Wayne Smith

Function, desire
Contemporary Art Space, Brisbane

A way of categorising the multiple processes which contribute to artistic endeavour is to class them into operations of invention and judgement. One set of tasks generates information; the other selects and reduces it to only that which is viable.

Information overload is already a hazard in modern living. But artists form a social category which still, despite all post-modernist protests, rests on a tradition that placed the highest premium on "creativity". Therefore, they are information generating mechanisms. Sometimes they are mechanisms out of control - not knowing when to stop their invention in order to assess its viability.

Now Wayne Smith, as well as being extraordinarily technically skillful, is an information generator sans pareil. His nimble and questing mind skips from topic to topic as he becomes totally intoxicated with ideas. This makes him potentially an artist of immense promise.

But he has not learned the skill of sobering up from that conceptual binge every now and then. His imagination races on; he wants to do it all at once. In many of his works he does not allow a meaning - even an ambiguous one – to be confirmed by other cues within the work, but instead strives to add further uncorroborated information.

In April at THAT CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE under the name of Jo Smith - the shorter more anonymous title he felt suited his technological theme but proved to be yet another disorienting factor for the reception of his work - Smith displayed a range of extraordinarily intricate pieces. Here were masterful simulations of marble, corroded steel, and alloy metal all painted on canvas, masonite or card, incorporating also painted, photocopied and montaged images that had undergone successive processes of reproduction and manipulation. These were mainly three-dimensionally layered works that may be more accurately called relief sculpture than painting.

The textures and simulated materials often referred to Brisbane edifices and their own simulation - the marbelite veneers and the aluminium sheeting, for instance. So there was a general sense of familiarity here, particularly strong for a local audience. And there was a science-fictional technological unity in the chosen forms. But what did it ultimately say?

If you ask Wayne- any number of things. He projects ideas into things that, of themselves, lack adequate cues for recognition because they have lost their meaning through the distortions and dislocations of reproduction. Thus he still wants them to be recognised for their lost meaning, yet leaves out definite signifiers that an audience can connect to their own store of signifieds. Sure there are connotations and recognizable symbols here and there, but there is little cohesive articulation of these that an audience can share. And, bear in mind that it is the audience that ultimately "constructs" the work, not the artist. And it is the selection of cues that the artist publicly issues - not his personal knowledge – that enables him or her some control over this process.

These pieces could, by chance, be works ahead of their time: future events may allow audiences to see them as significant. But for the present we cannot judge according to evidence that has not occured.

Smith may see himself as a visionary and be prepared to accept the astronomically huge gamble, and the hardship that goes with it, to prove us wrong. But future and present relevance need not be mutually exclusive, and the odds can be influenced by strategy.

So there are two methods by which he can increase the probability of success. Firstly, he can tighten up his randomised runaway system of meaning and allow an intersection – a redundancy - of cues to overdetermine our interpretation. Through deploying more explicit, shared signifiers along with their totally "designified" versions, Smith could channel meaning into viable limits