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This is what I think happened … The delivery men from Bunnings – two of them – arrive at the Commonwealth Bank Building on Bourke Street. Liang Luscombe, the program curator at West Space, answers the intercom and directs them to the back entrance. Carrying a load of structural timber, they arrive at level one, open the fire escape door, place the delivery up against the cupboard and leave the way they came in …
This would be of little consequence except that I’m now trapped inside that long narrow storage cupboard between the walls of Gallery 2 and the Back Space.(Fig.01) What's more, nobody seems to be around for all my yelling. I might be stuck here until Brian Scales arrives.
You’re probably asking yourself, “what’s a person doing inside the storage cupboard at West Space?” Well, I’m preparing to have a solo exhibition. It opens in two days, and I’ve been inside the wall trying to make some space. When Brian arrives – assuming he finds me – the two of us will start cutting and reconfiguring large sections of the plasterboard. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll see what I mean in time.
I’m sure Brian would never get himself stuck inside a wall cavity. He’s a long-time maker and caretaker of gallery walls in Melbourne and has an intimate knowledge of their workings. If a casual visitor say, walked into one of the city’s well-known contemporary art spaces, they might consider its walls – if they consider them at all – to be unchanging, atemporal. Not Brian. When Brian walks into a space like ACCA, MUMA, NGV or West Space, he sees through all the paint and polyfilla to a scarred and irregular structure, one that’s full of seams and the traces of past installations.
Perhaps this intimacy isn’t enviable, but a source of perpetual frustration for poor Brian. A month ago, when I asked him if he could help me remove the plasterboard from the wall of the Back Space, I was quick to observe a strained movement in his eyebrows. Perhaps this reaction had something to do with the long line of artists – Ash Kilmartin, Fiona Connor, Natasha John Messenger, to name a few – who have similarly approached him with some clever idea about how to destroy a perfectly good wall.
After that meeting I decided it might be nice to compile a list of artists who have disfigured ‘The Great Walls of Brian’ in some way. Brian was a fan of the idea. Oh, he just messaged me. He’ll be another 10 minutes.(Keep reading)
Thanks to everyone who made it to the opening on Thursday. I spent most of my time looking through glittery plastic sheets in Debris Facility’s exhibition in Gallery 3, and lingering in front of Melanie Irwin’s performance in the Front Space.(Fig.02) For the opening of Melanie’s Spherical Approximations, three performers wearing large, white, patchwork sacks each arranged poles of various lengths within their costumes as if they were erecting a tent from the inside. (Fig.03)
In the Back Space where I have my exhibition, Brian and I managed to transform the square room into an L-shaped corridor. What's more, the floor is now covered with the pulverised hardwood remains of my old studio floor in Cromwell Street, Collingwood. I’m presently rolling these remains into a ball. I should probably explain that a bit more ...
Last year I was experimenting with bags of chalk powder on a black-painted section of my then studio floor. I was thinking about Bruce Nauman’s Flour Arrangements (1967) at the time. In retrospect it was a terrible idea to substitute ground-up chalk for flour. Unlike flour, chalk is harsh, unwieldy, and invades the tiny crevices of the skin.
I terminated the experiment by – unthinkingly – dropping a heavy plank of wood on the pile of chalk dust, causing a terrific explosion. After a lot of sweeping I realised I’d made an irreparable mess, so I hired an industrial sander to remove the entire surface of the floor. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the sanding dust: I had bags of it, all different shades of brown. So I made an ad hoc wooden try square in the middle of the studio and packed the various shades of wood-dust into a kind of stratified cube, held together by inertia and friction. I loved this cube. A few months later I accidently tripped over it whilst attending to other things. Before too long I had to move out of that studio. I’ve been rolling the dust into a ball ever since. (Fig.04)
At the opening on Thursday night, several other objects made their way into my space, appearing on the granite ledge beneath the windows of the gallery: Globe beer cans, banksia flowers, paintings on rectangles of plywood, and a grey hat. There were a few brown bags on the ledge that I had intended to be part of the installation, but the other things just accumulated as the night progressed.
After the opening, while drinking at Meyers Place, I was trying to decide how I felt about these strange uninvited objects in my exhibition space. My thoughts were interrupted when someone at the table began speaking (nay, slurring) about the inefficacy of public rallies and how they are an outdated and gratuitous form of resistance. I remember that Debris Facility then made an interesting point. They said that even if a protest fails to create immediate change, it creates a space for alterity that affects people on the level of the body. Nods all round. I was reminded of the rally against the Aboriginal community closures in Western Australia a couple of weeks before. Hundreds of bodies gathered in a smoke-filled ceremonial circle on the Swan Street Bridge over the Yarra River. Surely, an event like this triggers changes in its participants that unfold in unpredictable ways over time?
Lost property announcement
A man’s grey fedora was left during the exhibition opening. If this is yours, please contact Liang Luscombe or collect it from the office at West Space during gallery opening hours. (Fig.05)
I didn’t mention it in my last newsletter, but I’ve had second thoughts about my exhibition.
