Ker­rie Poli­ness, Rose Nolan, Stephen Bram
Poli­ness, Nolan, Bram

20th September – 1st November 2014
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

POLI­NESS, NOLAN, BRAM’ is an exhi­bi­tion of new wall works by three lead­ing Mel­bourne artists, whose diverse approach­es to their medi­um belie a shared back­ground and strong col­lec­tive influ­ence in con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian art.

Poli­ness, Nolan and Bram met in the mid-1980s where each estab­lished their own prac­tice after study­ing in Mel­bourne. Con­nect­ed through influ­en­tial fig­ures such as John Nixon and Tony Clark, they were par­tic­i­pants in a scene which felt the glob­al impact of the­o­ry on the art world: a rapid expan­sion of the field of pos­si­bil­i­ty for art and artists; a place in an inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty; a shift in the agency of the audi­ence; and release from the hier­ar­chies and nation-build­ing aims of local art history.

While the sub­jects and sub­jec­tiv­i­ties of their field were rad­i­cal­ly renewed, each artist con­duct­ed these new con­ver­sa­tions in an estab­lished medi­um. Paint­ing was, and con­tin­ues to be, the medi­um in which their think­ing and mak­ing locates itself. In Bram’s dig­i­tal prints, Poli­ness’ vinyl draw­ings and field mark­ings, and Nolan’s instal­la­tions, the mate­r­i­al log­ic is that of paint­ing, which remains a medi­um that enables ideas to become mate­r­i­al reality.

Stephen Bram has long engaged in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of shift­ing per­spec­tives. His paint­ings, dig­i­tal works and archi­tec­tur­al con­struc­tions all explore and test meth­ods of artic­u­lat­ing, rep­re­sent­ing and cre­at­ing space, both with­in and out­side the art­work itself.

Bram’s wall paint­ings, begin­ning in the late 1990s with an exhi­bi­tion at artist-run CBD gallery in Syd­ney, can be read as a moment between his paint­ings on can­vas and his built archi­tec­tur­al envi­ron­ments. As draw­ings of three-point per­spec­ti­val space, the wall paint­ings cre­ate a new space with the min­i­mum of means. They are built around, but are not about, the spe­cif­ic spaces they inhab­it. Bram treats these phys­i­cal vol­umes as abstracts, notions of space, allow­ing the site-spe­cif­ic to tran­scend the specifics of the site.

Unti­tled (three point per­spec­tive) is the first wall paint­ing that Bram has designed in some ten years. As is the case for each of Bram’s paint­ings, this work is deter­mined by a set of points’, from which any num­ber of vari­a­tions might be made. While these points are real and defined, to Bram, they hold no impor­tance oth­er than anchor­ing the depict­ed space with­in the work — whose expe­ri­ence he sees as being the most impor­tant ele­ment for the viewer.

Rose Nolan uses every­day lan­guage and mate­ri­als in ways that re-deploy Mod­ernist for­mal tropes in a per­son­al, play­ful and philo­soph­i­cal man­ner. Using a hard-edged geo­met­ric font of her own mak­ing, in char­ac­ter­is­tic red and white, Nolan’s works address the expe­ri­ence of see­ing, being seen, and being human. She uses paint, paper, card­board, hes­s­ian and oth­er tex­tiles to make tan­gi­ble cer­tain feel­ings: anx­i­eties, aspi­ra­tions or affirmations.

For Nolan, these wall works have been part of the tool­box’ of prac­tice, a resource to draw upon that allows an idea to hold a vast space while being at the same time, an eco­nom­i­cal use of space and mate­ri­als. They allow for expan­sion and con­trac­tion, pro­jec­tion and re-scal­ing, all phys­i­cal qual­i­ties whose psy­cho­log­i­cal effects are at the core of Nolan’s work. By mak­ing lan­guage con­crete in this way, Nolan allows mean­ing to be approached dif­fer­ent­ly. The muta­bil­i­ty of such mean­ings is present on her first wall work from the late 1990s, A Big Word — HERO, which was shown at CNR, a small gallery run by Bram in his stu­dio in Carl­ton. Sten­cilled onto a win­dow fac­ing the street, the let­ters spelling HERO could be looked through; on the wall oppo­site, let­ters spelled out the work SCUM­BAG. In the years since, Nolan’s works have evoked the equiv­o­cal nature of the speak­er, as much as that of speech.

