For a while, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art reined supreme as my favourite art gallery.
Jet-lagged and incompetent, I found myself at their Ugo Rondinone exhibition of 2003. On top of the building was a rainbow declaring “Our Magic Hour”, inside were rotund fibreglass clowns opposite shattered mirrors while a cover version of spoken word excerpts of Hal Hartley films played. I stared and I stared, and I stopped, and I stared again. My favourite room consisted of eight screens, two per wall. The projections were repetitive monochrome films of curtain blind cords being toyed with, a man walking as a camera follows, someone floating through murk, and similar images, and playing in the background was a simple lo fi song called Everyday is like Sunshine.
I became addicted to it. Every day I was in Sydney, i would go into that room, just for a minute or two, and leave over an hour later. As I stood mesmerised, I would make a decision to leave the room the next time the drums kicked in, but when they did, I would resign myself to the fate of staying for just a little bit longer. I think this was also the year there was an exhibition of Wim Wender’s photographs of lone desert road Americana.
The MCA also introduced me to the work of the renowned Australian artist, Tracey Moffatt. The first work I saw was a montage on the theme of love in films. Using sharply edited, sometimes split second moments from Hollywood romances, tragedies and noir, she demonstrated the arc of cinema romance, from first flirt to final bullet wound.
Today, I returned. I have not been so keen on the MCA since the building was extended, I don’t like change in my contemporary art galleries, and I can be quite a Luddite if my favourite Futurists attempt to move forward with the times.
My teenage niece and nephew were not enamoured by New Romance: art and the posthuman.
They are clearly precocious, already muttering the old man’s response to two milkshake containers and a broken umbrella vaguely moving in a gallery corner, “I could do that”. I never got around to an opinion on that particular exhibit. Having seen the more epic “Flood” at Brisbane’s GOMA on Sunday in which a deserted McDonald’s restaurant falls victim to its dystopian fate , I had already experienced the artistic peak of bleak fast food prophecy.
Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessy’s Alone with God conjured up some nice fleshy mutations of strange multiple cocked and lipped skin mounds. It was reminiscent of David Cronenberg being asked to design some muppets.
If I had been at a looser end, i would have watched Jeon Joonho and Moon Kyungwon’s El Fin Del Mundo. This short film on two screens is beautifully shot and enigmatic, showing a desperate future and the future beyond that which returns to examine it. Will my life leave any artefacts worthy of scrutiny?
Further up the MCA was Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form. Kerry Tribe’s short film, Last Soviet, is based on the story of Sergei Krikalev, the last Soviet in space. Leaving earth before the fall of Communist Russia, and returning 311 days later to a rapidly changing nation, he was the last cosmonaut of the Soviet regime. A good story, enticingly told by Kerry Tribe. The work was further complicated by my misinterpretation of bean bags for art installation. Stood at the back, I saw shapes that seemed to be sleeping bags. Initially, I was fearful they may suddenly move, like the terrifying sack in the film Audition. Or maybe they were like Gavin Turk’s bronze cast of a figure in a sleeping bag?
But no, they were just there for people to sit on when the room was fuller. Later, I would face that horrifying quandary, “is the chair in the gallery for sitting on or for most definitely not sitting on as it is art”. I neither sat nor stared, I moved away.
Jitish Kallat’s Covering Letter was a striking projection of a letter (from Gandhi to Hitler) on dry ice.
Bouchra Khalili’s The Constellation (1-8) was a thoughtful reaction to the refugee crisis where the path of eight refugees was mapped out like a stellar constellation.
To further refute Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that all is useless, the exhibition also include some of Safdar Ahmed’s Refugee Art project, a series of cartoon strips and sketches in which refugees portrayed their feelings and experiences. In Safdar’s words, “The intention is to facilitate the agency and self expression of asylum seekers and refugees and to activate art in the struggle for refugee rights.” Actions and works like this are an effective swipe against lazy presumptions that those fleeing are somehow not the same as you and your aunt.
The MCA may not be number one on my list anymore, but I forgive it modernising its modern art facade now. Sometime I am a stick in the mud, and when I am, I stand in the corner and hope I am mistaken for art.
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