Friday, December 16, 2005


"Xero: one" is an exhibition of six contemporary paintings, executed in 2005 and 2006. Stylistically the works owe a debt to geometric abstraction and minimalism. Indeed, at first glance many of them appear simply to be geometric abstract paintings, concerned primarily with line, form and colour. This appearance is not nearly the whole story, however. While the works do work on a minimal aesthetic level, the level on which they are most active is a conceptual one.

“Farewell Mother” is in the shape of an old rounded TV screen. Its friendly lozenge shape is a comforting form from the recent past. Its rounded red green and blue forms initially seem to be geometric abstraction, but of course they are actually the mosaic form of the cathode ray tube magnified. In this, the work evokes not only the technology through which our culture has so powerfully been presented to us for the past 50 years, but also the cyclopic corporate vision that has shaped this presentation. As the work's title attests, both the technology and its pervasive corporate vision will soon seem like historical artifacts. But is the work celebrating or mourning this passing?

A similar stylistic device is employed in the series entitled "Ecce Homo". The title is derived from the history of Christian religious painting and indeed the work reminds us both of centuries of painted crucifixions and of stained-glass windows. And while again it colourful rounded squares suggest geometric abstraction, its form obviously derives from a Rubik's cube. While clearly alluding to the history of religious painting, it is actually concerned with the compartmentalisation of knowledge by the traditions of science and reason, suggesting that these things trap and dissect the natural world like a frog in a biology class.

At the opposite end of the room, on the south-facing wall is "Ghosts in the Machine", a series of text-based paintings. Each of the twelve paintings has a nine-digit number and a plaintive personal phrase, such as "When will I ever figure out what lifes all about?" or "I could have done better". The viewer might wonder what force has separated each of these voices into singular paintings and assigned them a nine digit number. The force that has done this is in fact the internet, the phrases and numbers are excerpted from a site which anonymously publishes its users confessions. Like "Ecce Homo", it is about fragmentation and compartmentalisation. How is it that this technology which brings us together also holds us apart?

At an imposing 120 x 240cm, the largest of the works, "Map of the Human Heart" is also text-based. It soon becomes obvious that the title is a darkly cynical joke. On the painting's weathered-looking surface are the names of 200 or so sexual fetishes, inked in an antique font. While it has the appearance of an antique atlas, gone are the usual apparatus associated with maps, such as a title, legend, or even distinguishable topography. Is this a rudimentary map of a territory yet to be fully explored, or is it the remains of a romanticism rendered barren by postmodern existentialism?

The painting, "5", is in the familiar form of the Ishihara colourblindness test but is rendered entirely in shades of grey. While alluded to in the title, the usual information the test might include in its scattering of dots is not apparent visually. Are we missing something? We are confronted with the appearance of a colourblindness test as a truly colourblind person might see it, reduced to complete abstraction. The work poses questions about vision and perception, artistic representation, and our classification by science and medicine.

The final work, "Games People Play", takes the form of a Twister board, presented on two separate canvases. While this clearly alludes to duplications, something of a motif in modern and contemporary art, it is really a vision halved, rather than doubled. By the parlour game being removed from the floor to the wall, and being divided in two, we are presented with a stark and alienated vision of relationships in the modern world, albeit in a friendly and childlike form. It suggests that perhaps it is our individual struggles that prevent us from properly connecting with each other.


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