2016: Issue 2: The all seeing eyes by the beige garden bed: Pet Projects

Pet projects has been presenting am eclectic mix of group shows since its inception earlier this year. Encompassing established and emerging local (and international) artists, Pet Projects seems to have had a broad premise for all its shows so far. This particular iteration features work from Lyle Branson, Sophie Durand, Jacbous Capone and Teelah George. From what can be told from its name, and the art within it, it appears to draw from the everyday as its principle subject, all the works are also based in a certain locality, or a type of place. The works in this show seem to deal with the everyday suburban or urban character of our world, a kind of quotidian space – garden beds, streets and coastal towns.


Teelah George’s paintings are mostly abstract, with hints of figuration, and are the most difficult to pinpoint to a particular location and site. The layering of paint creates a mottled surface in each. These paintings are opaque, they are grungy and dense, and painted over so much that clarity is lost in scumbled layers of pigment. We can see the layers beneath peeking through the heavy impasto of later additions. They are mysterious because of this, and the presence of dark masses in all three, gives them an ominous, portentous air. They are dense works, which weigh heavily on the walls, despite their small scale. They appear to evoke a suburban area, with the vague appearance of a Norfolk pine, but it is unclear under all the paint what they are. Whatever they might be based on, they have become impervious to our gaze, and of all the works here, they seem the most likely candidates to be gazing back.


Capone’s work was lost at the opening, but upon a second viewing the enigmatic and poetic power of the work became evident. The curious sound (that is apparently a mobile knife sharpener’s call – like a Portuguese ice-cream van for sharp blades) repeats, echoing itself, just as the screens on the wall, a sunset and sunrise turned perpendicular, echo each other and the start and end of the day. Though the logic of the work is not so clear, the sounds and images being so removed from one another as to appear to be two separate pieces, it is imbued with melancholy – the familiar feeling at the transitional points of the day. The enigmatic call of the knife sharpener’s bell compounds this strange sense. Just as the sound of the ice-cream truck playing greensleeves down the street never fails to terrify me, here the sound of the knife-cart is also – even without knowing what it is – recognisably both alien, human, and even saddening or threatening, and doubly so when you know to what it calls.


Opposite this is a puzzle, set for us by Sophie Durand, a piece that is a re-performance of history and a movie – Drift, with the famous Sam Worthington. The video of the house where Drift was set is taken from under a peppermint tree – one that similarly dangles over the coffee-table setting of the installation. The ad-hoc recording of the house seems almost like the video of a stalker, like something we are not meant to see – a world behind an illusion, yet one to which the glamour is still attached (here in the form of the audio of the film, re-recorded or with added reverb). The scripts on the table give a setting for the installation: a new house, and an ambivalence to its postmodern design, and the role of tourism and Drift in the small town of Flinder’s Bay, where the work is set. Although it appears tinged with nostalgia, with its boxy television and 70s-looking chair and table, it also engages a more complex view of the past and the present. It appears as the accumulation of narratives, a narrative knot to be untied. Though it is confusing, and requires a great deal of engagement and participation, particularly having to read the many text works, it is also extremely generous.


There are, finally, Lyle Branson’s photographs. Although installed beautifully and interestingly, they remain tied to their small, somewhat prosaic subject matter, elements and moments in the urban landscape of decay and desolation. They also inhabit the same wall as Jacqui Ball’s series of photographs from the last show, and have a similar installation strategy. Yet whereas Ball’s photos were confusing and duplicitous; too close for comfort, Branson’s are always far enough away to remain certain of what they are, and convinced of banality, and the possibility of something interesting happening within it. There are some incredible moments that have been captured. The first photo upon entering, of oil on the top of a stagnant pool, is the most affecting – a shimmering, swirling, poisonous film, that marries up with the film of the photographic paper. Yet similar to his show at Free Range, there is no distinction made between what is magical and what is uninteresting. It is true that, in his work, they are frequently the same thing. Yet it is the very detached, seemingly dispassionate air of his work, which yet seems to be invested in the most minute of sensual urban textures that appears contradictory, and perhaps gives the work the sense that it is at odds with itself. The installation however, is very impressive, the small shelves and foam-core mounting of the photographs shows them moving slowly to a sculptural form. Again, the first image beside the door demonstrates this most successfully, leaning up against the wall like a prop.


The works fit together, but have not been presented in any way that is meant to be conducive to exact, direct interpretation. There is rather a space of resonance opened up between similar practices in Western Australia. The detail and the sense of the minutiae of our everyday lives, idiosyncratic details: it is this sort of world that these works inhabit. Together, they offer a reciprocation of sensibility: much like Flaubert’s focus on the details of the life of Madame of Bovary, so here there is a focus on the details, often unnoticed, of the particularities of life in highly particular, semi-urban places.

by Graham Mathwin