Ambient (male) identity

Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide

Christopher Chapman's concern in curating ambient (male) identity, was with how artists communicate identity through abstract and conceptual means - in particular, how they communicate 'male identity'. The six artists involved, all male, are Adam Cullen, Dale Frank, Daniel Malone, Paul Quinn, Scott Redford and David Rosetzky.

Chapman, in the accompanying catalogue essay, suggests the presence of a male identity is encoded, often covertly, into modern art and contemporary culture. Although Chapman hedges a bit, his conception of masculinity is best described as variously subcultural, youthful and gay. Needless to say, it is far from SNAGish. He helpfully provides a lengthy list of artists, artworks and pop-culture touchstones that have supplied a context for his thinking on the subject. This list ranges across 'classic' works, like Jasper Johns's Painting with two balls and Andy Warhol 's piss paintings, to the works of Felix Gonzales Torres, and it extends to include things like graffiti tagging, video arcades, saunas, beats and forest clearings.

Following this vein, the works in the show draw heavily on subculture - to the extent that some of the artists simply import unmediated chunks of it into their work. Scott Redford's Perpetual Abstraction (7066 A.D.) consists of a custom-made surfboard propped in a corner of the gallery. The date, 7066 A.D., appears on the surface of the board, perhaps intimating a fantasy of transcendence. In Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, Adam Cullen montages himself into repeated comic book images, creating grimly absurd miniature mise en scènes. Music features very prominently as an index of subcultural masculinity in the works of Daniel Malone, David Rosetzky and Dale Frank. Frank's work, PARENTAL GUIDANCE to CHILL OUT to GORDON MATTA CLARK, consists simply of a darkened room in which music is playing, invoking the ghost of discos past.

Much of this subculture still retains something of the aura of rebellion and youth that the avant-garde once had, and these artworks all appear to feed off this to some extent. Dale Frank, as the oldest artist in what is a young man's show, provides a particularly interesting example on this count. His own notes in the exhibition catalogue (to another piece, One ball total equilibrium tank 1985 a shitfaced film script in motion), are worth quoting in full:

The sixth man under thirty years of age to enter the gallery for the opening evening will be given AUS $90.00 to then select several friends, and invite them to spend that evening drinking and eating and having fun with this cash. He will be given a disposable camera to document this evening. The only requirement of the artist is that the young man and his friends have fun, and at least one point in the evening toast the health, continued success, generosity and high regard for the artist and his work.

Frank's gestures have an elegance and anarchic generosity to them. But there is also a sense in which he is facilitating something - in this case a sample of 'new-laddish' subculture - that is perhaps already lost to him.

As I've suggested above, Chapman sets the scene for more coded representations of sexuality with his references to the work of artists such as Johns and Gonzales-Torres. This perhaps gives the critic some licence to interpret in the same vein. David Rosetzky's installation, Stevie, wrapped in black plastic, might hint at aggressive sexuality, as could Scott Redford's fetishised enamel-painted surfaces. Easier to interpret, thanks to a helpful title, are Redford's six photographs of empty parks and scrubland, Unfilled (cruising areas, near Broadbeach surf club and the football oval, etc.). Paul Quinn's found image, All sorts of rubbish is washed down into the side of the drains at the side of the road and this useful gully-emptier sucks it all up, originally a quaint children's illustration, now invites reading as a gentle double entendre - a man suggestively guides a large tube attached to a large vehicle into a drain, while a co-worker watches from the cabin of the vehicle.

This sort of exploration of the mutability and multifariousness of reference characterises the show. Very little is explicit, and although there is much that is immediately appealing, there is necessarily some decoding for the viewer to do. This fact is easily obscured by the subcultural glitz: the neon lights, shiny surfaces etcetera, which inadvertently signify the superficiality of popular culture as much as anything else. But that, of course, is simply the nature of the beast - the strains of male identity that the show deals with are, as Chapman notes in the catalogue, 'necessarily submerged'.