Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Spectacle/ Obstacle

by Megan Garrett

03 Jun 2011

Spectacle/ Obstacle
Firstdraft, Sydney, 27 April – 15 May 2011

To get the best vista, you would stand across the road in Prince Alfred Park before entering Firstdraft, witnessing a golden radiance shimmering forth from the window, drawing you inside with its warmth, light and promise of magical things.

Up close: the ripple of Rebecca Bauerman’s Untitled Cascade is created by a portable fan turning its head this way and that, creating a Mexican wave of long gold tinselly strands. The magic ebbs out, replaced with banality that the hum of a fan signifies. It’s glitzy sure – in the spirit of a mid-year dance concert.

Like me, you might be one of those people for whom technology holds a mysterious aura. Even if this technology is a circa 1980s SONY television with an electric charge that you can wave over the screen, the resulting pretty sounds and colours may still elicit a response like that of the intrepid journeyers who trembled before the plumes of smoke and fireballs that was the Great and Powerful Oz. The more time spent with Pia Van Gelder’s Video Bells the more you can see what’s going on behind the curtain.

I won’t argue whether this was right or not: on opening night, an audience member lit one of the artworks on fire. I admit, standing in front of the word SINCERITY spelt out in sparklers in the wall – I felt like doing the same. You would not have this option later on because the remaining sparklers have been removed, burnt, and returned to the wall as bent and bubbly black sticks. A fire extinguisher has been placed nearby as reminder and the original damage stands as testament to the event. AM also deals in traces, but while Michaela Gleave’s Sincerity starts with an evocation of ‘truth’ and later exists as the eftermaele[1] of an event, Justin Balmain’s work invokes a double fraud. His subject is the superficial and drug skewed world of nightclubbing. His installation transposes a staged destructive aftermath into the gallery.

Is a spectacle an obstacle, obstructing because it distracts? InUniverse from curators SuperKaleidoscope we are again to be wowed with cheap tricks, mirrors and lights throwing a starry sky into the floor and through the wall. A portrait of an astronaut adorned with medals sits above the construction. Looking to space as our final frontier and dreaming of infinity surely distracts from the here and now.

Fallacy may be assumed in any display of spectacle, and perhaps similarly the tendency of a metaphor is to replace the actuality of both what it describes and the thing invoked to describe it. Greta Alfaro’s video In Ictu Oculi shows what may be lost when invoking tropes of all that is vulturine, vulturous, vulturish. For me, this figure of speech has never described the funny hoppy action these birds use to get across the ground, a subdued social atmosphere, caution in approaching a feed, or even a magnificent wingspan. This video is still highly staged; raw meat is hidden under a dinner party setting and the microphone at the table emphasises the clattering of cutlery and crockery over the vulturine sounds. Here In Ictu Oculi, and the show as a whole reveal that there are different levels of truth.


Exhibiting artists: Justin Balmain, Rebecca Baumann, Michaela Gleave and Pia Van Gelder, Greta Alfaro.

Curated by Kim Fasher and Sarah Mosca for SuperKaleidoscope as part of the Firstdraft emerging curators program. 


[1] For Eugenio Barba, “that which is said afterwards”, particularly of performance.