Liminal Spaces within a Contemporary Australian Art's Practice Abstract Stagings of Fleeting Narratives: Alluding to Memory.
The genre of installation within the context of contemporary visual arts practice is defined by its hybrid quality, concentrating diverse and contradictory notions within its influence. It has been argued that ‘Space; place and time may be addressed as fictional constructs yet ultimately they represent tangible experiences.’ (de Oliveria, Oxley and Petry, 1993:7-11) Installation offers multiple viewpoints for what Davidson and Desmond call, ‘the mobilised gaze and palpable references to the material world’. (David and Desmond, 1996:6) It assembles together sound, touch, odour and spatial senses to attract an audience, to besiege, and ultimately to accentuate a meeting with the work. Through this dramatic encounter, the installation becomes an arena for personal performance and the viewer is implicated within the work as a participant. This species of work may often appear to be haphazard accumulations of disparate data, in which the passage determined by the artist is not always perceptible, predictable nor even desirable. The experience with time is direct but multifaceted; a succession of states that melt into one form. Related to this sense of time is the capacity to evoke memory, displacing a past into a present.
The human memory is a highly contested site of prejudices, which may transform experiences, a negotiation rather than a reflection of a past. Only a small fraction of individual events may be recalled exclusively from the vast range that an environment offers. Memory has therefore sifted what perception has already sifted leaving only fragments of the initial experience. (Baddeley, 1982) Every act of recalling a past is simultaneously an act of not recalling other pasts or other "snapshots" of that past. The memory records and recalls; the memory destroys and forgets. (Lowenthal, 1985) The significance of the contents of any text may be intimately tied to a fine network of associations, the consequences of countless acts brought directly or indirectly into the scope of past experience, to be reconstructed as a form of present past. (Hilty, 1992:15) To remember is to forget. Memory shapes our sense of reality. (Wark, 1994)
A narrative can be as elusive as memory and its implied or indirect references suggest a perpetuation of reinterpretations, renewals and ruptures. In the process of selecting an image or object to evoke the past or as a surrogate for the past, countless others are discarded. The editing of a vast intractable flow of information, results in a constructed sequence of time, a fiction of the present. A narrative may reside within any conscious or unconscious configuration of a language. Within the language of the visual, constructed narratives, fragmented or implied may be indicated within collections or assemblages that contain several versions of plots and subplots. (Hillier, 1996) Narratives are culturally produced, the meanings generated, the significance’s attributed and the forms assumed are articulations of a culture's ideology. (Hall, 1997: 37)
It has been proposed by Michael Rolands that ‘object signifying traditions rather than specific formal language or speech serve as a means of gaining access to unconscious [memory] traces’. (Rolands, 1993: 44) These traditions do so by allowing direct re-engagement with past experiences in ways that are prevented in the language of the written text. The use of "found objects" is a lure that may be used to attract. Although it may be seen as an encounter with the real and the everyday and ‘it is always apparent that the objects are props, choreographed for effect placed for seduction. Like theatre and cinema installation is a form of hyper-realism.’ (Davidson and Desmond, 1996:6)
A significant part of the methodology of certain studio practice is the collection of objects that possess viability as signifiers within cultural systems and convey different layers of information. The process of the collection of detritus with certain levels of chance and enigma may be comparable to the methods associated with the Surrealists. These ready-made objects are obtained from various sources such as the junk emporiums, boot and garage sales, camping shops and hardware stores. Constructional aspects of certain installation works include the modification and re-modification of these ready-made and often utilitarian objects that may have no particular aesthetic value. These objects are chosen precisely for their ubiquity rather than their specificity. In the use of collections of ordinary familiar objects, the intent is that as a result of recognising aspects from their own lives, an audience will experience an empathy with the work.
Another part of this practice may be the inclusion of found photographic material with the notion of "found" being in inverted commas. In certain practices, the author is declared to be "unknown" and it is the practitioner who manipulates this material incorporating it into the work. However these assertions could be seen as a fiction in itself. In propelling a point of view into a public space the manipulation of the media is choreographed for effect.
