In 2011, the last map shop in Sydney closed its doors, but not before artist Connie Anthes rescued from it a large set of plan drawers. This imposing piece of furniture formed both subject and object of Low Relief, Anthes’ contribution to Damien Minton Gallery’s recent series of One Night Stand exhibitions. Leaving the existing drawer labels in place, Anthes invited twenty of her artist colleagues to present a work responding to a particular label, based on a synergy between their practice and this pre-existing text. This was the starting point for a dynamic premise that invited the unexpected on a number of levels.
Explorations of collage, colour and shape wove their way through the first half a dozen drawers. Like a jewellery box, the drawer labelled AUSTRALIA RELIEF revealed Anna Kristensen’s 2 Stone Arrangements with Colour Shifts, which featured colourful painted gems scattered across saturated colour fields. The transitional colour theme continued with Matthew Allen’s Untitled print, in which white borders graduated into an International Klein Blue-coloured central void (housed appropriately within a drawer devoid of label). David Haines (working in the LGA MAPS drawer), displayed Ersatz Objects 1-2, monochrome prints portraying rock-like shapes, perhaps mapping the geological or astrological. In OTHER RELIEF, Gregory Hodge displayed eight small colourful collages, while in THEMATIC MAPS Criena Court deconstructed a crystal, laying three triangles of translucent coloured Perspex over a landscape setting in untitled film still (mountains) – as the drawer was opened and closed the triangles slid around echoing the way light shifts across the earth throughout the day. Shards of mirror featured in Abbas Makrab’s collaged painting A Secret Letter, allowing the viewer to see themselves reflected in the artist’s story of love letters sent via waterways in both the Middle East, and western Sydney.
THE AMERICANS was probably meant to say THE AMERICAS but this happy accident of a drawer was home to a telephone featuring a direct line to Texan-born, Hong Kong-based artist Eric Niebuhr. His work What Would You Like to Say to the American(s)? allowed those present to query Niebuhr as a synecdoche for his fellow countrymen, whilst providing him with a device for gathering subject matter via audience interaction, as well as the general soundscape of the event.
Peter Sharp’s contribution in the form of WATERWAYS featured 26 found and painted objects in a grid formation, some weather- or water-worn, designed to be taken home in pairs selected by the viewer. The wooden presence of Sharp’s work was echoed in the following drawer (SYDNEY RELIEF) with Noel McKenna’s En fumant. On est content, a large pokerwork on plywood. The work was an homage to the fading art of pipe smoking (not enjoyed by McKenna despite his best attempts), and inspired by the elegant but now illegal window displays of George Street’s Sol Levy tobacconist featuring smoking paraphernalia.
Ian Milliss’ It’s simple really was a single-page treatise on the artist as agent of cultural change, and why he believes there are so few true artists. Sitting simply in the centre of the STATE RELIEF drawer, Milliss’ words commanded attention.
The lower half of Anthes’ plan drawers (rotated to allow viewers on both sides of the metal behemoth to stickybeak simultaneously) saw a return to earth and materiality. This began with STATES and Michaela Gleave’s It Matters. Upon opening the drawer the viewer was immediately struck by a chemical smell, and presented with two drawings – one in which the title was invisibly inscribed into rag paper with potassium nitrate, and a second in which the title appeared burnt into the paper itself. Purchase of this work included a private burning by the artist.
The AUSTRALIA drawer contained Sky on ply by Catherine Cassidy, a dozen small and often irregularly-sized paintings on found timber sitting flush up against one another, portraying the Australian landscape with colourful painterly expression and skyward focus. The focus then moved back to the ground with Janet Haslett’s 13-23 October 2013. Haslett’s work, in the drawer labelled NSW, was a carpet of canvases, painted, shredded and re-woven into a tactile landscape of earthen hues.
Returning to the urban, Paul Williams took the cue from his SYDNEY drawer and went meta, producing three boxed sets of ink on paper posters for Low Relief itself: No Relief, Low Belief and No Refills. Each suite of works was contained within a bespoke cardboard presentation box, and was peppered with inky daubs and collaged motifs taken from Williams’ recent ceramics practice. Madeleine Preston invited viewers into her WORLD via a digital print of her studio, which formed the base for a limited edition book of found images, as well as a sound work of ambient noises, and a packet of the snacks the artist eats to fuel her during the creative process – a world of senses. Urban exploration continued via Sarah Breen-Lovett’s Where The Earth Breathes, showing the green areas of 30 MAIN CITIES as black silhouette rendered in laser cut paper.
Leahlani Johnson used 6 SHEETS as her brief and kept it that way – restricting her use of materials, resulting in a delicate collage of geometric shapes in autumnal colours, resembling an overhead plan of a Japanese home. Continuing the journey into ASIAN COUNTRIES, Sarah Goffman built a Bridge to Asia from Sydney via a mixed media installation including packaging collected from Japanese products. Peter Nelson used his knowledge of and time spent in ASIA PACIFIC CONTINENTS to explore Cram Schools, where Chinese students study art techniques via inflexible and uncreative means. This manifested itself via Nelson’s continuing calligraphy practice and many leaves of calligraphic notes containing home truths about cram schools written in both Mandarin and English.
The final drawer was the second without a label and saw a return to the colour fields explored in the first drawers. Floria Tosca’s Electromagnetic Radiation in The Visible Spectrum – Cyan revealed an intense blue glow emanating from the back of the drawer. The promise of something hiding in that secret light encapsulated the spirit of Low Relief, for artist and viewer alike.
As is sometimes the case with artists who also organise exhibitions, Anthes felt uncomfortable with the label of ‘curator’ in relation to this project, preferring to think of her role as ‘un-curating’ by allowing the selected artists to control the content, and the vessel of the drawers and politics of audience engagement to control the viewing experience. There is a point of difference brought by artists in co-ordinating exhibitions – that is, how their own work is informed by the work of the other artists in their community and vice versa. Anthes herself has recently explored the shallow relief format within her own practice, pushing ideas out of one medium and into the next in an attempt to stretch the physical and conceptual limits of each material. This preoccupation translated across to Low Relief, as participating artists were simultaneously constrained and liberated by the given format. In this sense the exhibition was an interesting example of the praxis of artists engaging with each other’s practices.
Viewers too were constrained and liberated by Low Relief, as they vied to view the work over each other’s shoulders, and negotiated with their neighbour as to which drawer to open next. The sometimes cliquey atmosphere of exhibition openings was shifted, helped along by the diversity of included artists and their supporting communities, and the fact that this one night only exhibition was to be savoured rather than serve as a backing track to a beer and a chat. The evening took on the air of a happening, and it happened.
17 December 2013
Damien Minton Gallery, Sydney
Chloé Wolifson: chloewolifson.com
Connie Anthes: connieanthes.com