Hendrik Hansma (NLD), Dane Mitchell (NZ), Sheila Pye & Nicholas Pye (CAN), Ann Shelton (NZ).