Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Fragments of War

by Vaughan O

03 Jun 2011

Buffer Zone, Armory Gallery, Sydney, 14 May - 31 July 2011

I'm just back from Hokkaido, the Northern Island. Rich and hurried Japanese take the plane, others take the ferry: waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters, small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. [1]

On March 14 2011, Japanese president Naota Kan announced that the catastrophe of the earthquake, tsunami and associated damage was the most severe crisis faced by Japan since World War II [2]. For President Kan, like Chris Marker’s fictional cameraman in Sans Soleil, war and its physical legacy remain as traces in the everyday and a source of constant comparison.

The comparison between the earthquake disaster and devastation experienced by Japan during WWII is an intriguing one. While paralleling military and planetary forces in terms of their destructive similarity, it also hints at the Second World War’s currency within cultural memory.

Buffer Zone at the Armory Gallery meets physical and architectural military legacy head on. Unafraid of ambiguity and contradiction, curators Alan Giddy and Ihor Holubizky have assembled an impressive (if not overwhelming) selection of 18 artists from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Finland, the UK, New Zealand, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Referencing the Sydney Olympic Park’s classification of the area as an estuarine ‘buffer zone,’ curators Giddy and Holubizky’s savvy exhibition examines the site’s co-mingling of natural and military space.

Addressing the Newington Armory site is a delicate operation, with brooding bunkers and earthen blast shields sandwiched between mangroves and parklands. Yet there is surprising humour in the exhibition. In particular, Peter Woodford-Smith’s doomsday clock installation and Martin Simms’ inflatable outdoor sculptures display a somewhat black sense of the comedic.

The most enticing works within Buffer Zone trace military influence beyond the Armory site. Like Marker’s fictional cameraman inSans Soleil, these artists recognise fragments of military space beyond bunkers and corroded ruins, into the everyday. Mark Brown’s sound installation Barricade Radio is particularly effective in this way. Constructing a trinity of tank-traps and wired together as an antenna, the artwork is sonically resonated by radio traffic, static and interference.

While Newington Armory epitomises the most literal entrenchment of military space, its past influence extends beyond the site. Placing his sound installation in relation to the trio of radio towers that straddle the Armory, Brown’s Barricade Radio alludes to the former military function of these antennas.

Brown’s installation traces military influence beyond what is visible and obvious. While Barricade Radio employs the ‘antiquated’ medium of radio, it points to the invisible presence of military technologies; from terrestrially detached satellites to the chemical residues of ordnance once stored at Newington Armory. Questioning the neutrality and history of civilian spaces, Buffer Zone is a sophisticated exploration of site, military legacy and urban space.

Curated by Alan Giddy & Ihor Holubizky.

Exhibiting Artists: Allan Giddy, Annette Mangaard, Atanas Djonov, Bonita Ely, Deborah West, Deirdre Nelson, Eva Barton, Helen Sturgess, Ian Howard, John Gillies, Lyndall Phelps, Mark Brown, Martin Sims, Mr Snow, Peter Woodford-Smith, Pia Männikkö, Richard Goodwin and Sarah Iremonger.

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[1] Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (1983)

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12726297