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Have you ever wondered why graffiti is often painted over in a colour different from the wall on which it is scrawled? In his recent exhibition of photographs, Carl Warner explores such sites of urban anguish in industrial and public spaces throughout Brisbane. The exhibition seems particularly apt in the renovated University Art Museum, with its lofty windowless rooms and painted grey concrete floors.
The silenced graffiti photographs are just one facet of Warner's exhibition, A Concrete Pasture. Other images include extreme close-ups of rigorously geometric roller doors, concrete bridge girders, timber panelled walls and a host of other surfaces that constitute our immediate environment. Warner asks that the photographs be understood as works on paper, suggesting a deliberate relationship between the constructed photographic image and the archival paper on which it is printed and which is then pinned to the wall. Perhaps the most striking works in the exhibition are a set of large screens (4 metre x 1 metre) suspended from the ceiling. Resembling translucent rice paper, these screens feature concrete girders—the density of which is played off against the weightlessness of the material. This tension takes on a subtle, quiet beauty as one walks around the screens and looks into the texture and composition of the images.
As Kirsty Grant points out in her catalogue essay, Warner's photographs share visual similarities with some abstract minimalist paintings of mid-twentieth century American artists, including Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko and Robert Ryman. This focus is highlighted through the repetition which is so integral to the exhibition. For instance, the grid formed by the lines of the roller door is echoed in the display of the works as a grid, or bank of images. Also specific images recur throughout the various sections of the gallery, in different sizes and colours. The grid carries with it the notion of infinite repetition—there is no end to the matrix that forms it. In a sense, Warner presents us with the never ending roller door of suburbia, rendered in compulsive detail.
Through the obvious cropping and colour-toning of the photographs, Warner makes it clear that he is giving us a personal interpretation of the local landscape. However, due to the very nature of the medium, there is still a strong sense that he has 'discovered', with his lens, a Rothko under the bridge. While context is eliminated and narrative detail removed, the photographs tease us with the knowledge that they are taken from our surrounds. They challenge certain ideas about our lifestyle, including a questioning of the desire to paint over graffiti and yet leave a permanent reminder of the aberration. Rather than dictating a specific meaning, these works alert us to the particularities of our daily environment. Even the dark bitumen squares which are used to fill holes in the road (and which are particularly prevalent along Coronation Drive as one leaves the University) take on a charming new significance.