Peter Tyn­dall: bLogos/​HA HA

Victoria Perin
Memo Review

Now that it seems to be end­ing, what has this peri­od of enforced online exhibit­ing taught us? A dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem that we took for grant­ed (exhi­bi­tion is installed in gallery, audi­ence looks at work of art, exhi­bi­tion is dein­stalled, audi­ence remem­bers or for­gets exhi­bi­tion) was stripped away overnight. What was left (unless you were fired) was an indus­try of arts work­ers with­out a pro­gram. Since then, work­ers have been busy digi­tis­ing every­thing, but have we clicked? If we have clicked, out of inter­est or duty, we have looked, but what have we seen? What, if any­thing, have we remembered?

Of this peri­od I will remem­ber the exhi­bi­tions mount­ed in sim­u­lat­ed” gallery spaces — The Pot­ter Muse­um of Art just launched one. These dig­i­tal gal­leries are like video game ver­sions of exist­ing or imag­ined rooms; The Pot­ter has recre­at­ed its upstairs gallery rooms. Repro­duc­tions of art are then installed” as images past­ed flat on the walls of these fac­sim­i­le rooms. Like an inte­ri­or Google Map, you click around the room and scroll up to a work”. I am moved by the labour that has gone into these dig­i­tal solu­tions” for the estranged pub­lic, but at the same time let us all admit: these things don’t work. With the upmost respect for the effort that it took to cre­ate these air­less exhi­bi­tions, we must leave this mod­el behind as a mon­u­ment to our lock­down sins.

It turns out that mak­ing art for the inter­net is hard. It turns out that is a skill, if not out­right an innate tal­ent. I have a new­found appre­ci­a­tion for artists who cre­ate art for the inter­net — I don’t mean art about the inter­net (although I taught Hito Stey­erl to under­grad­u­ates over Zoom recent­ly. The appro­pri­ate­ness of look­ing at Stey­erl exclu­sive­ly online was imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent to all, new­ly enriched by com­pul­so­ry cyber-study, and we savoured the expe­ri­ence). I am talk­ing about artists who cre­ate with and for the inter­net as an exten­sion of their dai­ly prac­tice. Insta­gram is the place were visu­al artists dwell online. There are users who the Insta­gram algo­rithm sends me as a pri­or­i­ty. These artists process their aes­thet­ic-thought through Insta­gram. The users I like hard­ly post their art­work, but rather inspi­ra­tions, jokes, polit­i­cal con­cerns, visu­al ideas, or small cor­ners of their life. Their posts are not forced. No one’s mak­ing them do this. The algo­rithm ser­vices my enthu­si­asm for these (heavy air quotes) con­tent cre­ators” and their posts come up first. You’ll like this”, the algo­rithm says (and I do).

Peter Tyndall’s long-run­ning blog bLogos/​HA HA is an exhi­bi­tion space that I have returned to fre­quent­ly dur­ing this peri­od. The Insta­gram users I refer to above are exclu­sive­ly young artists, but Tyn­dall (who is rep­re­sent­ed by Anna Schwarz Gallery) is firm­ly estab­lished. Tyn­dall, how­ev­er, at 69 years of age, is bloody good at the inter­net. Bet­ter, I’d argue, than most mil­len­ni­als. He start­ed bLogos/​HA HA in 2008, and it has been a dig­i­tal arm of his dai­ly prac­tice ever since.

Tyndall’s blog has a reportage struc­ture. He sees things of inter­est and copy-pastes the infor­ma­tion (images, text, links) direct­ly into his post. This dig­i­tal col­lage-style — a vac­u­um­ing up of press-releas­es, auc­tion notices, online reviews — leans heav­i­ly on the con­cept of con­nois­seur­ship. Tyn­dall is archiv­ing his inter­est in art, and his posts express this obses­sion with see­ing aes­thet­i­cal­ly. More than record-keep­ing, Tyn­dall will always com­ment some way on his found mate­r­i­al. These addi­tions are often cryp­tic and come in no stan­dard­ised form: it might be selec­tive quot­ing, or high­light­ing text that Tyn­dall finds par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant, but it is most com­mon­ly a cap­tion on a found image that reads The­atre of the Actors of Regard” (indi­cat­ing that his co-opt­ing insti­tu­tion (abbre­vi­at­ed to TAR) has tak­en pos­ses­sion of that image), or a short reflec­tion, writ­ten in sec­ond-per­son per­spec­tive, from your cor­re­spon­dent”. Some­times Tyn­dall will cre­ate a respon­sive art­work, usu­al­ly a draw­ing, relat­ed to the mate­r­i­al in the post. If we are lucky, he will occa­sion­al­ly turn these images into GIFs, like his mem­o­rable, ridicu­lous one of leg­endary author Ger­ald Mur­nane (see above).

