Art review – Richard Kean: Aural Labirynth at Articulate (2012)

A ubiquitous feature at most art exhibitions is some variation on the ‘DO NOT TOUCH THE ART’ sign; a surly security guard, a cordon subtly but firmly separating audience from artist, a general feeling that chin-stroking contemplation and a safe distance from the work is expected. Richard Kean’s new installation ‘Aural Labyrinth’ flips the script on these norms and instead directly encourages and almost demands participation from those who visit.

This new piece consists of a series of acoustic strings, stretching out stretch out along the walls and vaulting to the ceilings of the 300 cubic metre room. Sounds are made when people touch the strings, which are affixed to the space with objects roughly approximating the frets of a guitar. The transformation of the room into a giant instrument is not merely a vessel for the interactivity but allows the piece to also function as a large scale, minimalist, visually striking response to the grey walls, wooden pillars and exposed beams of the space.

The setup means strangers can become instant collaborators and co-conspirators in a fun, messy, musical melange. One of the real pleasures of the installation is watching the looks on people’s faces as they react and reply, often with surprise and laughter, to the discordant musical interjections of those around them. The artist himself does perform on the installation, and proved a surprisingly accomplished practitioner of this most unlikely of instruments, but generally the work becomes a kind of toy instrument cacophony as multiple people pluck strings and have the sounds overlap and reverberate around the space.

Kean is a Sydney-based artist whose previous works have focused on the interplay between space and sound, and here he has come up with a work of real playfulness. This seems inspired in roughly equal measures by heavy art theory on the relationship between a site and the art and the artist and audience and those giant keyboards that you could walk across in toy scores as a kid. No two people experience find the work exactly the same and that’s the beauty of it. This is art you can touch, pull, pluck and play with to your heart’s content.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground

Art review – Marco Fusinato: The Colour of the Sky Has Melted at Artspace (2012)

Probably the only art exhibition in Sydney which comes with free ear plugs, Marco Fusinato’s The Color of the Sky Has Melted collects the best of the always challenging Fusinato’s recent work. The ear plugs are a good idea for the central work, the striking interactive installation Aetheric Plexus(2009), a somewhat ominous-looking industrial work which suddenly blasts those who dare to walk in its crosshairs with a brain-melting flash of intense light and deafening 105 decibels of white noise.

Also a noted drone noise guitarist who was collaborated with Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, Fusinato’s interest in the extreme possibilities of music and the blurry line between extreme music and noise continues in the ongoing series Mass Black Implosion (2007-). These works see Fusinato take a score and draw lines from individual notes like light beams shooting off into the distance, making the scores look like some chaotic, mathematical diagrams.

There’s more noise in Free 1998-2004 (2012), a video series compiled over a number of years where Fusinato proves himself possibly the worst guitar shop customer of all time, turning up at unsuspecting stores and launching into high-volume noise assaults on the store guitars. This is guerilla art at once playful and wildly unpredictable, the stunt often ending with him being ejected from the store.

Free is also a useful introduction to Fusinato’s distinctive guitar style, which is more akin to attacking the instrument then playing it in any conventional way. Like much of what he does, it sees the artist refusing to accept passive engagement with his work and making the audience part of the art rather than passive receptacles.

Elsewhere there’s a striking photo print of a rioter with a rock poised reading for action, all the more disturbing for its lack of context, and a huge screenprint which is a reworking of a protest sign made by an Eastern European art collective in the 1970s. Although the collection covers a number of mediums, it is very much cohesive, tied together by an unremitting palette of black, white, and gray, an interest in revolutionary movements, and a furious intent to smash the barriers of what sound and image can do. This is one of the most intriguing and in-your-face collections of art in Sydney at the moment. It’s also almost certainly the loudest.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground

Art review – We Used to Talk About Love at Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013

Taking place in a recently redesigned space in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, We Used to Talk About Love is a small but fascinating exhibition curated by Natasha Bullock. It features 11 contemporary Australian artists covering a theme that is so central to our lives yet surprisingly under-represented in the visual arts.

Love is interpreted pretty broadly here, with unexpected curatorial choices. Glenn Sloggett’s photos of unlovely suburbia include the ominous words “U R Alone” carved into a concrete footpath and a wrecked car on someone’s front lawn. Paul Knight’s photographs also tap into something subtly unsettling, depicting a series of couples and lovers in bed together. Each image is comprised of two separate halves ripped and roughly folded together, suggesting each of the pair’s overlapping but ultimately competing views of the same intimate moment.

A completely different sensibility is seen in Darren Sylvester’s prints, which have the glossy, polished look of high-end fashion mags but capture moments of vulnerability and awkward contemplation. In Your First Love Is Your Last Love a private schoolboy sits in an austere-looking house surveying a love letter, accompanied only by the incongruous remains of a half-eaten subway meal.

Also featured is Angela Mesiti’s remarkable video Rapture (Silent Anthem). A past winner of the Blake prize, it is a series of slow-motion close-ups of teenagers at a music festival. Like much of this exhibition, it focuses the viewer on something vital but rarely examined. Music festivals wouldn’t exist without passionate fans, but seeing the open-mouthed awe of devotees — completely enraptured in what they are watching — offers a compelling new visual perspective, even for the most hardened festival veteran.

Even better is Grant Stevens’ video, where words of break-ups and romantic unhappiness appear on a background of a starry night set to sentimental soundtrack music. The text is revealed slowly at first, eventually speeding up and becoming an incoherent mess of polite yet painful kiss-offs. It’s ahypnotic, strangely moving piece that works as a kind of reversal of the famous opening line of Anna Karenina, suggesting that every happy couple may be happy in their own unique way, but the sting and the fumbling, cliched language of a break-up is depressingly universal.

Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground