Review: An Unintended Consequence (of Labour)
Where Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets intersect in Sydney’s centre, large window boxes wrap the corner. Having originally belonged to Mark Foy’s, the boxes displayed the department store’s wares from 1909 until the retailer’s demise in the eighties.[i] In 1985, when the yellow and white building became Downing Centre, repurposed and renamed to house the Local and District Courts of New South Wales,[ii] these prominent glass boxes were now extraneous to the building’s happenings.
In those boxes, this year in September, Rafaela Pandolfini and Ainslie Templeton staged An Unintended Consequence (of Labour), bringing together six artists to explore their relationship to labour and its place within public space.
Just as the court occupied the department store the exhibition occupied both, at once sitting in-between times, places and publics.
At Downing Centre the videos of Ainslie Templeton and Luke Bodley, face one another in conversation. The two videos, both born from their phones; their labour contained to their digital palm. In Templeton’s Big Brother Monologue (in conversation with Luke Bodley) (2018) a feed of white text on black describes, with coruscating intimacy and clarity, incomplete bodies moving through space.
“I know not what to keep or confess…subjects, I do not have a body, bare-arsed on the throne”
Verses are both thoughts, memories and pronouncements. Together no subject is whole.
“falling down my armpits”
“into my hands”
Templeton’s poetry collects multiple subjects across time. Its undone form suggests that our existence is not contained to our body and that our whole selves are more than can be seen.
“the city goes on and on”
“I just keep watching”
“and leaving no trace”
“of a will”
A considered install allowed Templeton’s verses to reflect upon Bodley’s digital MOODusa, a collage of PNGs, stock photography, personal photographs, found images and text. “From forms rigid were we fashioned,” proclaims Bodley’s The Laugh/Scream of MOODusa (in conversation with Ainslie Templeton) (2018). Here, again, the body is not whole. Among spinning busts and howling lips, eyes bleed i’s and hearts and hands pile into monuments. With fashioned forms spinning on a central axis the video reads like a creation myth: Who am I? And what am I made of? Both Templeton and Bodley suggest we exist as incomplete forms, across multiple spaces. Fashioned from their phones their work reflects this in-between state. Are our phones our only complete selves?
From Templeton and Bodley to Nunzio Madden the anonymous body is made visible.
In The House of Madden (I Will Always Return Home to You) (2018) on golden MDF no bigger than an A4 page, Madden has assembled a family portrait from disparate images. A make-up face chart of the artist’s sister outlines the profile, while tracings of their grandmother’s drawings made in a psychiatric ward are laid on top. Through this unstable figure, the artist’s personal toil becomes public: “As a disabled trans person, I often wish that I could be both more and less visible. By this I mean that I wish that a non-normative body was not just tolerable but accepted and that I had more control over the conditions of my visibility.”[iii]
Indifference to difference in the public space is achieved by practicing anonymity as Armin Nassehi argues: “The indifferent glance, not interacting with others, avoiding being observed in spite of being visible, enduring glances and non-glances, all this has to become a habit of the body and the eyes, of inner attentiveness and individual will.”[iv] By bringing this figure into the public space Madden practices anonymity, adjusting habit and resisting the gaze.
In Brighid Fitzgerald’s The Chandelier (2015) is suspended (2018), there is no body, only its gestures remain. Jars of pickled pears laced in crystals hang from a clothes rack, while a rope bound with pipe cleaners wraps its frame like an intestine, and an empty jar rests by its side. The work’s materiality documents the body’s labour: pickling, eating and assembling. Preserved (with friends), the jarred pears memorialise the pickling. Digested (together), an eaten jar marks time shared. And assembled, as the title acknowledges, The Chandelier (2015) was grounded and ‘suspended’ as a symbol of wealth. As a display of the artist’s personal values, the work is a testament to time shared and labour valued.
