Sunday, December 6, 2009

ricky swallow

I had no preconceptions about what I would see at Ricky Swallow and was thrilled by what was there. The only downside to the exhibition was that there wasn't enough of it!

Despite appearances, the work at left, Peugeot Taipian, Commemorative Model (Discontinued Line), PVC Pipe, Plastic Sheeting, epoxy, 1999 scale 1:1 (photo by Kenneth Pleban) only just came to my attention a moment ago and wasn't what drew me to the exhibition. In fact, this work wasn't in the exhibition at the NGV Ian Potter Centre. Instead, The Bricoleur exhibition contained a fascinating collection of non-cycling related wood carvings, bronze sculptures and some works on paper. The carvings in particular were spectacular investments of time and energy and evidence that the craft of art-making is held in high esteem by some. A 1:1 scale dining table still-life, littered with seafood and other astonishing adornments was the largest and most striking evidence of this fact, but not my favourite...

The signature image of the exhibition was Tusk (2007), two disembodied, skeletal arms, their hands clasped as they hang naturally from the wall as if on a shared stroll. I didn't mourn for the long-since decomposed couple, whoever they were. They seemed content to wander throughout eternity in this bizarre form. The work improves upon the arrangements of bones I have seen around the European tourist sites (such as the Sedlec ossuary in the Czech Republic). It takes the human fascination with mortality and twists it out of range of those who would terrify followers with threats of hell. So often in Italy for instance are the churches scattered with momento mori of similarly bony form, yet what seems to be an opposite message.

Fig 1. (2008) was a naturally finished wood carving of a skull wrapped in something that might have been brown paper. It reminded me at once of my lunch and a museum artefact wrapped for storage in a musty drawer. Without the wall-plaque it was not obvious what was hidden within the paper wrapping... a mystery object that, perhaps would have been more interesting left unspecified. The wood lost its solidity. I expected it would make un-crumpling sounds if I touched it.

The bronze Caravan (2008) was a great idea... barnacles growing on balloons. But the choice of material didn't work for me. It said nothing about balloons' vulnerability or their short lifespans. In fact they hardly felt like balloons at all.

Unbroken Ways (for Derek Bailey) (2006) was a free-floating arm, hanging limply down the wall. While the bronze balloons didn't work at all, from a distance, the texture of the wood in this piece was so gently carved and texturally reminiscent of flesh that I had to look twice to be sure of what I was seeing. Although a slightly different pose, the limb hangs in a way strongly reminiscent of that belonging to the freshly murdered Marat in the famous work by Jacques Louis David (1793). Swallow's work was really beautiful in this case. The arm appeared to possess a pulse. Had it reached out towards me as I left the gallery I would not have been surprised.

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