Don’t talk to me, don’t look at anything,
with Mardi Crocker and Charlie the Dog.
Interviewed by Francis Russell
track one: “waterfall” by foodman. track two: “desire” by luxury elite. track three: “Sepia ft. Bambus” by Yung Krillin
Your practice and specifically the last few shows you’ve done. So the one recently you’ve done at Hive Space, is that what it’s called?
Yeah, Hive art space
The one just before was at Dave Attwood and Shannon Lyon’s home gallery – did that have a name?
Their space? Ah… Yeah, Applecross art space
Applecross art space. So particularly with those two shows, you’ve been drawing on your PhD body of work.
So good that Chuckles decided… for the listener, that’s Mardi’s step-dogs that she has adopted temporarily, who will be joining us in the background
Intermittently… yeah, special guest… It’ll be Mardi Crocker featuring Chuckles
Charlie the dog.
So with both those shows you’re drawing on your PhD body of work, which is looking at, well this is sort of my first question. Often with painting and photography that looks at the everyday or things that are maybe mundane or something like that, and you’re specifically looking at bathroom spaces, domestic spaces. There’s a language that often gets used in talking about the overlooked in particular, where there’s almost this sense that there’s something already going on and that we don’t see it because maybe we are too distracted by other things, or we emphasise other things. And I was wondering whether or not you felt that your work contributed to that idea of getting us to look at what was overlooked, or if your work is doing something very different, which is actually to begin with those spaces and then actually try to radically transform them. Not to imply that what can be experienced in your painting is already happening in the space, it’s just we overlook it, we look beyond it, but to go: you know, how transformative could painting be in creating something completely new out of the space as a raw material.
I don’t know if maybe my work is sort of situated in-between those two ideas, because it’s not necessarily about trying to discover something that’s already happening or looking at an overlooked space and going, ‘look at the beauty in the mundane’, or you know, ‘stop and pay attention to this’. I think, more so, it’s trying to get at what the experience is… the embodied experience is of overlooking things. Yeah, I’m sort of interested in the perception of objects that are overlooked. So, you know, maybe sort of glimpses or the way that we sort of touch them with our body, so sort of the sensation of those spaces, which are not… we don’t particularly attune to ordinarily.
Because I know that there’s a language of Light and Space artist, particularly like Robert Irwin, and I think James Turrell has used similar language, that the real language of the work is perception, not the space necessarily, but the creative or active role of perception. Would you see your work as more about… taking these kind of mundane or overlooked spaces and trying to, or through transforming them pictorially, you’re gesturing towards the dynamic role of perception; that perceptions not just a static or maybe passive sort of receptive thing; that the perception is actually quite creative.
Yeah. I think so. It’s like… one of the main I guess I haven’t really haven’t figure it out entirely what its all about and exactly what it is I’m trying to do, but yeah, it’s interesting to sort of use painting and to sort of come at it from a system like still-like perspective – and to use a static art form to pay attention to the active possibilities that are in these encounters.
Because one thing I was thinking about with your practice as well. Was that it would be very easy to reduce what you’re doing to a kind of a clichéd vocabulary – like you were saying the ‘beauty in the everyday’ and the ‘beauty in the mundane’ and that kind of thing. And I mean, obviously that’s crucial kind of work that people do, but it’s almost what you expect of a lot of photographers and painters, in particular – that they’re doing something like that. But alongside that is an affect of a meditative kind of calm or a certain grace or poise, whereas one of the things that I thought that was quite interesting about some of your works where these sort of everyday objects like light switches, or common bathroom utensils are in quite a dynamic kind of negative space, that there’s a kind of a white void, but its not flat, it’s quite textured and dynamic – it actually reminded me of a lot the literature on derealisation and anxiety attacks. Often, people, when they have episodes of derealisation or a certain kind of anxiety attack, normal everyday kind of things can seem almost unreal or people describe feeling like once the attack occurs things that they normally take for granted seem dream-like or surreal in an odd way, but also that it becomes very hard to except the sort of peripheral. So the sort of peripheral that frames objects becomes very overwhelming. Sometimes people use the analogy of feeling like you’re underwater; that everything around you, instead of being tacitly peripheral, becomes very oppressive and thick, and I thought that was something very interesting with your work. I know that’s a long set-up for a question, but I wondered if you would be uncomfortable with the assumption that your work is just engaged with this kind of championing the overlooked or that kind of thing, and that it might not also speak to a whole different experience of the everyday that people might see as a little bit more uncomfortable or disquieting.
I mean, that is really interesting, because definitely the works that I showed in Free Range, which was last year
Early last year I think
I think… so those were all those A4 sized painting and kind of the object was sort of planted in the middle of this support, which was just negative space. I didn’t paint any sort of background for the pictures themselves, and it’s interesting because I’ve just sort of revisited that idea in writing the PhD. In looking at a different painter, And thinking about this painter
Brad Lochore. And what was interesting for me was that he’d done a few Swing 1977 I think is one I was looking at. It’s a painting of a rope swing, and its really muted, and the object sort of almost disappears into the background, and so what was interesting for me and what I was writing about what the relationship between the object depicted and the space, even if the space is not necessarily specific… not specific enough to indicate something, just enough for the object to bleed into the surrounds. So I was thinking about affect basically, and just sort of applying that to my own work, and my own thinking about space and negative space. Doing that in the sort of return to the works in free range, and what I’d always sort of thought about it was that this negative space was room to breathe, and when I first installed that show, and did a bit of writing about it for the PhD, I thought about it being really quiet and you kind of entered the room and that it kind of might encourage… you know, it was almost like an exhalation, getting into this room, it was empty, but this emptiness, but this negative space was not a lack of content so much as a space for something else; a space for a different sort of consideration or feeling, or something like that.
I think that’s really interesting, because it’s often been my feeling with minimalist work that ‘less is more’ is not really about there being something immediately, you know, giving or bestowing of negative space, but the clearing or doing away with is the precondition for something more, something else to happen.
This probably speaks more about what I’ve been reading a lot lately and how that affects my read of your work, but particularly agoraphobes, often its not that they feel uncomfortable being in large spaces or even necessarily that they feel uncomfortable being around people, because they might themselves have a home that’s quite large and with quite large spaces within it, or they might be totally comfortable to have lots of people around, so long as it is in their space. But it is more this sense of not being at home that becomes quite disturbing for them and Agoraphobes sometimes refer to the fear that spaces will swallow them up, that they’ll lose their identity. So they way that they overcome that is that they will bring talismans with them; so they’ll bring object form their home that somehow connect them to that space. So I don’t know, I just sort of thought what I saw some of your paintings, ‘yeah, I get what Mardi’s doing, and I think, ethically, it is a good thing for art to do to draw attention to things that are overlooked and whatever’ but then, the more that I’ve looked at your work , the more I’ve felt there’s a real ambiguity there between, on the one hand, what could seem like almost the visual language of a dove commercial – you’ll have the bottle of shampoo, ad you’ll have the drop of shampoo falling into… the
The milky white, perfectly, yeah…
It’s all in a white void, it’s all very beautiful and whatever… but then, reading accounts of agoraphobes talking about taking really mundane items out of their homes and saying that, ‘when I’m outside, sometimes I feel like there’s me and this totem, and then there’s just nothing. That there’s just outer space and it’s anonymous. Without the totem I would get swallow up in that. I started looking t your paintings in a different way… and I mean, I’m a real homebody…
As am I.
Yeah, well I was going to say… but then I thought I shouldn’t say that for you on record. We’ll edit that afterwards, with both of us confirming that we BMX and stuff.
Active night life.
Yeah. But there’ s a real duplicity there. That on the one hand the domestic space is often preferred because of feelings of anxiety or stress or alienation, but on the other hand, these spaces are incredibly nurturing and are absolutely spaces where you can breathe, that openness where things can be transformative or indifferent. Often it is domestic spaces where you don’t have to feel like you have to stick to the identities that you have to perform outside the house. Whether it’s at work or whatever… So I was just wondering whether or not. Do you feel those are concerns are imminent to what you’re doing? Or do you think that’s maybe a little bit sort of auxiliary to the research you’re conducting?
