Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Yes I Can, No Can Do

by Annalice Creighton

18 May 2011

5 Positive Affirmations for Art-making: Yes I Can, No Can Do curated by Tom Polo

Blacktown Arts Centre, 25 February - 4 June 2011

Even within the success of completed, exhibited work, there is anxiety. The contradictory impulses of the mind oscillate wildly between moments of utter confidence and shattering uncertainty - “yes , I can, no can do”. These positive and negative affirmations make up the title of an exhibition curated by Tom Polo currently on show at Blacktown Arts Centre. Featuring the work of artists Jodhi Whalen, Prophetic Initiatives, Ben Norris and Garry Trinh,Yes I Can, No Can Do embraces contradictory notions such as the prosaic and the fantastic, success and failure and the process of goal-oriented pursuits. The artist and non-artist alike experience all of these things, often all at once. Hence, I offer some positive affirmations for the art-maker to be repeated twice a day in front of a mirror, scrawled on a post-it, printed on a fridge magnet or commemorative porcelain plate.

Number 1: Everything is getting better every day

…and every day is better when you are one step further towards your goal. Four screens tilt up from the polished wooden floorboards framing a personal trainer’s perspective of artist Jodhi Whalen. The faint soundtrack of her video performance echoes from the nearby corner: “1-2-3-4, lets go!” In between frustrated yells she throws glove-fisted punches, flops into sweat-inducing star jumps, followed by high-kneed jogging, a downward dog, a ten second plank, push down, step up. It’s exhausting to watch. The mundane masochism of an exercise routine is more than just prime-time entertainment. Whalen’s work replaces the extreme gestures of endurance-based performance art (cut off an arm, hang out with a coyote) with the familiar art form of weight loss and personal training. Whalen’s is one of many works in this exhibition which question the art/life divide and the function of the artist and the art world through a thematic and material investigation that is equal parts conceptual project and everyday ritual.

Number 2: I radiate love and happiness

Love is an art medium. Art is a faith-based quasi-religious system. Collaborative duo Prophetic Initiatives, made up of David Capra and Leahlani Johnson, present a performance of a different kind (they even have a smoke machine!) along with sculptural relics exorcised from their white gallery plinths in a comic fashion. What remains to view are various make-shift objects, caught in a state of flux, a collage of alchemical substances and improvised forms.

Number 3: I am living in the house of my dreams

…and that house has ionic columns. Ben Norris plays with familiar decorative architectural forms that feature in the facades of many suburban homes. His Living Room series divorces these elements from their aesthetic context and renders them in polymer clay, forging a copy of something that itself crudely quotes classical style and thereby transforms its desirability and the original reference entirely.

Number 4: Every task I do is worthwhile and is part of a bigger plan

Garry Trinh’s Successful Failures presents images photographed on his meandering walks around the suburbs of Western Sydney. Everyday scenes memorialised as spectacular or mundane or spectacularly mundane- a garbage bin, a lost dog sign, white road markings, a broken rusted wire fence, or the athletic stunt of plank-balancing on a kitchen bench top.

Number 5: The more grateful I am, the more reasons I find to be grateful

And seeing this exhibition is one of them.

Annalice Creighton is a freelance writer, artist and educator.