If you go to the blog today, you will first find his land­ing-quote, which is on every page and which reads in part: I have lisp­ing­ly put togeth­er this … about past trans­ac­tions, that (this mate­r­i­al) might not be trod­den under foot”. In his recent posts are reflec­tions on the destruc­tion of stat­ues depict­ing racist, colo­nial­ist and mon­strous” his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, a link to an excel­lent online video mate­r­i­al on artist Helen Maud­s­ley pro­duced by The Pot­ter, posts devot­ed to tele­vi­sion shows that Tyn­dall has watched/​is watch­ing (it’s often not clear if the artist is post­ing because he has wit­nessed some­thing that day or if he is free-asso­ci­at­ing), a med­i­ta­tion on the lat­er­al brain and Rem­brandt, a note on a past work of his about to be sold at auc­tion, and an in-depth reflec­tion on a Memo Review from a few weeks ago (post­ed after the idea for this review was already born, but the respon­sive speed of Tyndall’s post­ing out­strips our lum­ber­ing week­ly post). His blog has kept up the sta­mi­na of over ten posts a month for twelve years now.

The con­tent Tyn­dall cre­ates on bLogos/​HA HA, like his paint­ing prac­tice, is about look­ing at art. The title used for every piece he makes has been approx­i­mate­ly the same for over four decades:

detail

A Per­son Looks At A Work Of Art/

some­one looks at something …

LOGOS/HA HA

This title is also used to sign-off” each blog post, indi­cat­ing that each post is a detail” of a sin­gle work that Tyn­dall is con­tin­u­ous­ly mak­ing. Tyn­dall has changed this title over time. In 2014 Tyn­dall linked to a review writ­ten by artist/​critic Robert Rooney, with a com­ment on this art­work title:

Since the late 70s, Tyn­dall has giv­en all his works the (same) title … The mean­ing of these words should be clear to all, yet for some peo­ple this strat­e­gy seems to cre­ate a bar­ri­er between the work and the view­er. I am tempt­ed to think of this as some­thing akin to the ha ha” in 18th cen­tu­ry land­scape gar­den­ing whose pur­pose was to ensure that the cat­tle kept their distance.

Tyn­dall had used the HA HA phrase in ear­li­er art­works, but this descrip­tion of the ha-ha, which is a sort of pit that cre­ates a bar­ri­er while pre­serv­ing an unin­ter­rupt­ed view of the land­scape beyond”, clear­ly res­onat­ed with the artist, and some­time after this review from 1987 Tyn­dall incor­po­rat­ed HA HA into his title.

Like Rooney wrote, we all under­stand the mean­ing of these words” in Tyndall’s title, the sen­tences aren’t com­plex, but the con­se­quences of this title are often dif­fi­cult for view­ers. Like cat­tle, we look at Tyndall’s work, invok­ing the action pre­dict­ed in the title, but the act of look­ing is some­how arrest­ed by the aware­ness that this look­ing is con­sti­tut­ing the work. The some­one” in some­one looks at some­thing … is you. In this instant feed­back loop, what is before us is sud­den­ly bound to us.

While I like Tyndall’s gallery work, which you can see on [this] web­site, his brand of post­mod­ern play, born deep in the wake of the con­cep­tu­al art moment, nev­er feels more vital than on bLogos/​HA HA. From expe­ri­ence, the blog doesn’t make sense until you have grasped the pun­ning frame­work that sus­tains it. It takes some repeat view­ing. Yet in that view­ing you will find Tyn­dall lead­ing you through look­ing. One pic­ture will immac­u­late­ly beget anoth­er image, and in the asso­ci­a­tion Tyn­dall offers you a thread to fol­low. Per­haps, if the log­ic is too sub­li­mat­ed, Tyn­dall will write a com­ment, or redraw the image in some way; he might pho­to­shop the orig­i­nal image with his sig­na­ture yel­low rec­tan­gle lat­tice-design, which is both a struc­ture to hang some­thing on and a frame to see some­thing through.

