The best part of any art administrators job is traveling to visit other art administrators and their galleries. Not because of the glamour of international travel, the pleasures of shopping and tourism, or even the sheer quantities of alcohol one is forced to partake of whilst there, but because you get to share ideas with people who do the same stuff as you, and because you spend the whole time saying things like "I know! Exactly!" to each other.
The second best part is if you get to bring artists with you, and they get to meet and talk with other artists, sharing their work and ideas. Thrash and Gleam, a series of exchange shows between The Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, and The Physics Room, Christchurch, contained all these elements within them, in ways which extended and formalized ongoing connections between the two project spaces, and the artistic communities they serve.
Gleam, curated by Chris Chapman, took possession of The Physics Room as if it belonged there. Four Adelaide artists, Tim Sterling, Kate Styker, James Dodd and Yoko Kajio, presented works which played with the codes and sign systems of contemporary design and magazine culture, rife with the enjoyment of style and glamour. A funky, confident show, the work was sexy, yet not overly glib, containing a certain ability to negotiate the tropes of desire and fashion with an awareness of the complexities and dichotomies inherent within 21st century consumer capitalism.
Tim Sterlings work sat upon a stack, or plinth, of old cassette tapes, their content providing a myriad of scattered readings for the (conspiracy) theorists among us - from hand-dubbed Tracy Chapman to The Story of the Black Hole and something called Music Therapy. Meticulous well beyond the point of obsessive, his intricate hand-sawn constructions from sheets of MDF of imagery, reached only after a tedious and complex personal system of coding (a Mongolian Hat, a necklace, some strange plant structures), are transformed further through their placement into an abstract network of geometric forms.
James Dodd painted straight onto gallery walls his own glossy versions of street tags, drawing on the localised yet universal languages of skate culture and street art. Strange, luminescent shades of green, James tags glided over the white gallery walls as if longing to slide outside and join their brothers in the street. Part of his work did indeed do that, with an accompanying series of stickers (half closed smiley-face) which the artist placed around town and gave out randomly, now to be found stuck on posters, windows, and scuffed on footpaths around the city.
Kate Strykers work captures another version of the city - the neon apparitions of lights and signage on shops and buildings. Transforming the relatively staid confines of Adelaide into a glistening Las Vegas-land her slide images stretched across the back room of The Physics Room, pulled into long threads of abstract colour. Redolent with 80s retro glamour, and drenched in the aesthetics of bigger is better her work flashed seductively and repeatedly before one.
Yoko Kajio pointed the forensic eye of her camera directly at the film itself, as her video projection moves towards, over, and away from a pile of translucent tape or film. Manipulated afterwards to a soft yet highly-coloured effect, her work served to medicalise the process of filming, referencing the scanning processes of the x-ray machine and its ability to read the body as if transparent. In the middle of the gallery room was heaped the actual literal film stuff, lit internally by a glowing bulb, almost appearing to hover just above the floor like a close encounter of the third kind.
With Chris, as curator, and most of the artists in town for the installation and opening of the show, the occasion was a riotous affair. However, tucked away in the office as I was, finishing off yet another funding proposal, I would have liked to have spent more time with the artists, most of whom were exploring the South Island for the first time. An opportunity to meet with local artists, particularly those of the Gleam artists who still live in Christchurch (the easiest way to curate an international show - include only Christchurch artists and wait six months!) it was easy to see connections between practices and modes of thinking across the cities.
Formal civic sister cities to each other, Christchurch and Adelaide can both be seen as struggling with both the effects of their geographic periphery and marginalisation to bigger cities (Sydney, Auckland), and the flatness and grid-like appearance of their inner CBD districts, yet both divert and feed off their obvious conservatism by providing small, subversive groupings and activities, and by their active and diverse arts communities.
Rising like a phoenix from the plains!
Emma Bugden is the General Manager of The Physics Room, an arts council-funded art project space in Christchurch. She is also a performance artist of a certain repute, spontaneous and prone to fits of joy and self-recrimination in direct proportion.