Joseph Kosuth, Lau­rie Ander­son, Janet Burchill & Jen­nifer McCam­ley, Tracey Emin, Brook Andrew, Pierre Huyghe, Lori Hersberger
Neon

30th August – 25th October 2008
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

Neon is a rare gaseous ele­ment present in the earth’s atmos­phere at one part in 65,000. Neon is one of the noble gas­es – noble because under stan­dard con­di­tions, it is a colour­less, odour­less, monatom­ic gas, with low chem­i­cal reac­tiv­i­ty. When used in vac­u­um dis­charge tubes and lamps, neon glows red. In Greek, neon is new’.

On the occa­sion of NEON at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Syd­ney the works of ten artists have been col­lect­ed in one space. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, giv­en its ubiq­ui­ty in signs and adver­tis­ing – con­sid­er Las Vegas, Osa­ka or Hong Kong – neon, here, is the medi­um for sin­gu­lar works of art.

Each artist brings to NEON a unique approach to art, ideas and mate­r­i­al. Some­what con­di­tioned by the medium’s tech­ni­cal­i­ty (the artists out­sourc­ing pro­duc­tion to a cer­tain degree) the idea’ is clear­ly privileged.

Joseph Kosuth’s con­tri­bu­tion to the exhi­bi­tion begins in 1965 with his first work using the medium.

In 2008, this devel­ops into W.F.T. #1 [yel­low]’, born out of Kosuth’s major instal­la­tion, The Lan­guage of Equi­lib­ri­um, pre­sent­ed on the Island of San Laz­zaro degli Armeni dur­ing the 2007 Venice Bien­nale. (W.F.T. #1 [yel­low]’ pre­mieres here in NEON).

In ref­er­ence to The Lan­guage of Equi­lib­ri­um, Kosuth states: This project, in yel­low neon, has as its basis lan­guage itself. It is a work which is a reflec­tion on its own con­struc­tion… The work engages the cul­tur­al and social his­to­ry of the evo­lu­tion of lan­guage itself, how the his­to­ry of a word shows its ties to cul­tures and social real­i­ties being quite dis­tinct and dis­con­nect­ed. It is only in the present when a word is used, as it is with a work of art being expe­ri­enced, that all that which com­pris­es the present finds its loca­tion in the process of mak­ing mean­ing. Here, in this work, lan­guage becomes both an alle­go­ry and an actu­al result of all of which it should want to speak.’1

Kosuth’s third work, Clear words, Clear sight’, 2007, cites two Ital­ians: Lui­gi Piran­del­lo and Gior­dano Bruno. Piran­del­lo – a Nobel Prize win­ner – is known for his ren­o­va­tion of the dra­ma and the mod­ernist the­atre. Con­cerned with the com­bi­na­tion of fic­tion and real­i­ty, and the inter­pre­ta­tion of events, for Piran­del­lo, art was the ulti­mate para­dox – where real­i­ty is both true and false. Bruno, the philoso­pher, was a roman­tic char­ac­ter – with­out coun­try or reli­gion, hav­ing fled his home in search of a place suit­ed to his intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty. Deeply inter­est­ed in the nature of ideas, he believed they are only the shad­ows of truths. He reject­ed reli­gion and the pop­u­lar opin­ions of his day and thus was essen­tial­ly mis­un­der­stood, or, ahead of his time. Kosuth’s Clear words…’ evokes and pays trib­ute to these two great thinkers. In reduc­ing their oeu­vres to two expres­sions Clear words, Clear sight’ Kosuth dis­tills the com­plex­i­ty and depth of their work and con­tin­ues his own reflec­tions on lan­guage and thought.

Lau­rie Anderson’s Neon Bow, 1980, used in her stage per­for­mances, evokes the his­tor­i­cal begin­nings of the use of neon tube in con­tem­po­rary art. Lucio Fontana’s famous neon arabesque, Strut­tura al neon (Neon struc­ture) 1951– made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the archi­tects Luciano Baldessari and Mar­cel­lo Grisot­ti for the IX Milan Tri­en­nale and util­is­ing 100 metres of neon tube – is thought to have been influ­enced by a famous pho­to­graph of Pablo Picas­so tak­en by Gjon Mili in 1950, depict­ing Picas­so draw­ing’ light dur­ing the long expo­sure of the cam­era. Anderson’s bow invokes this moment.

