Stay no more, ye wounded. Flee thee hence the gallery space.
John Hurrell, Artbash, May 6, 2006
The sometimes antagonistic relationship between artists and their audiences has always been fascinating. On occasion L. Budd and P. Roche have caused their audiences to choke in revulsion, the former through the use of rotting, maggoty meat and screeching turntables, the latter through self mutilation and eyeballing confrontation. These examples are sufficiently gross and unrelenting as to be perfectly clear about their agonistic politics, but sometimes artists are more subtle in their devious ways.
A couple of Mike Parr self-portrait charcoal drawings that toured in the Australian Symbols, Emblems, Signatures exhibition of the mid eighties are interesting variations on this theme. The way they were installed enabled Parr to discreetly attack a voyeurism which he himself had encouraged. Their aggression came from his use of an anamorphic drawing method – using grids and photography – where his stretched out, distorted head didn't cohere in terms of perspective unless the viewer stood in a certain position. Parr perversely had these drawings put in a corner so the situation was impossible1. You needed to dive through solid walls to get to the optimum position. It was a little like somebody who has started to tell you a joke but before they get to the punch line they disappear. You want to throttle them.
Similarly in New Plymouth you want to throttle David Clegg for being a sadistic bastard. You feel so manipulated - for reasons to do with ears not eyes. Let me elaborate.
archivedestruct is like this. Using microphones positioned at ear height, attached to headphones, the artist has wandered through various parts of the city recording ambient sound. At the same time, on these excursions, he has taken photographs, not at set intervals but when incidents occur such as say, passing people or trees – the camera being unaimed and held very low, about knee height. The photographs are placed in large white envelopes and numbered to match a classification number he has given each disc of recordings, the letter used depending on generic subject matter. The indexes for these numbers [a sort of 'table of contents' page] are mounted on stands positioned on the table amongst various scattered CDs and envelopes, so that curious visitors can sift through them and correlate the images with the recordings. And if they are really interested, later go to the actual sites [if they can be identified] and check that Clegg is not making stuff up.
The overtly mischievous bit is this. On the table [and listed in the index] Clegg has left three radios that loudly play recordings broadcast from a hidden room next door. These recordings are out-of-date news items mixed in with ambient sound. While you are concentrating on the recorded discs, using the sounds on the headphones to make connections with the photographs you are looking at, sometimes between the recordings you get bands of silence that separate the sequence of tracks. During the 'playing' of those bands you cop the radio broadcasts that the headphones can't block out. They sabotage your concentration when you are attempting to analyse the aural and visual data. The interfering 'noise' or 'static' subverts your ability to use your memory to match up the various components.
Clegg began this project last year when he had a Rita Angus residency in Wellington. He prepared it for the experimental Litmus space that is linked to the School of Fine Arts at Massey www.litmus.org.nz. The Govett show is its second leg, and for every venue Clegg starts to replace certain recordings and photographs from the previous exhibition with similar versions found in the new location. If the old sites, like say footbridges, escalators or promenades, can't be substituted afresh, the old material is retained – otherwise the documentation changes. After New Plymouth archivedestruct will go to The Physics Room in Christchurch.
This project continues Clegg's established interest in sound and photographic recordings as methods of documentation. In earlier projects he has aurally narrated urban fables or anecdotes [Professional Man], videoed parts of his Museum Of Noname Objects, and interviewed European directors and curators about museum design www.imaginarymuseum.com.
archivedestruct seems to be a comment on how a subject's body and mind regenerate themselves over time. It also seems to be a meditation on duality and the apparent separation of thought from corporeal substance. You sit in a chair and your static bum is miles away from your active head.
While so doing, if you are thinking about how Clegg's visual and aural images might fit together [and if they should], and the annoyingly overloaded radio broadcast overwhelms you sonically, it makes the two senses seem more distant than ever. In fact Clegg's comparatively small exhibition is a very clever foil to the big What Sound Does A Color Make? exhibition at the Govett, and entirely opposite in psychology to his next door neighbour on the ground floor, the Lye show, Old brain new media. It snorts at any possibility of synaesthesia, hooting at any notion that eye and ear might be linked - mentally or bodily. It underplays the body and encourages thought about thought and how it links things. It celebrates disembodiment.
1 See Symbols, Emblems, Signatures : Australian Drawings 1984, a show toured by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and National Gallery of Victoria, and curated by Jennifer Phipps. Catalogue photographs #13 show Eye Drawings from Cartesian Image [the Fire, The Ash, The Phoenix] Self Portrait as a Stone].
See also similar drawings in Graham Coulter-Smith's Mike Parr: The Self Portrait Project. Schwartz City, 1994, especially those within the installation A-Atrophic [Self Portrait at the age of 37]. See also the near identical work, Smear Instanata 1983 on Parr's image gallery www.shermangalleries.com.au
In relation to my later discussion of Clegg, pertaining to his use of prints Parr says in his diary, "The small plates are wonderful. Very good idea to have dragged them over floor. The resulting 'noise' is very telling. The more random and unstructured the better." See Latemouth, Mike Parr, Works on Paper 1987-2003, University Art Museum, Queensland 2003, p. 7.