Sculpture Triennial Catalogue, 1993

                                                                                                                        A German poet once claimed that autonomy was the ‘unwritten law’ of sculpture. Today such a claim amounts to a paradox: how can an object remain complete to itself while it conforms to an unstated norm. The poet’s words (Rainer Maria Rilke Rodin and Other Prose Pieces (transl. G. C. Houston) London: Quartet, 1986 (orig. 1902), p. 8) now reverberate with their antithesis:

This distinguishing characteristic of (no)things, (in)complete (non-)self-absorption, was what gave to (the) plastic (he)art its cal(a)m(ity); it must have no desire nor expectation beyond (what is beyond) itself, nor bear any reference to what lies (beyond the) beyond, nor be (un)aware of anything outside itself. Its surroundings must (not) be found within it.
(parentheses not in original)

To those of a modern spirit (you?), the Triennial exercises a mode of perception which welcomes the eccentric qualities of space without the compulsion to make of them a new centre.

Here’s a confession. I left Hossein Valamanesh’s installation at the South Warf Docks surprised at the artist’s unexpected political turn: a segregated part of the wharf was strewn with charred timber and windows were painted with large white letters (‘Now Squatting’). It was only a fortuitous encounter with another sculpture pilgrim which revealed to me that I had missed entirely Valamanesh’s atmospheric work of trees and candles in a far flung shed. I would have shamefully dismissed this faux pas if the Triennial did not generally seem to evoke what was missing rather than what stands before the viewer. Indeed, this does not appear as an event for viewers at all—rather visitors (or latecomers).

A visit to the National Gallery of Victoria entails a wary (circum)navigation of (inner) space. Wax heads gaze eternally high on the walls over a circle of glistening light (Robert Owen). The solid planes of timber furniture are reduced to a skeleton of myriad joints (Wendy Webb). A circuit board which once might have nestled in living tissue now sits in a transparent dome (Stelarc). Turntables rotate under wooden cylinders to the distant echo of cutlery elsewhere in the gallery (Ernie Althoff). Guard rails prevent visitors walking over the celestial grid of a thousand (46 x 28) glowing hemispheres (Noelene Lucas). Another set of rails stops aspiring harpists strumming the rain angled in light (Jennifer Turpin). A piano which has played its last note now holds a bed of first and last straws inhabited by plastic mice (picked off daily by small-time art collectors) (Ken Unsworth). A room stores nothing but storage itself (Colin Duncan). And a glass cabinet houses days (e.g., Air of the Pantheon, Roma, Italia, 2.2.1993) in their invisible essence (Rosslynd Piggott).

This roundabout (and in-between) route comes to an abrupt end in a sandstone cave where strung up with rope is the forbidden ‘thing’—the maternal vessel (Karen Casey). But this theatre of presence fails to function: the machinery of sound, light and scent is not working today (too early). On the way out, a circle of grave posts loiter around those that have passed (Jean Baptist Apuatimi, Kevin Cook, Terence Farmer Elotamini, Francis Damien Mukwankumi, Brendon Mungatopi, Vincent Mungatopi, Karl Portaminni, Andrew Freddy Puruntatameri, Blanche Puruntatameri, Leon Puruntatameri, Paddy Freddy Puruntatameri, Geoffrey Tipiloura, John-Martin Tipungwuti). Death and guilt stand uneasily (to the side).

The (de)composition of death continues in the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. The whispers of HIV(+) women become a miniature roar in a bowl of green ash (Kate Lohse). In the space between institutions (Shrine, Synagogue, Herbarium, etc.) a Department of Actinology (fr. Gk. actino = ray) is established (Tony Trembath). Seven points of light shine on lemon trees (in bags) as beacons of the (in(di))visible (Domenico de Clario). Across town, at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, sine waves lap wooden posts without any pier (Joan Brassil).

At 200 Gertrude Street, straw mats lay a path through fields of mallee roots to mark the (fe)(male) alternative of red neon hotplates and iced copper profiles (Andrea Sunder Plassman). Around the corner, ether ohnetitel () draw(er)s its last breath(s). A screen of empty vests (4 x 5) takes flight from stenorous projectors (Alex Rizkalla). A grid of cardboard drawers ((7(5) x 15) - 8) exhales brass ((Andrew Charker)). A serial dispensary attends the fluctuating rhythms of bodies in care (Elisabeth Bodey). Mother nature bursts forth lawn (zipped), flowers (clasped) and fruit (tied) (Penelope Lee). And, on the way out, sighs a wall of x-rayed brea(s)t(h)s (7 x 6) (Sally Mannall).

At the other end of town is the other end of life. In Eades Place Children’s Centre (Kate Brennan, Mikala Dwyer, Margaret Roberts, Rebecca Turrell) clammy nappy air rises to the floor above where (e _ _ _ y) classrooms are wrapped, masked, chalked, glued. Thought hovers curiously around an electric fan (in pantyhose). Each day’s sandwich fillings are pressed in glass (Salami of West Melbourne, Australia 2.9.1993).

The parent(thesis) is a new home buyer in a reclaimed cattleyard. In Lynch’s Bridge Pioneer Homes (Unit 2 Weighbridge Lane) the sound of the generator indicates a premature use for this estate (John Barbour, Aleks Danko, Joan Grounds, Hewson/Walker). Red lint has descended (though the carpet is yet to arrive). A split bed allows absence in another’s proximity. And the kitchen radio plays static (between stations). This home is a fractal crevice of personal space.

An (early) spring is satirised by oranges strung on bare trees by student (The University of Melbourne) politicians. A young groundkeeper (in his walkman) follows with clippers. A less comic psycho(d)rama plays at the Ian Potter Gallery (Gordon Bennett). King and Queen cement garden abo(rigine)s stand on a chessboard (8 x 8) opposite the bust of a (white) female beauty (on pedestal). Snapshots of wife and husband gaze innocently across the either/or that once made laws. On the other side of the mirror(line), (little black) sambo money boxes line opposite a row of (white) male beauties.

White plaster draughts line up on the other side of the campus in the Percy Grainger Museum (Adrian Jones). The exhibit proclaims ‘THE NATURE OF (NON) (original bracket) MATERIAL EVIDENCE’. Within the museum, a house is made for the vapours of a visiting consciousness (‘metope’: space between triglyphs in a Doric frieze). And on the way out, a smell lingers of detergent recently applied by a visitor paid to attend.

Hereabouts, a (late) professor of political science (Alan Davies) once advised those who might have difficulty with a particular thought to try putting a ‘not’ in the sentence. Today it is curious why no one inquired what might arise if both versions seemed (un)true. While those answering to all of the above are now called hyphenated-subjects, those answering to none of the above remain post:(colon)ial subjects.

Elsewhere, young sculptors (Simon Barley, Barry Mills) nest in (recycled) tramline ironwork under Princes(s) Bridge (Grainger Snr.) woken by (dis)quiet all over Melbourne (Richard T((((Žipp(l)ing))))).

In conclusion, sculpture today seems less an act of creation than a foreign(sic) science. To (not) see the Triennial (5) is to leave crimes unsolved (death is too clever (by half)).