Janet Burchill and Jen­nifer McCamley’s Inland Empire, 2008, was con­ceived dur­ing a res­i­den­cy at IAS­KA, Keller­ber­rin in West­ern Aus­tralia ear­li­er this year. Orig­i­nal­ly installed in the desert land­scape, the neon tubes were pow­ered by a solar pow­er gen­er­a­tor. Installed in this way, begin­ning in broad day­light, the neon com­po­nent became clear­er as night approached. Inland Empire, like many of the artists’ works, ref­er­ences cin­e­ma, in this case David Lynch’s first exper­i­ment with dig­i­tal video. In Lynch’s Inland Empire, 2006, real­i­ty and fic­tion con­flate; the female pro­tag­o­nist must over­come adver­si­ty with­in her life and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In a remote town of West­ern Aus­tralia, the artists were engaged by the com­plex­i­ty of racial and gen­der politics.

Hard, but don’t push me’, or, but don’t push me hard’, is both antag­o­nis­tic and a plea. Indeed, Tracey Emin’s vast body of neon lines skirt the fine bor­der between romance and cyn­i­cism, between request and demand, reflect­ing the very inten­si­ty of the artist’s fun­da­men­tal ambi­gu­i­ty – as both vul­ner­a­ble woman and aggres­sive street fight­er. The line is often so fine, that the ten­sion is as potent as the strik­ing neon light ren­dered in Emin’s scratchy hand­writ­ing… observ­ing a tra­di­tion of fast actions in slow motion – like Lichtenstein’s graph­ic dot-paint­ed ver­sions of Abstract Expres­sion­ist gestures.

Emin’s works call up shared asso­ci­a­tions, begin­ning with the very per­son­al. Even when they seem to be addressed to an indi­vid­ual, the words often seem uni­ver­sal – as though they were giv­ing voice to our col­lec­tive hopes and fears’.2

The title of Kendell Geers’ Temene, 2007, comes from the Greek temenos (τέµενος), from the verb tem­no (τέµνω) to cut’. Tech­ni­cal­ly, the word refers to a kind of geo­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion, poignant here in Aus­tralia, and also select­ed out from the con­text of its orig­i­nal body of work. Read­ing SACRED SCARED’ over and over, the work projects a con­tem­po­rary con­di­tion of displacement.

The struc­ture and type­face are key, as well as the scale, design, shape, and the fact that the wall of the gallery is exposed. Red is said to be the first colour that we per­ceive and are able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate as babies. Per­haps that is why it is the colour of fear, dan­ger, lust, love, pas­sion and the dev­il. Of course it is also the colour of blood and red wine – the pas­sion of Christ…’3

Cul­tur­al dis­lo­ca­tion – or social era­sure – is allud­ed to in Bren­dan Van Hek’s White out/​Black out, 2008. Inspired ini­tial­ly by the idea of whit­ing out’ text on a typed page, the large polarised scrib­bles rep­re­sent white as that which is con­cealed, and black as void.

Like Emin’s quick text ges­ture, Van Hek’s work too is con­nect­ed to the tra­di­tion of fast ren­dered slow, allow­ing con­tem­pla­tion of the frozen gesture.

Brook Andrew’s work, buun­ji ngin­du­u­gir AMER­I­CA, 2001, ren­dered in red, white and blue – can trans­late as either share you Amer­i­ca’ or bludge you Amer­i­ca’, skirt­ing direct lines of mean­ing. Cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence is col­lapsed into one phrase. The flash­ing AMER­I­CA’ sug­gests gaudy Las Vegas motels and is rem­i­nis­cent of Pop and its icons.

Pop is also invoked, in Andrew’s Warho­lian screen print­ed images. The very colours here reflect the text above and the neon’s lumi­nos­i­ty is used in Sig­nal II, 2008, to draw atten­tion to the images on the can­vas. Archival pho­tographs col­lect­ed from the Roy­al Anthro­po­log­i­cal Insti­tute in Lon­don, depict Abo­rig­ines per­form­ing sim­u­lat­ed sex. Used orig­i­nal­ly as sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies’ these images remain unset­tling – espe­cial­ly because of the smil­ing face.

