Structural Intergrity – Next Wave Festival 2010 (Review in Runway Magazine Issue 16)

Structural Integrity

Next Wave Festival 2010

Arts House Meat Market

5 Blackwood St

North Melbourne, VIC

Fri 14 – Sat 30 May 2010

Opening Thu 13 May 2010

Spread out across Melbourne and occupying spaces that ranged from the cavernous to the uncanny, from iconic sports stadiums to disused back laneways, the 2010 Next Wave festival once again infiltrated, subverted and critiqued our social and cultural fabric. The Next Wave festival has consistently provided invaluable avenues for emerging artists, writers and curators to engage with the world around them and this year’s raison d’etre ‘No Risk Too Great’ took this one step further as it sought to examine and breakdown the structures which inform and control the risk-adverse society that we inhabit. One of the most ambitious and large-scale exhibitions of the festival, Structural Integrity brought together six Australian and five Asian artist-run spaces at the Art House Meat Market in North Melbourne. Envisaged to reference world fairs of times past – with demarcated pavilion style spaces for each ARI – there was a real risk that the collating of such disparate voices would create an exhibition that felt disjointed to the viewer. Inevitably thematic inconsistency was always a risk as multiple conceptual voices were intertwined with varied artistic mediums however, I found that I became increasingly swept up in each space’s work: engaging and disengaging with each ARI’s space with increasing speed.

Entering the Meat Market I was confronted with a cacophony of mechanical sounds – the whirring of electrical motors and the crash and bang of metallic destruction. Six_a_INC’s work Supercharger (2010) sat in the centre of the cavernous space recalling barren landscapes of an interstellar world. Here the spectator’s relationship with the work became challenged, as outcomes and ways of engagement were cleverly left unanswered. Visitors were encouraged to take the reigns of these individually conceptualised remote controlled super-mobile-art-devices. It was an engagement that was entirely mesmeric, as these remote controlled devices meandered and maneuvered over strategically placed obstacles and crashed into each other rendering their fate delightfully unknown.

Amidst the colour and noise of the main Meat Market space – where Locksmith Project Space created a kind of mobile home made up of unfinished scraps of floral fabric that referenced parade ground contraptions or perhaps the transitory nature of circus life – I was drawn to spaces that sought to explore our sense of place and identity from entirely different cultural frames of reference. The Asia Pacific ARI’s that formed an integral part of this exhibition brought an extra conceptual layer to the exhibition as a number of them, in particular Art Centre Ongoing from Tokyo Japan and Post Museum from Singapore, adopted an outsider view of Australia. This view cleverly positioned Australia as a kind of ‘other’ inverting the us and them dichotomy that is frequently adopted by the mainstream to frame issues of nationhood. Masahiro Wada’s faux campsite living room installation acted as an archive of the time that he spent in country Victoria. Wada erected a makeshift temporary shelter in the centre of the space, using scraps of wood for the roof and the supporting walls. On the wall, haphazardly installed shelves displayed a photo archive made up of shots of scrubby bush, gold rush imagery and detritus found in country Victoria. Witnessing our interior and constructed mythologies presented through the lens of someone else positions our cultural identity front and centre, and prompted me to question its modes of construction.

The specificity of cultural identity and the social contexts which consequently inform its construction was also explored throughout Zhou Tao’s 1,2,3,4 (2010) work which formed part of Vitamin Creative Spaces’ mini pavilion. Shown on a small LCD monitor, Tao’s video work captured the morning routines of Chinese workers in various industries. With uniforms ranging from the brightly coloured to the navy blue of industrial workers, the workers yelled ‘1,2,3,4’ as they participated in morning marches and roll calls that appeared entirely militaristic in their intent – an instilling of discipline through regimentation. At its root, this work examines the conceptualisation of the individual as insignificant and acted as a profound visual account of the strength of the collective concept in China even as it concurrently embraces a laissez-faire western economic model.

Dichotomies of collective action versus individual pursuit, social justice versus government inactivity also featured prominently in the Post Museum’s public action work. During their residency in Melbourne, they gathered together a number of social justice groups that included Green Renters and Project Respect. Documented as part video work, part installation All Together Now (2010) brought together representatives from these disparate groups in the city of Melbourne. Forming a singular circular mass through an interlinked t-shirt, they meandered slowly down Bourke St amid a sea of curious onlookers. The object of the interlinked t-shirt became a strong visual metaphor for the importance of social justice groups supporting and influencing our everyday for the better. Adopting the approach of outsider looking inwards, Post Museum created a work that subtly critiques the social apathy that so often is embedded in societies such as Australia and Singapore.

Devoid of this social edge, but no less impressive in its scope, House of Natural Fibre’s new media installation S.A.T.U (Saturn Analogy of Trans-Urgency) (2010) explored hexagonal geometric theory and ruptured the relative calm at the rear of the Meat Market space as experimental computer bleeps and noises created its own distinct soundscape. Repeating the form of the hexagon, both in structural elements of this sculptural work and in video, the viewer was immersed within a field of geometry as a dazzling interplay of light and sound enveloped the space.

As I walked in and among each pavilion, aesthetic links began to emerge from the diverse cultural and conceptual works of each ARI. Geometric forms also made up the structural elements of Boxcopy’s process driven mixed-media installation Simple Pleasures (2010) which recalled imagery of the humble shed, as paraphernalia of a suburban existence: stubbie holders, bikes and sporting equipment, were strategically littered throughout. Strategies of documentation were also embedded in Y3K’s space, which used large sheets of flaccid fabric to demarcate and created a sort of ‘anti-pavilion’. These aesthetic interplays and the intermingling of distinct artistic identities imbued the exhibition with a sense of dynamism and occasion. No doubt due to the considered curatorial hand of Jeff Khan and Ulanda Blair, as spectator the visual over-stimulation left me in a continual state of unrest as I was continually drawn into each space only to be spat out the other end. Before leaving, I sat down and took a quiet moment to view Safari Team’s video work Dig to China – part III (2009). Housed in its own mini-viewing amphitheatre as part of Westspace’s pavilion, this work is ultimately a process of discovery, as each protagonist dives, digs and journeys closer to the centre of the earth. Throwing caution to the wind, Safari Team’s delightfully stylized exploratory account of what lies beneath the surface eloquently and humourously reminded me that risks are always worth taking no matter what the cost.

Copyright Leon Goh & Runway Magazine 2010

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