Among the works exhibited by the author between 1997 and 1999 are five that explore aspects of memory as constructed narratives. These works are connected by an objective to involve the audience in an act of what is defined by Marianne Hirsch as "Post-memory". Hirsch distinguishes what she terms ‘Post-memory’ from memory by defining it as a form of memory which is connected to its object or source and mediated through imaginative investment and creation rather than through recollection. Characteristically, it is the experience of ‘those who grow up dominated by narratives that proceed their birth whose own belated stories are evacuated by the stories of the previous generation’. (Hirsch, 1997: 22-23) Hirsch suggests that familial photographs act as signifiers in the process of the continuation and regeneration of memory, all be it once or twice removed.
The underpinning of the 1997 work Bureau of Memory (Sleziak, 1997) was the notion that the act of filing could be interpreted as a system of control brought into place to govern uncertainties. The basic components of this work were fragmented photographic material of persons "unknown" and found objects connected with outdated office systems, contained within suspended rectilinear units of bronze mesh. This photographic evidence as filed memory has been enlarged to distortion or undistinguished detail, officiously secured by large paperclips or viciously pierced by bill-spikes. The flickering eye agitated the moiré effect of the mesh and an incessant parade of snapshots perpetuated.
In 1999 three works, Contrapose (Sleziak, 1999c), Contradiction (Sleziak, 1999d) and Contraband (Sleziak, 1999b) were exhibited under the title "Some Fictions". Contraband (Sleziak, 1999b) was a configuration of four lanterns resting in a state of impermanence on stacks of transparent plastic crates. The images taken from found slides, made promises of fragmented narratives that required the audience to enter these zones of incompleteness. Contrapose (Sleziak, 1999c) offered the audience six identical open boxes each containing a shoe made of hide. Barely resting on a shelf of glass with no visible supports the space between the boxes was precise and measured. The narratives are personalised by the female names appearing as an indicator on each box. The position of the viewer is compromised within the staging of the mirrored box lids. Contradiction (Sleziak, 1999d) ‘meagre in its assembly, comprised of four music stands; two sun-faded sketch books, found black and white photographs, two portable lights and a shuttlecock’. (Kirkman, 1999) Two stands supported the sketchbooks containing both black and white photographs together with pages that revealed only empty photo corners. Another stand supported two small but bright lamps focused on a shuttlecock with the printed word ‘silence’. The fourth stand supported no object. ‘It appears that each of the participants is a spectator at their own stalled performance. Silence has literally descended.’ (Kirkman, 1999)
X (Sleziak, 1999a) a 1999 work, composed of ten clear cubes made of magnifying plastic filled with text labeled ping-pong balls, arranged carelessly on a curatorial device of a narrow white shelf. ‘X’ is a chromosome, it is also a mark signifying consent or indicating choice. The text in gold or white on each ping- pong ball read ex, extra, extract, or extraction; the one liners on the chance and distortion of origins. The holes in the top face of the boxes allowed air and a link with the outside but also spoke of a ‘suspended potential for motion.’ (Fazakerley, 1999: 17) The ping-pong balls implied a reference to lottery balls but being static they forestalled the chance of winning. The balls physically weightless, visually distorted by the perspex magnification, their uncontrollableness caged, the audience was ‘left to question the narratives that are shelved’ (Vouis, 1999: 4), left to chance, visible and breathing, absent and present. A text barely visible, white on white, under the shelf read ‘my aim is true’.
Thirst, (Sleziak and Rodwell, 1997) a collaborative work with Trevor Rodwell was produced and shown in 1997. The salt crystals were a metaphor for desire: possessive desire that lurks as a saboteur to fracture and reverse the free passage of communication. Salt a precious commodity was once bartered for slaves and its weight exchanged for gold. Salt is an addition whose necessity is not perceived before it arrives; once tried it is irresistible. Salt may be offered as a sign of hospitality and hence a signal for the opening of communication from one state to another.
