Lehan Ramsay


There can be an ironic continuity and consistency in disposability (that most indispensable quality). It can be achieved by activities as diverse as projecting images onto buildings or pasting up the awkward ephemera of wallpaper, the unifier in each case being not only a temporary quality which celebrates the margins of "art", but also the thin tissue of a continuity which we can only really read about through criticism reifying such practices. Lehan Ramsay's work has shown us this, and more. Malice relates to her photographic series shown in 1987 at John Mills National and which is now on display in the Griffith University Art Collection. The pedagogic/neighbourly mix of that black and white sequence – reminiscent of '30s and '40s heat and tension Hollywood cinematography – has given way here to a plenitude of simulacra, where representations of representations of representations cubed (still to video to still etc.) are filtered through a film bleu approach that brings us from Depression Brisbane/Key Largo to '80s Gangland/Doc Marten.

The wallpapered outcome –  the final textual operation that can be performed before a new inhabitant arrives with redecorating ideas – is nonrepeatable, non-transferable, non-marketable. Its riskiness encourages a search for critical certainty but problematises any such pomp with its puncturing and bewildering panoply of narrative and texture. What we have here is an event: a series of small stories. Each of them has a beginning, a middle and an end, but in an order that is for us to select and then mend.

How do you review "Malice"? Under Australian law, a case for defamation can be argued by maintaining that a critic did not honestly believe in what he/she wrote but produced vitriol out of a malicious desire to inflict pain. I can only be held to Malice if Ramsay can prove authorial intentionality.

What could I be malicious about? Two installations, one of 18 colour laser copies on a wall facing the other, which is made up of 9 little brown boxes. The first is lit with blue -filtered fluoro, its composites of rows and columns reminiscent of the cover to De Lillo 's White Noise. Blue Noise, then, and with titles that evoke loss: departures by usherettes, instructions to huddle from tour guides, requests for directions from visitors. The visual themes are unclear so they make you think. Boys seems to be struggling. There seems to be some caging and some corrugation. There are dark lines running across people, poles that call up memories of the sign of the devil on the doomed that only the still camera could show in Omen. Boys are both within and without; whatever could be going on outside could also be going on inside by being watched on TV. The worry is that some violence might be going on here and would we be any the wiser, any better able to act for having seen it? The everdayness of such images may simply stifle our response. And anyway, wasn't it all just play?

The second installation, the 9 little brown boxes, is a creation of wood and glass, each box edges with brass lookalikes of your grandparents' photographic album borders that set out a clear demarcation between each separate print. This is film noir, taut, jarring and off-centre. Only the used tarot cards achieve a clear focus. Others rate a blur. But through it all, spanning the seeming eternity across two walls of the IMA, is the central boy, so tragic and adenoidal, a street-ghetto bricoleur inviting us, as does this entire exhibition, to gaze or glance, make our own meanings, and be off quick smart before the wall (papers) come tumbling down.