Cleanskin

Hayley Arjona, Nicholas Folland, Samantha Small, Samuel Wilde
Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide

There is a real excitement about this exhibition. The work is fresh, smart and savvy, sharp and refreshing, not unlike a bottle of good new white wine (a 'cleanskin' is an unlabeled bottle of wine, usually good value for money). Curated for the Experimental Art Foundation by artist Samantha Small, the show includes the work of four artists, all recent graduates or Masters students at the University of South Australia, South Australian School of Art. The school has an important history in Adelaide, generating successful practitioners who including Bronwyn Platten, Shaun Kirby and Craige Andrae. Past and present teaching staff at the school include Jacky Redgate, John Barbour, Fiona Hall, and George Popperwell. Popperwell, who taught in England in the 1970s, has had a particular influence on the type of object-based work that has been perceived as characteristic of an 'Adelaide style'. This work might be best described as conceptually rigorous, formally sophisticated, and enigmatic. Much of the work uses commercially-made materials, and the artists have a solid understanding of contemporary art practice.

Cleanskin is interesting not least because it represents a striking development on the recent history of art-making in Adelaide, so much so that it looks like a real break. The connections are still there: a sophisticated use of materials, a smartness and resolution to the work. The exhibition is also well installed, and while the content and appearance of the work is diverse, the show conveys a startling sense of clarity and sharpness. From the glass doors at the entry to the Experimental Art Foundation, through the small foyer and into the exhibition space itself, Samantha Small has installed a chequerboard of black and white floor tiles: they run along the wall in the gallery, with a pair of wooden clogs severed at the heel resting near the end. Small's work is a discrete exercise in perspective, the clogs giving a reference to Dutch painting. Her work extends the exhibition into the space of the building itself, making an understated connection to the architecture.

At the opposite end of the rectangular gallery is Samuel Wilde's work. It faces the viewer as he/she enters the space and appears as two big ramps of plywood that extend from floor to ceiling, a gap between then framing the centrally placed recessed door to the toilets. Above each 'ramp' is a suspended wooden box. As Wilde has previously created works that incorporate sound, there is an expectation that the suspended boxes are speakers of some kind, but the humour of the piece is only revealed when you stand directly beneath them. Each box frames an illuminated sign that reads 'APPLAUSE', and the ramps are immediately transformed into a diagram of TV studio seating. The additional joke is that the 'audience' faces the entire exhibition. An unintentional witty reference is that plywood has featured in a number of Adelaide artists' work, usually with more serious intent. In George Popperwell 's major installation Region recently acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia, the material signifies the appropriate muteness required for a work that deals with the Holocaust. Wilde's work is happily post-minimalist in form, and mass-media aware in content.

'Pop' has been a word used to describe this exhibition, but the work is more complex in its references and action. Nicholas Folland 's 'paintings' are made of bright green astroturf, punctured with golf holes or marked with the traces of a golf-club swing across the surface, and he has presented a single olive-green vinyl-covered recliner chair suspended from the wall by a metal bracket. But his works suggest a kind of contemporary sublime. The chair, for instance, set at the recline position with footrest raised and back tilted, reminded me of Colin McCahon's abstract green-hilled landscapes.

While figuration inhabits all of these works, only Hayley Arjona's striking large-scale paintings actually depict someone. Arjona, in real life, looks very much like her self-portrait persona in the paintings. Wearing a leather bike jacket stuck with badges, with bobbed jet-black hair, she stands in the paintings as an aggressive revolutionary: pointing a pistol at the viewer, or posed in various urban landscape scenarios. The environment is one of tract homes, a soaring 747, a diner, ads for dogfood (being consumed by humans), a billboard featuring lggy Pop. These paintings recall the impact and irony of the work of American painter James Rosenquist. But as extreme as they appear, they form an integral part of this bright and tight exhibition.

notes: 

Christopher Chapman took up the position of Director, Experimental Art Foundation in August 1998. This review was written prior to his appointment