The gaze has been real­ly impor­tant in my work because it’s not real­ly about con­fronta­tion but about the way in which we look at each oth­er and about pre­con­ceived ideas. I think that comes from grow­ing up in a mixed fam­i­ly too, because peo­ple are always curi­ous. The gaze can be a metaphor for many dif­fer­ent things. I’ve made sure the eyes are look­ing back. They’re almost re-look­ing.’4

Despite aban­don­ing its orig­i­nal col­lec­tive of white neon dis­claimers’, Pierre Huyghe’s state­ment I do not own Snow White in NEON is a com­ment (or dis­claimer) of its own material.

Under­stand­ing the ori­gin of this seem­ing­ly arbi­trary ref­er­ence to a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter requires a cer­tain knowl­edge of the his­to­ry of the artist’s prac­tice. With­out this con­text, how­ev­er, the work still express­es a very bold and con­fi­dent state­ment, in its large white font. Ques­tions of the own­er­ship of ideas and copy­right are always present, but the state­ment also leaves view­ers in an imag­ined space. What does Huyghe have to do with Snow White? In the con­text of the exhi­bi­tion Cel­e­bra­tion Park – from which this piece is derived – there would be addi­tion­al state­ments, such as I do not own Tate Mod­ern, I do not own 433, col­lec­tive­ly referred to as dis­claimers’. Going back fur­ther in the artist’s prac­tice, we encounter Blanche Neige Lucie, 1997. The work depicts a woman singing Some­day my prince will come’, while a sto­ry appears in sub­ti­tles on the video. The woman, Lucie Dolène, was used by Dis­ney to dub Snow White in French. When a court case was announced by her against Dis­ney, Huyghe con­ceived the work, which like his oth­er works, plays with the con­fu­sion of fic­tion with real­i­ty – con­sis­tent­ly skirt­ing both.

Lori Hers­berg­er also inves­ti­gates fic­tive space, though through a more for­mal art/​painting strat­e­gy. Hersberger’s giant emp­ty frames in Ghost Rid­er (Doors) evoke min­i­mal­ist paint­ings, or, non-paint­ings. The pic­ture plane becomes the frame, and the void an imag­ined space. Ghost Rid­eris an ongo­ing project for Hers­berg­er – the works always result­ing in emp­ty rectangles/​squares, with care­ful­ly select­ed colours. In Ghost Rid­er (Doors) the vio­let (or dark pur­ple) rep­re­sents mys­tery, secret, the occult, the strange (the exot­ic), the shades between red and blue – it stands for soli­tude and cre­ativ­i­ty, unsat­is­fied and aphro­disi­ac. It is believed vio­let is the colour of penance and con­tem­pla­tion’.5

In addi­tion to the neon pre­sent­ed on the wall, Hersberger’s instal­la­tion extends onto – and through – the floor. Just as the audi­ence is invit­ed to immerse and com­plete the pic­ture with­in the neon frames, the reflec­tive sur­face of the black glass, or mir­ror, com­pletes the pic­ture and extends the work through the floor of the gallery. The work is com­posed dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on the van­tage point of the viewer.

With­in Hersberger’s mir­ror, we expe­ri­ence the exhi­bi­tion anew.

Tania Doropou­los, Cura­tor, 2008


Notes 1 Kosuth quot­ed in the press release for the project. http://​www​.flux​um​foun​da​tion​.co… 2 Sarah Kent, Tracey Emin: Fly­ing High”, http://​www​.white​cube​.com/​a​r​t​i​s​t​s​/​e​m​i​n​/​t​e​x​ts/88. First pub­lished in Neal Brown, Sarah Kent and Matthew Collings, Tracey Emin, Lon­don: Jay Jopling/​White Cube, 1998. 3 Email cor­re­spon­dence with the artist, August 2008. 4 Brook Andrew in an inter­view with Het­ti Perkins in, Het­ti Perkins and Jonathan Jones (eds), Half light: por­traits from Black Aus­tralia, exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Syd­ney, 2008. 5 Email cor­re­spon­dence with the artist, August 2008.

Images

NEON, 2008
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green 
Curat­ed by Tania Doropoulos

NEON, 2008
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green 
Curat­ed by Tania Doropoulos

NEON, 2008
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green 
Curat­ed by Tania Doropoulos

NEON, 2008
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Paul Green 
Curat­ed by Tania Doropoulos