Gone Troppo

Posted: 10 Oct 2004

In the shadow of Daphne Mayo's carved sandstone tympanum at Brisbane's City Hall, a younger generation of sculptural work is on view. Temperature: Contemporary Queensland Sculpture attempts to gauge 'the condition of Queensland artists' feverish involvement with sculpture', as curator Frank McBride states. So is sculpture in Queensland hot or simply 'gone troppo'?

Just a few years ago, sculpture appeared to have given way to the spatial concerns of installation art. But, as McBride says, "the elemental authority and aura of objects have remained". And in a State where public art has been boosted by the Queensland Government's 'Art Built-in' policy, it is not surprising that some form of three-dimensional work is on the agenda for many artists.

Thierry Auriac, Baghdad dreaming

Temperature is eclectic, although, any attempt to make a State-based, sculpture-specific exhibition cohesive, is bound to be difficult. The 27 artists, each with a specially commissioned essay in the well-designed catalogue, must jostle for conceptual space. Those works which strike a sombre tone - such as Franz Ehmann's Failure, a boat laden with egg shells - go up against those which look to the quirky and the humorous. Indeed the quirky and humorous are at a fever pitch in Queensland.

Viewers are greeted on arrival by Stephen Hart's absurd, Alice-in-Wonderland-type smiling bunny, but Hart's bunny refers to Adolf Eichmann and the Holocaust, and sits atop an inverted St Sebastian, whose body is pierced by the trajectories of fighter planes balanced on a huge yellow chair. A similar darkness underlies Thierry Auriac's brightly coloured plastic spires and minarets in Baghdad dreaming, and the iconoclastic painted dolls of Christine Turner's Rogue choir, but less so Chez Baker's cubes made out of woven op-shop belts, or the bespectacled and shod 'roo feet in Jan Hynes' Spectacled wallaby.

Scott Redford's My beautiful blue polar bear also looks blandly humorous, but takes the mickey out what 'Queensland' or 'sculpture' might stand for. These 'cutsie' ceramic multiples sit on a table top like pop-culture souvenirs. Gallery visitors, who've been caught cuddling Redford's fragile polar bears, would have little notion of their link to a bisexual character in a film made by Redford, and their fictional role to promote a band. Redford provides a lesson in how summations can be dangerous.

The provocative range of this exhibition was highlighted by the two indigenous works, namely Ken Thaiday's Triple Beizam hammerhead shark dance mask, a wonderfully articulated dance mask from the Torres Strait, and Michael Boiyool Anning's painted baji (bark canoe), which combines different rainforest traditions. More thoughtful fun came from Mike Taylor's Trust made of hundreds of toy guns in the shape of a baby's dummy, Eugene Carchesio's delicate yellow paper cones on a yellow field, Charles Robb's realistic male torso with its references to Hellenistic sculpture, Krista Berga's psychologically intense and sexually ambiguous bronze figures, Alisdair Macintyre's fantasy effigies playing out miniature dramas, Donna Marcus' wall-tracking, centipede-like creatures made of aluminium teapots, and even the finely tuned modulations of Kevin Todd's computer-generated (Re)creating nature form # 1 & # 2.

Some of the most sublime works, hung from the ceiling, or stuck in corners, struggled for spatial recognition - Sandra Selig's web-like Modulus, Yenda Carson's blue glass, Blue moon, and even Kim Demuth's Push Pull.

There were omissions too, such as Tom Risley, Luke Roberts and Rodney Spooner. Roberts, however, made a visit to nearby West End in the form of an extraordinary alien-looking public artwork, which flashes lights and casts a mist on those passing by. It is an apt reminder that sculpture can engage the popular imagination.

Perhaps the last word in Temperature should go to Wilkins Hill's joint video work, The alley. We see a small white poodle sitting on a plinth. It stands, nervously contemplates jumping down, but once more sits and stares at the viewer. We smile at its conflicting desires, to move, to stay. We hear a tenpin bowling alley. But when the balls roll, will they knock over the plinth or the poodle? My bet is that the poodle will run out of the white-walled gallery and mix with the riffraff on Brisbane's subtropical streets. And that will be a whole new ballgame for Queensland 'sculpture'. Again.

Image: Thierry Auriac, Baghdad dreaming, 2004, plastic, 46cm x 218cm x 170cm. Collection: the artist.

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Issue 38