Tyndall’s omniv­o­rous look­ing at art means that his blog is per­haps the most devot­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of local art his­to­ry I can think of. Although his inter­est in art is broad, his posi­tion as a key fig­ure in Melbourne’s con­tem­po­rary art scene in the 1970s and 1980s makes him artic­u­late Aus­tralian art as an insid­er” would. He has the same fond­ness and nos­tal­gia for the gen­er­a­tion of Mel­bourne artists pre­ced­ing him that the Gee­long-born artist Ian Burn had. Tyn­dall is per­haps an illus­tra­tion of Burn’s pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of the artist over the his­to­ri­an in his essay titled Is Art His­to­ry Any Use to Artists?’ (1985):

Pic­tures embody an his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing and prac­tice which links them to par­tic­u­lar artis­tic and cul­tur­al tra­di­tions, class­es and soci­eties. That under­stand­ing is built up large­ly through the way an artist notices and looks at art … His­to­ry isn’t just a back­ground’, or a set of occa­sion­al ref­er­ences, but is infused in the cre­ative process.

Rather than being arrest­ed by the task in front of you as a view­er (blog-read­er), Tyndall’s blog invites you into the cre­ative process of recon­sti­tut­ing a his­to­ry of the art-image. His sec­ond-per­son nar­ra­tion pri­ori­tis­es you as the eyes” of the blog, see­ing in these pic­tures what he (the artist) sees.

Blog­ging as an inter­net medi­um is almost antique. Nowa­days there doesn’t seem to be any­thing dag­gi­er than a blogspot — although the ear­ly Web 2.0 vibe is retro enough to be exploit­ed by some of Melbourne’s hip mil­len­ni­al scenes like white­cu­berd, Meow and the now extinct Mel­bourne Fine Art Gos­sip Blog. Main­stream Inter­net cul­ture has moved on to the micro-blog­ging” for­mat of char­ac­ter-restrict­ed tweets, Insta­gram cap­tions, or 15 sec­ond tik­tok video­clips. I am instead remind­ed of Ger­ald Murnane’s archives of files, in which he has buried decades of fic­tion­al work. Tyn­dall, a Mur­nane fan, in post­ing his fre­quent mis­sives, makes his work vis­i­ble to oth­ers, where­as Murnane’s is locked away in a col­lec­tion of ever-fill­ing fil­ing cabinets.

This con­nec­tion back to phys­i­cal archive keep­ing is telling, as the orig­i­nal action Tyndall’s blog most recalls is the neo-avant-garde prac­tice of mail art net­work­ing that flour­ished in the 1970s. Mail art is a medi­um that Tyn­dall still par­tic­i­pates in. A search on this blog for post reveals that the Tyn­dall fam­i­ly once owned a phar­ma­cy and gift palace” next to the Kan­ga­roo Flat Post Office, and that Tyn­dall was once sent 3000 items” in one year by his friend the artist Robert MacPher­son. Impa­tient for true glob­al net­works, the world’s artists took to weav­ing a web of cor­re­spon­dence that formed an inter­net prac­tice before the inter­net exist­ed. MacPher­son lives in Toowong, a sub­urb of Bris­bane, and Tyn­dall in Hep­burn Springs (two hours from Mel­bourne); as two region­al” artists, they demon­strate that the dis­tance and iso­la­tion of the periph­ery has his­tor­i­cal­ly bred intense­ly com­mu­nica­tive art.

While Tyndall’s project needs to be con­sid­ered in rela­tion to the his­to­ry of mail, and per­haps even more obvi­ous­ly the his­to­ry of archive art, before this can hap­pen it needs to be accept­ed as an art­work itself. This was done in the bril­liant­ly chaot­ic Mel­bourne Now exhi­bi­tion at the NGV in 2014, in which bLogos/​HA HA was rep­re­sent­ed by a touch­screen inter­face, but also as a kind of mur­al past­ed up on the gallery wall. Here we have the reverse of our cur­rent prob­lem: instead of offline art­works being awk­ward­ly placed into dig­i­tal rooms, the Mel­bourne Now dis­play proved that exhibit­ing inter­net art IRL can be equal­ly frustrating.

I am not sure how we can pos­si­bly doc­u­ment and remem­ber the strug­gle of the Covid-19 lock­down, with all its inter­con­nect­ed real-world per­ils medi­at­ed through the com­mu­nica­tive frame of the inter­net screen. I’m just an art his­to­ri­an. But I am sure that artists like Tyn­dall and those mil­len­ni­als on Insta­gram who I am so grate­ful for, will show me how. As Pamela Hans­ford wrote in her 1987 cat­a­logue Peter Tyn­dall: dag­ger def­i­n­i­tions,“Tyn­dall clear­ly loves look­ing, and loves the look of oth­ers look­ing”. Tyndall’s reminds us that once, before being online became such a chore, we loved look­ing at — gaz­ing into — the internet.

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