As with many of Nolan’s text-based works, A Big Word — HOPE­FUL quick­ly sug­gests more than its face-val­ue propo­si­tion. The big­ness of hope is accom­pa­nied by its antonyms and its dan­gers: dis­ap­point­ment and cyn­i­cism are present by asso­ci­a­tion, lurk­ing in the cam­ou­flage of neg­a­tive space around a sin­gle pos­i­tive word. But if Nolan’s lan­guage games have always led more to ques­tions than to answers, their seri­al­i­ty insists that per­haps keep­ing going, all things con­sid­ered, is the best strategy.

Ker­rie Poli­ness is known for both her rule-based paint­ing and draw­ing works, and her research-based projects that inves­ti­gate the nat­ur­al and social his­to­ries of place. Her geo­met­ric wall draw­ings are designed to be installed by groups of par­tic­i­pants, allow­ing indi­vid­u­als’ own process­es of inter­pre­ta­tion and deci­sion-mak­ing to inflect the final out­come. An instruc­tion man­u­al for each wall draw­ing sets the lim­its of cer­tain prop­er­ties — the colours and mate­ri­als used, the min­i­mum size of the wall, or the size of the fin­ished work, for exam­ple — and with­in these rules, the installers become inte­gral to the man­i­fes­ta­tion of each iter­a­tion of a sin­gle piece. Poli­ness has an abid­ing inter­est in sys­tems, sym­me­try and the impos­si­bil­i­ty of per­fect repli­ca­tion. In her work, the con­tin­gen­cies of nature become vis­i­ble through the rigid rules of logic.

Poli­ness came to wall paint­ing as a way to dema­te­ri­alise paint­ing, with­out it dis­ap­pear­ing. At Store 5, Mel­bourne, in 1989, she com­plet­ed a cir­cu­lar, spray-paint­ed work using mask­ing tape for hard-edged pat­tern that blurred at its out­er edges. From small biro draw­ings of com­plex pat­terns, Poli­ness was able to re-scale works to become much larg­er; this was also a strat­e­gy that allowed her work to trav­el — some­thing that Bram and Nolan also found use­ful in their own wall works. By writ­ing detailed instruc­tions, Poli­ness can trans­mit a work to any­one, any­where, and see the dif­fer­ences between ver­sions. Indeed, the instruc­tions are them­selves the work: as soon as it has begun, the instal­la­tion is ready for viewing.

In recent wall works, Poli­ness has focused on describ­ing sim­ple ges­tures though com­pli­cat­ed instruc­tions. In the intro­duc­tion to the man­u­al for OMG, she states: A series of per­son­al intu­itive deci­sions deter­mines the dynam­ics of the draw­ing and the lev­el of dis­tor­tion of the geo­met­ric pat­tern […] OMG incor­po­rates the pos­si­bil­i­ty to steer and play […] It is impor­tant to under­stand that there is no cor­rect or incor­rect out­comes in terms of the wave dynam­ics that are cre­at­ed. Although some draw­ings will be more beau­ti­ful or inter­est­ing than others.”

Unit­ed in their ongo­ing use of the wall work as an ongo­ing and gen­er­a­tive part of their respec­tive prac­tices, these artists allow an under­stand­ing of paint­ing as a much-expand­ed medi­um. Emerg­ing from a tra­di­tion of geo­met­ric abstrac­tion, their work also incor­po­rates key aspects of Con­cep­tu­al prac­tice that con­tin­ue to course through con­tem­po­rary art. Each wall work describes a con­cern for econ­o­my; a desire to be respon­sive to site; an inter­est in seri­al­i­ty and rep­e­ti­tion; and the impor­tance of lan­guage, per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty, and the expe­ri­ence of the view­er. Recall­ing and devel­op­ing from a moment of irrev­o­ca­ble change in con­tem­po­rary art, these new works remain invest­ed in rad­i­cal open­ness to the world, in a world that has become more than ever, open to art.


instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Rose Nolan

A Big Word — HOPEFUL, 2014
acrylic paint direct­ly on wall
550 cm x 2122 cm
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Ker­rie Poliness

OMG, 2014
wall draw­ing instruc­tion book
dimen­sions variable

Ker­rie Poliness

BBKO, 2014
Graph­ic film
Dimen­sions variable

Stephen Bram

Unti­tled (three point perspective), 2014
Acrylic paint direct­ly on wall
632.4472.9572.6 cm