Friday 7 August 2009

Ms. & Mr. @ Kaliman Gallery

Sometimes you walk into a gallery and things will look like they're trying so achingly hard to actually look like art, that almost by sheer force of will it might become art, or at least certain type of art you'd find in a certain type of gallery. When you walk into the Ms. & Mr. show at Sydney's Kaliman Gallery, 'There There Dear Future' you feel like you ought to tread carefully for fear that a stray critical concept might cause the work to self-immolate in the heat of its own high concept.
You know the show is very high concept indeed as it is branded as much as it is curated, it comes complete with its own logo which positions it as a past and future retrospective. The scene then is set, the concept will have something or other to do with time. There are six pieces in this show: three are naive splashes of watercolour; three are video works presented on mounted monitors, one of which is 'to be completed in 2024'. The videos are cased on one face of hollow triangular mounts that are mirrored inside, their power cables are similarly and ostentatiously wrapped in reflective gold tape. The over all effect is of low budget science-fiction meets middle-brow surrealism. In scale and achievement it's fair to say the show is slight.
The video works initially seem the most promising things on display. 'Retroactive Walk' is a looped modified and piece of found footage from the CERN Large Hadron Collider. It features a short excerpt of a couple in white lab coats walking down a corridor, the pace has been slowed to almost frame by frame speed so their movements become both hardly perceptible and hugely significant, watching we almost will them to walk. Around them colour pulses in the edges between objects, the focus is blurred out and the frame appears to shudder. The overall effect is to give a sense of science fiction ominous. The evocation is of the public information films of the 1960s, that proclaimed the glories of the white heat of technological progress, it's something that one sees regularly in art galleries nowadays. In its jittery monochrome it also hints at science fiction B-movies. Of course the ironic re-appropriation of past visions of the future is a pretty tired device, one that has become a staple of mainstream TV, let alone art.

The theme of 'Time collisions' gives all of this work both its common thread, the old is made new and presented in some kind of kitsch futuristic context. Thus the watercolours hung on the walls around are, apparently, childhood works re-purposed and worked over with a psychedelic wash. It's here that I run out of much to say, but that doesn't seem to be something that stops 'Ms. and Mr.'. Doodles in a school exercise book are as hard to comment on as they are to take seriously.
'Frame Drag' is diverting but all style. Again a video montage and remix creates an unsettling atmosphere which reveals far less than it promises. In this case a youthful 'Mr.' and an older 'Ms.' blow smoke at one another. The principle interest is the out of synch interaction between the two figures in the frame, they appear together but also very much apart, their movements run at different speeds. Aside from the conceit of splicing current and archival footage of a couple into the same frame it feels like it could have been an hommage to Twin Peaks. That the work is so reminiscent of a David Lynch film sums up a lot of what's wrong here.

'Ms. & Mr.' seem content with assuming the surface appearance of a lucky dip of familiar mainstream avant garde tics (it's an oxymoron but then that's what you end up with when a style becomes so dominant and yet still pretends to be dangerous and edgy). That means that any intended meaning is more or less solely conveyed through layers of statement and exegesis: the show is called "The There Anxious Future"; the works "time collisions"; they have titles like "2024, Preparations for space-time dilation and Her". There is generally an inverse correlation between the conceptual depth of a work and the level of collateral explanation that accompanies it, and that equation seems accurate here. But then as none of the ideas here are terribly novel perhaps it is fitting that they are clothed in borrowed cliché and maybe art as studiously dumb and self-referential as this is supposed to disappear up its own wormhole.

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