It was clear that building the L-shaped wall structure would be somewhat heavy-handed, but somehow I imagined that its directness would be tempered by the presence of the wood-dust and ball. Alas, things didn’t work out the way I hoped they would. The wall structure overpowered the dust and the ball, both of which just sat there, polite and immobile. Like there was too much space and not enough time ...
After a sleepless night, I came up with another plan. On Monday afternoon, while the gallery was closed, I cut and removed 330mm-wide lengths of plasterboard from each end of the protruding wall structure. The perpendicular surfaces of the structure were exactly 3960mm each. So I figured that all I need to do is I remove the same amount, once a week until the end of the exhibition and I'll have transformed the work into a kind of time-lapse piece, a wall-clock that receeds incrementally, northwestward, back into the corner from which it sprung!(Keep reading)
At West Space the other day, something inside the exposed stud-wall of the Back Space caught my eye. Upon inspection, I found that two varieties of silver chain had been coiled around a noggin (Fig.06). There was some iridescent yellow-green fabric and a piece of orange Perspex wedged between the chains, the noggin, and some lengths of timber. Finally, on the ground, as though it had fallen from the above “assemblage,” another smallish object was sitting near my dust-bags (Fig.07). This is Debris Facility’s stuff, I thought. I took a photo with my iPhone and attached it to a message that I sent Debris: “Look what’s hiding in my space! This yours? 👹”
I met Debris later that day at ShanDong MaMa. We ordered the usual zucchini dumplings and oolong tea. I was surprised to discover that Debris had no idea how parts of their exhibition had made their way into my space. In fact, they didn’t even know that I had cut back the walls. “Haven’t you read my last newsletter?” I asked, a little hurt. “I’ve got it there in my inbox, I just haven’t read it yet,” they replied sheepishly. Tapping on the table with the thin end of a chopstick I said, “Well, I think there are three possibilities. Either someone is playing a prank on us, there’s a poltergeist with a good sense of humour, or, this is actually some sort of conceptual osmosis …” Debris laughed. “You mean that your exhibition has suddenly started absorbing parts of my exhibition?” “Sure,” I said, slurping tea. “Why not? Perhaps your work can't be limited to one space. I mean, I’m having trouble keeping all that dust contained in mine.” Our dumplings arrived and we ate pensively. I imagined what the Back Space would look like if it continued to absorb other aspects of the current exhibitions in the emphatically partitioned galleries of West Space.1
I would like to draw attention to an outcome of my collaboration with web designers Paul Mylecharane and Matt Lenz from Public Office. Whenever I use the word West Space, they have decided it should be styled thusly: West Space. I have limited control over this ... ↩
01. On the Sunday after the screening of The Icicle Thief, I was in a shop on Elizabeth Street looking for a lamp when I came across this old photograph of the Commonwealth Bank Building, now home to West Space. According to the description on the back, the photograph was taken during the Royal Visit in 1954 and it shows the Art Deco building wearing a giant St Edwards Crown. I recently wrote to Glenn Howroyd from the Commonwealth Bank Archives. I’m hoping he can tell me where the crown is. I want to find it ...
02. As previously mentioned, during the exhibition opening I noticed that some artworks (as well as beer cans, banksia flowers and a fedora hat) had been left on the granite window ledges in the Back Space. It turns out that these artworks — made with a circular saw and black felt-tip marker on three plywood off-cuts — are Brian’s. Masato Takasaka had been holding them in his studio since 2009, when they were exhibited as part of a collaborative project in a group show, Advance/Retreat, at the old West Space gallery
in Footscray on Anthony Street, Melbourne. Masato was hoping to catch Brian at the opening and give him the works, but Brian didn’t turn up. This is an image I found by Jacob Walker showing Brian's work in its original context. I’ve decided to include them in my show.
I've been feeling melancholic of late. Debris, Melanie, Lachlan and the big group show in Gallery 1 have all left after their five-week tenure. My exhibition is the only one that will stay on. I felt like a nail house after seeing those empty white spaces on Sunday … like one of those eccentric houses that outlast the exodus of a community. (Fig.12) I asked the others before they left to leave me something from their shows. Perhaps that’s strange, but I don't care.
COME TO MY SECOND OPENING!
