Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Incoherently Massiver

(More incoherently massive, incoherently more massive?) A few days ago I returned to the Triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria. This time I saw the larger-scale works on the ground floor, "larger-scale" being the distinguishing feature. The largest of all is the enormous reclining Buddha by Xu Zhen that dominates the forecourt, but there were a considerable number of other works that each took up a sizeable room. Perhaps the most impressive for me was the sinister mass of the work by Shilpa Gupta (not given a title), which was a roughly spherical shape some four metres across, the outside covered with microphones, placed in a dark room. There were evidently speakers inside the mass, as there was sound, a mixture of crowds talking, music, and other noises. The work was conceived as a meditation on borders and flows of refugees, referring in particular to the separation of Pakistan from Gupta's native India in 1947.

Detail of Shilpa Gupta's work
Another work that appealed to me was the large grouping of extraordinary masks under the title "Vespers" by Neri Oxman, who directs the Mediated Matter group in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The works were made using newly developed 3D printing techniques. They were also very effectively lit, each plinth having small lights pointing upwards; there were also narrow-beam spotlights in the ceiling.

From the "Vespers" series by Neri Oxman

Cross-cultural exuberance was provided by the Javanese artist Uji (Hahan) Handoko Eko Saputro, whose work combines traditional Javanese images with pop-culture styles. Another exuberant work was by the American artist Pae White, who strung a room with brightly coloured threads as well as decorating the walls in bold patterns; and a third was the "Flower Obsession" room by well-known Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. On entry to this we were given a paper flower with an adhesive base, and asked to add it somewhere in the room. A contrast was the too-cool-for-school array of chairs by the Japanese designer Aki Sato, from Nendo Design. It is claimed that the chairs were inspired by the visual gestures found in manga comics.

One of the works inn the installation by Uji (Hahan) Handoko Eko Saputro

Part of Pae White's room

Yayoi Kusama's "Flower Obsession" (part)

One of Aki Sato's chairs

Another Japanese work was "Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement" by teamLab from Tokyo. This was a swirling vortex-like projection on the floor of a room with mirrored walls; the centre area of the projection was responsive to the movements of people nearby.  Then there was the selfie heaven of "Santa Cruz River" by Alexandra Kehayoglu (Argentina); an unfair description, as the work has a serious purpose, being based on a threatened ecosystem.

 teamLab's swirling floor

Alexandra Kehayoglu's "Santa Cruz River"

The last of the room-sized installations I'll mention is "Noss Noss", the treatment of the downstairs café in the NGV by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj. The main element is repeated red octagons containing an Arabic word. On this visit I found out what the word means: it is "stop" in Arabic; the octagons are Arabic stop signs.

The floor of the café (Hassan Hajjaj)
I'll close by mentioning a work that does not take up a whole room by itself, though it does occupy three large panels: "Sump System" by Hong Kong/Australian artist Richard Giblett. This is a detailed drawing of a semi-abstracted industrial landscape, the whole appearing to be reflected in some black liquid like sump oil, the "sump" of the title; it refers to the invisible dark underside of our society of profligate consumption. I assume this work was inspired in part by British artist Richard Wilson's work "20:50", which consisted of an actual lake of sump oil in a room; I saw it in London some years ago and the oil did act as a very effective (and spooky) black mirror.

Detail of Richard Giblett's "Sump System"

My tentative opinion of the Triennial from my last visit has been confirmed: there is a lot of interesting and varied work, but there seemed to be no particular reason for bringing together these works at this time, except maybe Instagrammability.

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