I feel a lot of the time I feel like I’m sort of in the centre of my practice, and these sorts of concerns are orbiting, and they come and go. You know, all these things. So I definitely feel as though I’m still figuring it out I mean, I guess everyone’s practice is quite personal. But I definitely feel as if the PhD project and just stuff I did in honours and even third year, it was me figuring out how I looked at things, and how trying to discover the way in which I was inserted into the work and sort of try and show how I perceive things or how I felt about things. I mean in that sense, yeah, probably ideas of anxiety and the comfort of home and the comfort of familiar objects definitely come into it. It may be as a motivation, or as the sort of impetus for looking at these things. Definitely I feel as if I spend a lot of time in the space, and it is definitely very interior, and that’s probably what has led me to look at a small space like a bathroom, that’s led me to have this kind of you know, thinking about bottles in space and things that are within reach.
Well that was another thought: that I know no one’s going to listen to this anyway… I don’t want to upset anyone, but there’s a joke that goes around in Perth for Male painters to work with non-place that’s the joke, right. I kind of thought, how do you see your work in relation to that. Particularly… Also for the record, we’re both fans of Nathan Brooker’s painting. But in some ways, when I look at Nathan’s work, even though they’re in radically different registers, there is something … some similar concern about how we make sense of and perceive spaces that are you know, maybe outstrip us in a certain way, that no matter how you attempt to render or paint the space, there’s always going to be that extent to which the space kind of outstrips you, and I think in Nathan’s work that really presents itself in this kind of well at least in a prior iteration of what he was doing, there was this real disjointedness to the composition and with your work, there’s a real kind of I feel, this probably speaks a lot to the way you use negative space, the way you delete objects, and space together but there’s a real kind of depth there where there’s this weird kind of intimacy there with these things, while a real sense of being quite distant from them.
Yeah, that’s something that I’m quite interested in trying to figure out, trying to achieve with the paintings yeah, there’s a sort of a familiarity in them, and also a sense of uncertainty or areas where the space and object bleed and things fall apart or fall into each other, so its sort of simultaneously maybe comforting in one sense, but also you feel a bit dislocated or disembodied or suddenly unsure. The thing you thought you were sure of
You know that scene in Fight club where he’s talking about everything in his house is from Ikea?
There’s a scene where he’s just sort of talking about how it weren’t …. His house sort of seems to have this sense of individuality and taste and whatever, but actually its all from ikea, and there’s a sort of clever animated shot where it his living room, but as he walks through it, objects appear with the idea name and the price as if he’s in a 3-d ikea catalogue, and the cinematographer in one of the commentaries on the dvd extras, the cinematographer thought that would be a really easy thing to do, because all they needed to do was empty out the house and then put one object in film it for a few seconds, put another object, film it, and then animate over the top the price tags and names. But what they found was that they’d take all the objects out of the living, and then lets say they put the lamp in, the lamp’s presence in the room, changed the entire colour of the room, and then they’d put the couch in, and the entire colour would change again, and so when they cut together this sort of sequence of all the objects appearing, you have this sort of weird sort of strobing of colour on the walls, and so they were like, oh right, we’re going to have to really change the lighting for every single iteration to make sure that it looks like the same static room with the objects appearing, and I remember being really struck by that as an example of how much even a quite small object radically transforms the entire space, even the level of light or the level of the colour of the room. And I really like the way you were talking about you sort of working from the object out into the broader negative space of the canvas that its almost like the objects produce the space as opposed to the space being an empty container the objects are just placed in.
Yeah, yeah. And that comes I think from the idea I think about space as being populated by objects, so there is a dispotent sort of relationship between the two. And then thinking as well about you know, our, the subjects, engagement with the object, so. The space for me I want to be sort of full of the possibility of that engagement, occupied I guess.
I’d be interested to… I dunno you might think this is really corny. But when I was thinking about your Free Range show, I was thinking it would be interesting to even re-paint the walls of the gallery in even in this median colour that you use. I mean that’d be maybe overplaying it, but the paintings themselves as objects, really because they’re so kind of minimal, and atonal? Are they atonal, no. Achromatic? Semi-achromatic? I actually don’t know anything about technical painting.
Me either, actually.
They’re very creamy paintings. They’re full of cream-paintings.
