A New Truth to Materials

Camille Serisier


Ross Manning, Sad Magick, 2009, installation. Photo: Camille Serisier.

After climbing the four flights of stairs to reach Boxcopy I am hoping for something good. As with other ARIs where the very act of arriving can feel like a triumph, I am keen to have my hard work repaid. At the top of the stairs is a little blackboard. It confirms my successful ascent to the group exhibition, A New Truth to Materials. I take a step forward and survey my surroundings.

Boxcopy is an ARI run out of a small room on the top story of Metro Arts in Brisbane as part of its Artist Run Initiative Program. Metro Arts invites applications for a one-year residency, after which the ARI in residence is booted out to make room for a new group of enthusiastic folk. This is Boxcopy’s last show at Metro Arts before they leave this umbrella.

When I arrive, not all of the show is working. Greeting me with a somewhat harried demeanor is a young gentleman hurriedly trying to fix some projection screens and a slide projector that sounds pretty sick. I feel for him, my own time in ARIs was punctuated by days of running around trying to get things to work. Believing in the beauty that is the art community, I try to give him a hand. Unfortunately, we agree the work cannot be fixed at this time. In a stupid attempt to cheer him up, I reveal I am visiting to review the show. The groan of despair I receive makes me think perhaps I should just check out the work.

There are three other works in this part of the gallery, the first of which is by Miles Hall. I smell it before I locate it visually. Next to the entrance are two vertical sheets of ply about two metres high and twenty centimetres wide leaning against the wall. The smell is emanating from thick layers of impasto oil paint positively smeared over the surface of each sheet in variously coloured bands. A similar piece by the same artist is tucked around the corner. The smell is very satisfying and makes me think happily of good times in studios that probably should have had extraction fans.

The third work, by Chris Handran, is in two parts. The first is a skinny raw pine plinth with a stack of photographs on it and the second a small shelf, raw pine again, with pegs holding up a section of film reel. The images feel almost irrelevant—these are humble objects of somewhat antiquated origins that make me wonder when I last saw a physical photograph. As I consider the effects of the digital revolution, I am distracted by someone coming out of the second gallery space. Moving in that direction I sweep aside a dubiously hung black curtain and enter.

What greets me is intriguing. Titled Sad Magick (2009) by artist Ross Manning, the room is dark except for a small table in the centre that is radiating coloured light. As I ease closer I identify a small LED torch hanging just above a roughly cut piece of circular timber. The torch is gently bumping into two rectangular prisms that are blu-tacked to the centre of the wood. The light travels through the prisms, shooting out and fragmenting into different colours that waver over the gallery walls. The effect is immediately calming, but it is only when my eyes adjust to the darkness that I realise it is also deceptively clever.

I begin to take in the whole rickety adventure. High above the table is a crossbeam of curious structural integrity. A crusty old paint roller handle is gaffer taped to this ‘beam’ so that its rotating cylinder hangs perpendicular to the ground. The light is attached somewhere below. But what makes the light move? Between the LED at the bottom and the roller at the top is a vertical length of dowel with four pieces of raggedly torn cardboard attached to it. These rectangular sections act as a weather vane to catch air being pumped by a fan sitting on a plinth about a metre away. This, in turn, makes the light at the centre of this marvellous contraption waver from side to side, echoing the movement of the fan and creating the impressive light display.

Wow, says I. This guy needs to go on that young inventors show. As I stand there, marvelling at the impressive engineering, the cheeky references to painting, and the pretty light, I ponder further. We live in a society that has used technology to distance itself from the natural world. Now we seem to be scraping our way back toward the environmental cycles that this technology was developed to bypass. The work before me is made of processed pieces of material and equipment, but somehow they have been broken up and reconfigured to produce a cycle. It’s plugged in, I’ll admit that, but it is ironically natural nonetheless.

The light created by this rickety mish-mash of technological off-cuts is as calming as a campfire. I find myself mesmerised and held by this principle: light dancing in the wind and how it has come to be. This work forces me to fill the darkness with my thoughts. The wind rustles through the trees—I mean the fan whistles round its protective mesh—and I enter a contemplative space that allows me to question. How on earth did a couple of ripped bits of cardboard and a crappy little LED carry me so far?

A New Truth to Materials was held at Boxcopy, Brisbane from 8 to 30 May, 2009. The exhibition featured the work of Chloe Cogle, Miles Hall, Chris Handran and Ross Manning.

Originally published in Runway, Issue 14, Futures, Winter 2009, pp 84 – 85. 


Camille Serisier is a visual artist based in Brisbane. Through her work Serisier investigates and critiques representations of the feminine and nature in Australian culture....


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