Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Lumpen Falls

by Catherine Clover

10 Apr 2012

Artists: OSW (Terri Bird, Bianca Hester and Scott Mitchell)

Gallery: Conical Melbourne Australia

3rd - 24th March 2012

This installation considers movement and action through both space and time: objects are, or have been, thrown, dropped, propelled, rolled. Some of these actions take place during the exhibiting period and the viewer witnesses them, but others have taken place prior and I only see the evidence of their occurrence. This evidence takes the form of a video, a large oval frame supporting baby-pink paper filled with a random grouping of small holes and gashes, the throwing of balls by a tennis ball machine at a lopsided oversize green vinyl sphere and even the crashing of an ancient meteorite to earth. This play across time adds a sense of vertigo to my experience of the work and I become aware of my own body’s trajectory through space and time, both within the gallery space and beyond.

With its focus on planetary forces and performance, the installation seems illusive (and in some ways elusive) and its curiously intangible nature is unexpected. My imagination is filled with what has already taken place and this contextualises what is occurring, or what seems to be occurring (did that golden ball roll across the floor and respond to my movements or did I imagine it?) Because the concepts of the cosmos are so vast, it is hard to grasp them in any real way. But this installation goes some way to managing it by approaching the ideas incrementally, in bite size pieces.

Moving past the plasticine meteorite, towards the huge steel weather vane, or what I think looks like a weather vane, which has no meteorological function but directs me to look towards the shifty golden ball and the green vinyl sphere. The tennis ball machine is obscured by a wall, so I cannot see what is throwing the balls at first, only hear it. The sonic component provided by this interplay fills the gallery, and the repetition of the ‘thwop………..thwop’ of the machine is followed by a heavy ‘fwunk’ from the huge green sphere each time it is hit. It makes me wonder what sounds were made by the gems hitting the pink paper. The tennis ball activity is almost meditative in its repetition and I am mesmerised until all 150 tennis balls are thrown.

The works hang from the ceiling or are floor-bound. The installation is elemental in its oscillation between air and earth. The title bears the weight of the idea, and prompts me to think of one of Peter Greenaway’s early films The Falls. All 92 of the characters in the mock documentary have been affected by a ‘violent unknown event‘ and increasingly display the habits of birds, creatures that move freely between the earthly and the heavenly spheres.

There is a distinct playfulness and absurdity in this encounter, a whimsy that is partly encapsulated in the mix of materials used – plasticine, vinyl, paper. I can’t help smiling, wishing I was being flung through the air like that crazy football on camera. The green vinyl sphere, sitting huge in the corner, seems to be trying to blend in but never manages it, like Shaun Tan’s Lost Thing on the beach. The air in the sphere is forced out in a hefty expulsion whenever a ball hits, so that it is no longer spherical but is now sitting flat-ish on the floor and at a jaunty angle, as gravity takes its toll and exerts its pressure.

The thrust of the exhibition, to ‘open encounters between sensibility and thinking’ as the accompanying text explains, is timely, and the aesthetics of artmaking is enjoying a new relevance with reference to environmental considerations, with discussions propelled by, amongst others, American environmental philosophers Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant. What art offers is value placed on sense perception in combination with cognitive thinking. Our experience of the world through our senses is a significant form of knowledge that is mostly undervalued. Lumpen Falls carefully balances an aesthetics of engagement in combination with the role of rational and reasoned knowledge, set within a distinctly playful and optimistic context.