They’re not skim, they’re full cream.
Yeah, that really changes the gallery space, like I was thinking about how any space with your paintings in them really you can see whether or not the walls are clean. Like it really brings the whites out in the space, because there’s not something that’s so visually distracting that its going to draw your attention completely away from the space that contains them; that they sort of bleed a little bit into the wall and back.
Thanks, I mean something I was thinking about for the free range show, that the painting themselves are objects, but I wanted it to be this sort of effect that if you saw them on the periphery, they kind of just would sort of fall back into the surrounds, into the space. And so it’s less about encountering paintings in a space, as just encountering a space that is sort of these sort of hints that our ideas are gonna come out of there, I guess.
You were saying earlier that the viewers own perception is what the viewers perception is what is drawn attention to. I mean if there’s one thing that’s a bit of a challenge for you, it is just unfortunately that because you’re working within a visual language that its very easy for people to lump in with quite traditional, it’s the notion of the still life, which if anything, I would see your work as being a critique of. But also maybe, like I was saying, the sort of… I don’t know. I just think back to when I was in first year of art school, you would always get the someone taking a photograph of a shoe, and saying: ‘shoes: we just walk in them, and take them for granted’. That’s the tricky thing, getting the viewer to not immediately bracket off, that’s the irony right, supposedly a photograph of a shoe is supposed to make people not take their shoes for granted, and they go ‘oh of course, this is a work of taking things for granted’ and they take it for granted. That’s the challenge: to produce a work that simultaneously draws people in, but also that has enough dissonance that allows people to think about their own position as a viewer.
Yeah, there’s definitely a challenge for my practice in general, but this whole project, is using this visual medium to talk about so many things that are non-visual, and to talk about looking and perceiving.
So business end of the interview: Mardi Crocker, are oils better than acrylics? That’s a joke, you don’t have to…
Well I would say yes.
Just to trash Jacksons for 15 minutes.
No, who is the worst painter in Perth?
No you also really don’t have to answer that question.
Do you think there are any other artists, not necessarily working in Perth, but maybe working in Australia, you think your work is sort doing something similar to.
Maybe a relationship to…
Um, Honor Freeman over in the eastern states, her work sort of has felt partly because she has been based in the bathroom at various times with her works, and she’s made these slip-cast porcelain molds of bars of soap at various stages throughout their lifetime, which has been really interesting for me, of paying attention to these everyday objects of use, as having a lifetime, and definitely really obviously as being about the material and the physical use… I also sort of think of Shannon Lyons, we have sort of similar considerations. Similar kind of interests in sort of materials and space, and you’ve just got so many other things going on in her work, that there’s something maybe a minimal. It’s the same feeling of not being loud, I suppose, or being quiet, subtle, and sort of paying attention to surrounds, I guess. Yeah, but not in an overbearing way, which is, probably a big consideration for my work as well.
Obviously though you paint though, and Shannon just has to do that sad thing non-painters do, where they make weird little … sculptures and things… sculptures, I don’t know. But she’s getting there, she’s getting there, give her some watercolours, yeah.
I definitely know what you mean, but I suppose too with the biggest connection I see between yours and Shannon’s work is that attempt to really make perception itself a context, rather than playing into ideas of immediacy or good art being something immediate, that you just connect with, and trying to really expose how many sort of prejudices and clichés there are in looking. That we look at things in sort of clichéd ways, and its not just that certain spaces are kind of themselves banal or habitual or whatever, but its actually even if something interesting was going on there
There’s this sort of attitude that you bring to it, that you bring to the spaces, the way that you sort of think and conceive of them.
Yeah, definitely. Cool. Okay, um well… for the two listeners that this will have, is there anything you want to plug?
Ah… oh gosh… no. I prefer to think of myself as invisible. So no one has to come to anything, I’ll just continue working on my own.
This is mardi Crocker official policy: Do not attend the next… so when you put out an invitation for the next show, people will know not to attend
Well, you can click attending on Facebook and make me feel good, and then not rock up.
Just Don’t show up… ok, that’s a good name for this episode: don’t talk to me, don’t look at anything, with Mardi Crocker and Charlie the Dog.