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Robert Kinder's most impressive exhibition of mixed media works at Milburn + Arte intimates that this is the year of 1984 + 4. His is a subterranean sensibility wrapped in conscience and its dilemmas. His work fascinates and frightens, portraying the psychological drama of a paranoid Police State under permanent surveillance. Kinder's work question's the state of sanity in a world of sanctioned violence and fear. Yet there is a dilemma in his work, or a number of dilemmas. His desire to heal social ills is accompanied by the knowledge that this is virtually impossible via artistic production, and his aesthetic preoccupations might even contradict his strongly felt social concern - Aestheticism versus Social Realism. In terms of aesthetics, his work has its roots in European art, in its elegant and subtle surfaces far removed from the vulgarity and superficiality of Kapitalist Amerika's Postmodernism.1
Kinder's obsessive concern is with the abuse of power, its organized exterminations, systematic strategies of media misuse, torture, and the use of fear to control society. Kinder's references are cantered in French Theory,· particularly Foucault with themes which canter around capitalism, which encroaches on and destroys the balance of nature; the limits of ideology; the limits of a text; man's own limits to his interior psychological space; the physical limits of pain, punishment, purges, and prison; power; the degeneration of society; and the political choice between accepting the controls of the socius or becoming a radical nomad. However we must always bear in mind Kinder's "dilemmas".
The strength of Kinder's work is situated in irresolvable tensions for, on the one hand, he desires a "healing" or weaving together of the fabric of society - while on the other he indulges in a fascination for nihilistic destruction. Perhaps nihilism is his only escape.
The big question is, does this nihilistic fascination emerge in his work and, if so, how and where? It is possible that nihilism can be sensed in the atmosphere of foreboding, in the empty black and white areas, in the disconnection of images or the fragmented panels and newspaper text. The newspaper text, which usually refers to torture and violence, is in itself amputated from its original reference portraying the violence which is the ideological construction of meaning. Kinder refers to Foucault's examination of state structures from the perspective of the powerless. He quotes from torture victims, juxtaposing these quotes with images of walls, prisons, surveillance systems. In a sense Kinder's fragmented newspaper texts are a metaphor for the mind and body torn apart, nature destroyed or the socius in a process of disintegration.
Kinder's images should not be read as narrative. More is to be gained if they are read as a "collage of suggestions"; and a sense of paranoid fragmentation is evident in this "collaging" of disparate images. They are also "collages" within collages, for the fragmented panels, with a rich variety of texture and material, also communicate as macro-collages.
The surface of Kinder's work could be read as the body, nature or socius, which has become fractured, burnt, twisted or disintegrated. In Threat, 1988, metal pipes emerge – suggestive of suffocating factory chimneys or extermination camps. There is also a tense ambivalence in his treatment of edges - hard, sharp, cutting edges suggestive of gigantic factories or totalitarian bureaucracies, versus the softened, frayed, torn edges of its victim: nature/man/society. And it is in the latter that his aestheticism comes to the fore as such edges dissolve and blend into the support of a visual joy which intensifies our sense of ambivalence. While we are repulsed by the message of the text we simultaneously admire its subtle beauty.
More ambivalence emerges as we contend with precise, technical, engineering-style drawings which emerge from the softest and most "natural" of areas. These diagrams are metaphors for the strategic technology of capitalism. More brooding dues can be found amongst searchlights, walls, prisons, dungeon staircases, windowless buildings, and burnt timber fallen or falling from the painting's surface.
Kinder can only provide us with fragments, fragmentary evidence. What he gives us are suggestions and clues, but never an expose. Kinder cannot and does not pretend to solve the problem. Instead, he delivers his deeply felt obsession, his personal dilemma: the social and politically responsible desire to aid society versus the nihilistic fascination to observe its disintegration. Or is Kinder's dilemma a simulation, just as law and order might be nothing more than a simulation, a Police State without a Headquarters?
Robert Kinder, Detail: a in Kara, 1987. Paint, charcoal, lead, wood, conté, coolite. courtest Milburn + Arte, Brisbane,
1. See Nicholas Zurbrugg’s "Baudrillard's Amerique, and the 'Abyss of Modernity"". Att & Text 29, June - August 1988, pp.40-63.