These personal and intimate gestures stand in direct contrast to Hannah Brontë and Rafaela Pandolfini’s banners, blaring from the Downing Centre. It is not the body but the voice that Brontë and Pandolfini situate in public space. In glowing red font on the back of a garish green snake print, Brontë’s EVIE (2018) screams out a lyric from female Canadian rapper Tommy Genesis’ Execute: I D RATHER BE A SNAKE THAN A LADDER. A snake is a leader, as the verse goes: You see there’s leaders and there’s masters. I’d rather be a snake than a ladder. An unabashed cry for public attention. By adopting Genesis’ lyrics, Brontë makes a claim for women of colour in the public space asserting a space for their future. Her practice is a means to empower a female future; her labour an act of protest.
Pandolfini’s detached language in Myths & Facts (2018) stands in direct contrast to Brontë’s direct address. Lifting phrases from a bureaucratic pamphlet,[v] Pandolfini’s 12 fabric banners spell out a legal definition of consent across a Chux printed banner. Positioned as a response to recent public debate concerning the definition of consent in crimes of sexual assault,[vi] Pandolfini’s banners address how the body is publicly construed. With smudged text and food strains these are working cloths. By hanging them out in the public space, Pandolfini accounts for a different (public) body. Her practice gives form to everyday ‘work’, whether emotional or domestic. For Pandolfini labour is art and art is work. In a well played siting, Myths & Facts unintentionally hung as backdrop for all court reporting throughout the exhibition.
An Unintended Consequence (of Labour) carved out a third space on the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets. In this third space bodies existed in and out of time and place.
Yet was this space public?
Sabine Nielsen construes public space as a concept under negotiation, a space not defined by a place, rather an idea understood through social and political relations; it is not immovable and it is not physical. “Public is, in other words, something we can, in a given context, choose to call certain spaces.”[vii]
An Unintended Consequence (of Labour) created a space and made it public. And in doing so imagined and accepted a different type of publicness;[viii] a kind where the periphery occupies the centre.[ix]
Aarna Fitzgerald Hanley
Aarna Fitzgerald Hanley is an emerging curator with a background in art history, publishing and law.
An Unintended Consequence (of Labour) ran from 6 – 29 September 2018, presented at Downing Centre Local & District Court. It was organised by Rafaela Pandolfini with Ainslie Templeton and featured the works of Ainslie Templeton and Luke Bodley, Brighid Fitzgerald, Hannah Bronte, Nunzio Madden and Rafaela Pandolfini.
[i] Michael Lech, ‘Mark Foy’s’, Dictionary of Sydney, posted 2011, accessed 2 October 2018 https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/mark_foys#ref-uuid=20aeb8a8-6217-09e3-ac91-e891e7c62f8f
[iii] Artist’s statement.
[iv] Armin Nassehi, ‘Public Space as a Place of Habit,’ A Space Called Public, Edited by Ingar Dragset, Michael Elmgreen, Nan Mellinger and Eva Kraus (Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013), Exhibition catalogue, 288.
[v] ‘Facts and Myths’, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, accessed 2 October http://www.rape-dvservices.org.au/Portals/0/Users/003/03/3/Factsheets%20and%20Brochures/Factsheet%20-%20Myths%20of%20sexual%20assault%20-%20PDF%20-%20June%202015.pdf
[vi] ‘Sexual Consent Laws to be Reviewed’, NSW Department of Justice, accessed 2 October 2018 https://www.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/media-news/media-releases/2018/sexual-consent-laws-to-be-reviewed.aspx
[vii] Sabine Nielsen, ‘Public Space – A Concept under Negotiation,’ A Space Called Public, Edited by Ingar Dragset, Michael Elmgreen, Nan Mellinger and Eva Kraus (Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013), Exhibition catalogue, 242.
[viii] Andre Philips, ‘Public Space,’ A Space Called Public, Edited by Ingar Dragset, Michael Elmgreen, Nan Mellinger and Eva Kraus (Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013), Exhibition catalogue, 256.
[ix] Claire Doherty, Out of Time and Out of Place: Public Art (Now) (London: Art Books Publishing Ltd, 2015),157.