THURSDSAY 20th AUGUST 6-8PM
PIA VAN GELDER
LIQUID ARCHITECTURE &
GEORGINA CRIDDLE w/
— DEBRIS FACILITY
— BRIAN SCALES
— MELANIE IRWIN
— LACHLAN PETRAS
— SAMANTHA McCULLOCH
— CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS-WYNN
It’s 1954. I’m standing on a balcony, looking down onto Bourke Street. Giant banners embroidered with images of the St Edwards Crown hang over the brick façades and bunting zigzags over the tram line to the sidewalk. Someone stands next to me. I don’t recognise their face, but I know it’s Brian. He leans over the balcony and says in his Scottish accent, “Wherever the Queen is now, the workers will be twelve feet ahead, painting the buildings white. How’s my archive coming along?” “It's coming along ...” I say. I turn to him but he is already gone. I leave the balcony and soon find myself in Gallery 1. Pia van Gelder is wearing a loose, khaki green dress, sparkly coal-coloured leggings and Adidas sneakers. She signals to me from the other side of the room and soon introduces me to an animated old man whose name is Leon Ernest Eeman. He shakes my hand and asks me if I’ve experienced the relaxation Biocircuit. “Time is passing you know, you should have your turn. In a minute? In an hour? Why at my age, that’s an eternity! Go on, strap yourself in, it will do you the world of good. Would you believe I was shot down by the Hun? Totally paralysed and look at me now!” Eeman takes me by the hand. Music starts to play and we dance the tango. From across the room his voice can be heard “Don’t look at your feet! Look into my eyes! We are young, we are in love, and we are going to die!”(Keep reading)
Two weeks ago, Lachlan missed his LDN-MEL flight. His delayed return created a bit of a fuss at West Space because there was nowhere to store the enormous concrete vitrine. When I became aware of this, I offered to store the work in my space until he returned. This suited everyone fine.
Well, Lachlan has returned and the concrete is still in the space. In fact, my exhibition seems to have transformed into a kind of glorified storeroom.
As a way of marking this phase of the exhibition, I've decided to compile a list of things that have accumulated here.
1 x wood-dust ball;
1 x stale pink slice of bread;
2 x loose piles of wood-dust;
1 x piece of clear Perspex with nail polish;
2 x lengths of red carpet, diamond pattern;
1 x large pile of plaster dust, MDF dust, red carpet fluff, paper, plastic and glitter with a cheap dust mask on top;
4 x brown dust bags;
1 x triangular iridescent saucer with MSG;
1 x packed and unsold artwork from the TCB fundraiser;
1 x folded sheet of pink paper with a plan for the wall structure (a.k.a “wall clock”);
1 x large dolly with fluoro orange wheels supporting 8 sections of concrete;
1 x blow-up, pink saxophone;
3 x blue protective covers;
3 x free-standing slabs of concrete;
1 x black digital voice recorder;
1 x piece of white PVC tube;
10 x scuff marks;
36 x plastic take-away containers filled with various materials;
1 x piece of clear Perspex with beveled pattern;
1 x cluster of white fungus and opals;
1 x broken mirror and piece of orange shibori fabric;
3 x “cut-in” paintings on plywood;
1 x white polystyrene container of various materials;
1 x piece of wood-grain laminate flooring;
4 x distorted, blue shibori curtains;
1 x black Perspex box filled with stained rice, resin and a small iridescent painting;
3 x pāua shells;
1 x string of iridescent sequins;
8 x painted wooden structures, almond and circular shaped;
1 x rotten carrot;
2 x hoops of plastic tube;
13 x offcuts from “wall clock”; and
1 x “wall clock”.
There are just three days left. When I recently called Brian, he had just finished cladding the circular hole in Benjamin Woods’ space and was assessing the damage in mine. The incoming artist (whose name I do not yet know) has apparently been looking around these past few days and superimposing some futurity over the space.
While he was designing the Commonwealth Bank building, Edwin Hubert Henderson was overworked and suffering from mental illness and degenerating eyesight. Shortly before he died, an inquest by a Royal Commission had begun into the General Post Office Building in Sydney. It was something to do with contracts awarded for erecting new additions to the building. Henderson was working on this contract and had been afraid that he would be implicated in some kind of scandal.
Spring has arrived. Debris Facility’s blue Shibori curtains veil the windows, queering the space. Yesterday I made the last subtractions to the wall-clock. Now, I’m left with just one corner-piece of a puzzle, which can no longer be described as a “wall.”
Ben and I are planning a few trips together ... or a few demonstrations? I do not know how to write about it yet. We took some of our artworks out of West Space and walked them to Gillott Reserve. There was my ball, their hoop, the sun, the grass, the fountain, the State Parliament building, the Princess Theatre, and it was kind of romantic.
I recently organised a performance called The Great Walls of Brian for the Liquid Architecture program FM[X]? aka: What does a feminist methodology sound like? I had been talking to Danni Zuvela from Liquid Architecture about some of Brian’s stories about gallery walls. It was after listening to these stories from Brian that all the other stuff, the stuff that had previously seemed peripheral to my project – labour, community, other histories – began to permeate and influence the exhibition.
Brian wasn’t available to speak on the night, so we worked together on a script. Brendan Barnett then performed this – in his best Scottish accent – from behind the wall-clock. There were a lot of people in the Back Space, and we all sat facing the wall, listening to Brian’s tale and looking around at the different features of the space he was describing. There was something ghostly about the whole thing, as if Brendan was channelling Brian in a kind of séance. Here’s a link to the recording: https://vimeo.com/139432913(Keep reading)