Into the space, a viewer/participant entered a landscape of glowing salt mounds formed a lit path towards a projected image; Cellini's Salt Cellar, a sumptuous symbol of power wealth and ostentation. Isolated on the periphery of vision, a vitrine of ceramic energy conductors connected by sagging wires suggests the notion of distorted communication not unlike a Gothic tale. The space behind contained a block of ice slowly melting drop by drop into a carpet of artificial grass. In this sanctuary of artifice and futility, the sounds of incessantly dripping water make a space for impotent triumph.
Subterfug(u)e (Sleziak and Duffield, 1999) a collaborative site contingent work with Julie Duffield in 1999, was a response to a subterranean architectural space that asked of the audience a shifting of the perspectives of visual engagements. Within the title is the word fugue that has two meanings. One is a musical composition consisting of one or more short simultaneous themes, the other an altered state of consciousness involving flight from one's own identity. As Lisa Harms states ‘it is the fugue itself that articulates a representation of a collaborative project. A depiction that figures art-making as a discipline requiring practice and co-operation, as the orchestrated performances of 'things', the layered repetition of simultaneous themes; melodic visual play.’ (Harms, 1999:19) A row of transparent balloons described an otherwise absent wall. On the opposite side, as a counterpoint, pinpoints of light emanating from empty containers stained by time and (mis)use acted as beacons, offering a chance to examine the minutiae of the pitted wall. A visual play was constructed with the fixed feature of an air conditioning duct and a rope ladder that directed the audience towards the projection of an ambiguous symbol that hinted at musical notation. Featured at the top of a column was a charcoal drawing that implied the Ionic order, which provided a ruse for omitted indication of the substrata. Harms in reviewing the work remarked, ‘Flight it seems need not take one away from the material, the sensuous, but might instead, contrarily carry one in the opposite direction.’ (Harms, 1999: 19)
Zofia Sleziak (1997) Bureau of Memory
The genre of Installation through the act of embracing a multiplicity of artforms, media, cultures and histories, necessarily inherits the differences and discordances between them. This art form could be said to take its cue from cinematic experience, in its representation of the immanence of the past in the present, the compression of time and its manipulation of the time the audience spends within the work. As a dramatic encounter this genre has the potential to become an arena for personal performance and the viewer is implicated within the work as participant. The conditions of this form of practice are that viewer, light and space are integral elements. The genre possesses a ‘presence’ that could be likened to that of the stage. The chance encounters of hitherto familiar and unfamiliar objects are employed in part as a jolt to the consciousness of an audience.
The audience who occupies the space formerly held by the artist is now a performer of this drama of mutability. Here nothing is fixed; all is only as construct. Here memory is a fiction of the present. The utilisation of codes that reside within objects to convey aspects of memory, are ultimately an audience's own memory as a fabricator of narratives. A form of present past, a vicarious past, a constructed sequence of time, the liminal space between an event and recall, the memory of memory.
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Sleziak, Zofia and Rodwell, Trevor (1997) Thirst, exhibited at North Adelaide School of Art Gallery, Adelaide, Australia, 23 Jul-14 Aug.
Sleziak, Zofia (1997) ‘Bureau of Memory’, exhibited in Bureaux at Tapas Gallery, Adelaide, Australia, 22 Sep-3 Oct.
Sleziak, Zofia (1999a) ‘X’, exhibited in Dig: cross-cultural excavations at Nexus Multicultural Gallery, Adelaide, Australia, 8 Apr-9 May
Sleziak, Zofia (1999b) ‘Contraband’, exhibited in Some Fictions at North Adelaide School of Art, Adelaide, Australia, 18 Aug-9 Sep
Sleziak, Zofia (1999c) ‘Contrapose’, exhibited in Some Fictions at North Adelaide School of Art, Adelaide, Australia, 18 Aug-9 Sep
Sleziak, Zofia (1999d) ‘Contradiction’, exhibited in Some Fictions at North Adelaide School of Art, Adelaide, Australia, 18 Aug-9 Sep
Sleziak, Zofia and Duffield, Julie (1999) Subterfug(u)e, exhibited at SEAS Gallery, Adelaide, Australia, 11-28 Nov.
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