Everyone an artist, moving sideways


By Steven Giese

Art Gallery of NSW until September 15
Reviewed by Steven Giese

This year's Perspecta was an understandably Greinerised affair, chopped back a bit (they couldn't afford the two dimensional artists), privatised to the hilt and for the most part lacking a bit of soul.

Despite the potential conflict of interest between sponsorship, profit and artistic integrity, this year's performance contained some gems as well as some lemons. Some works devoted themselves to proving that an art exhibition could keep the pace of the Australian economy. The Perspecta's intellectual balance of trade weighed heavily in favour of imports.

The structural design of the exhibition at the AGNSW was notable for its resemblance to the human digestive tract. Visitors at the front of the gallery were greeted by the teeth of the exhibition, Ari Purhnen's Cell. They were then washed down the throat of the building by artificial rain before entering the intestines of the show itself.

The avalanche of gadgetry expected by some did not eventuate. In fact, some of the more high-tech bits were downright wholemeal in their intentions. Surprising really when so many artists refuse to mention the dying biosphere in their work.

The video installation of Peter Callas looked at capital, power and intrigue. His flashing totems of Japanese and American capitalism were remarkable purely for their sponsorship by the Sony corporation.

The vulnerability of nature and its private processes were evocatively expressed by Robyn Bracken in Sprung. Its atmosphere was both intimate and chilling, offering a restful alternative to the bright superficiality of so much contemporary practice.

Maria Kozic's enwalled doggies, however, illustrated the theoretically weak, entertainment orientation within this showcase of contemporary Australian art. The poor old woofies were dragged thousands of miles down to the southern hemisphere to be dumped in a privatised maze. It's no wonder they were growling. Really, who cares about Freudian detritus from Little Red Riding Hood? What about the ground parrot, the thylacine and the other poor bustards on this continent that face extinction because of habitat destruction?

There were all types of funny bits in the rest of the exhibition, like the joking romp of Luke Roberts and the fruit bats of Lin Onus. The Aboriginal sculpture was reliably profound and visually delightful. So too were the serpentine forms of Bronwyn Oliver. To make industrial products behave in such organic ways proposed the surprising possibility that progress and beauty may not be mutually exclusive.

The crowning piece of the exhibition had to be Adam Boyd's imported food display at the end of Perspecta's tract. His cans of Italian tomatoes and tuna from Thailand paid tasteful homage to the hungry and to the food producing industries of Australia.

It's a wonderful thing to realise that even in times of economic and environmental disaster, when what is left of existence needs to be looked directly in the face, Australian art can still move us sideways. The 1991 Perspecta established once and for all that "everyone is an artist".

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