Les Dorahy

Michael Milburn Gallery, Brisbane

Les Dorahy's installation has many components- some small pieces cantilevered from backing boards on the walls, some larger cantilevered wall pieces and a long narrow floor piece. A further two-dimensional series is exhibited in an adjoining room. Materials and processes he has used include inlaid timber, rusted, etched and sanded steel, cast bronze and gridded wooden structures. The minimalism of the small wall pieces is overpowered by the larger pieces whose presence as 'contraptions' seems to be emphasised by the titles (T.R.A.C., C.A.M.) which function like model coding systems. Entrance to the work via the biographical matrix of its author, or locus of intention is discouraged.

The installation's elements are fastidiously measured and repetitively executed in an apparently obsessive search for the basic building blocks of form. The objects become artisanal actions-breaking sculpture into its component parts, itemising the materials and techniques of construction with the precision of an engineer, but on a rather larger than Mechano scale. The adjoining two-dimensional works each juxtapose an organic and an hard-edged angular shape etched into metal, suggesting a point of transition between earlier 'hieroglyphical' works (where objects of nature or daily life were taken over as conventional signs for idea and given emblematic qualities which explored the natural order) and this modular geometric exploration through the rule-governed system of the symbolic order. A large cubed open grid heaves itself from its attachment to the wall; a large crane –like cantilevered arm intrudes into the space; another large structure occupies a central floor space. Conventionally, installation pieces make the walls and floor and ceiling part of the physical experience of the work. Here however, against the internal logic of the forms, the jostling of these objects as apparatuses in the space represents an irrational element. Dorahy's enquiry into the cultural object-which may have begun with the search for an absolute or new beginning-rediscovers the paradoxical qualities of the grid as liberating on the one hand and confining on the other. Among the apparatuses, it is the montaged grid which captures our attention.

Rosalind Krauss argues that the grid, a 'figure drawn from avant-garde practice in the visual arts' (here she refers to the work of Malevich, Mondrian, Andre, LeWitt, Hesse and Ryman) exemplifies the grounding of the concept of originality in repetition and recurrence. it's attraction and susceptibility to vanguard appropriation, she suggests, lies in its imperviousness to language:

This silence is not due simply to the extreme effectiveness of the grid as a barricade against speech, but to the pro tectiveness of its mesh against all intrusions from outside. No echoes of footsteps in empty rooms, no scream of birds across open skies, no rush of distant water-for the grid has collapsed the spatiality of nature onto the bounded surface of a purely cultural object. With its proscription of nature as well as of speech, the result is still more silence. And in this new-found quiet, what many artists thought they could hear was the beginning, the origins of Art.1

Dorahy 's shift from randomly arranged emblems and vertical columns to assembled/montaged geometric modules defers to the kind of rationality and mathematical intelligibility historically valourised in Western thought. Krauss sees the vertical column as "spatialization of the story", allowing each feature to be seen as "burrowing down, independently, into the historical past" while the grid " ... is something that allows a contradiction between the values of science and those of spiritualism to maintain themselves within the consciousness of modernism, or rather its unconscious, as something repressed."2 Ulmer, in theorising the object of post-criticism, suggests that montage-allegory serves a useful purpose in communicating the knowledge of the cultural disciplines. He draws attention to Barthes' use of pseudo-science in 'paraliterature' (which he describes as the simultaneous production of "theory, critical combat and pleasure") "one plays a science, one puts it in the picture-like a piece in a collage".3

Although mathematical, these forms are not totally stripped of illusion and anecdote; they are rescued from austere reductivism by references to architecture and engineering. While their pristine materiality suggests no history of use, the transcendent subjectivity of these algebraic objects as 'contraptions' encourages a desire for action. But there are no pulleys or levers or buttons. Through their (visually) noisy intrusion into the white cube, we sense impending automation. In reconsidering our relationship to the exhibition space, we are left to fanta size the functions these structures might possibly perform.

By contrast the tiny wall-mounted series F.S.M. I -VII, reminiscent of the structural beginnings of a room, is not constructed as expected from wood but is cast in bronze. This transposition leads us to an interpretation of the work through the material foundations of idea as concrete expression. Are we encountering an allegory of pre-emptive ruin or of arrested beginnings?


1. Krauss, R., (1989), The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge: MIT, p. 158.

2. ibid, p. 13.

3. Ulmer, G.L., "The Object of Post-Criticism" in Foster, H. (Ed) (1985), Postmodern Culture, London: Bay, p. 96.