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'Sadness, sad affects', according to Gilles Deleuze, 'are all those which reduce our power to act'. In this sense, sadness can be considered a general negative potential, not simply in a literal politically repressive sense, nor in the Romantic sense of a lost full presence, but in the more general and subtle forms of the administration and organization of our intimate little fears.
Since objects become sad through the relations they are entangled in, all objects are potentially sad. Can there, then, be sad art? Alex Gawronski's Sad Art attempts to materialise the production of sad affects. The title of the show, therefore, is less descriptive than performative.
The two 'sad objects' making up the show are silver, tent-sized, and irregularly shaped blocks, squarely placed on the gallery floor and radically inert. From a distance they might be mistaken for solid chunks of steel, but closer inspection reveals them to be silver-painted fibre board. The look is retro-space age, and there an element of obsolescence about these objects. Remember Sky Lab, Challenger?
The two objects repeat each other imperfectly. One is spotty, the other smoothly covered with paint; they are linked by wires and yet turned away from each other. Initially, the encounter excludes us. Yet, although they are sublimely passive, the objects' immense 'presence' seems to require response. And indeed, each attempts its own communication: from within one, we hear the final minor 'chord' of Schostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, a repetitive sigh on loop, a kind of 'pathetic' repeated musical utterance, intensifying its original programmatic theme (the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II); from the other, schmaltzy Jewish accordion waltzes flow along, oblivious to the other—as though without linkage.
Sad Art questions the role of the artist and the status of the product of their labour. For instance, these objects, as blocks of slowness in a world of light-market speed, are an antidote to the utopian dimension of interactive and other time-based art media. Devastatingly material and impossibly inert, there is nothing 'processual' about Sad Art. Instead of flight, movement, and time, these objects occupy a kind of stale, immobile place. Sadness, here, is equated, to some degree, with slowness.
Many artists struggle—and often are encouraged—to distinguish the experiential environment of the gallery from that of the church. 'Serious' conceptual art has become doubly out of style in the age of enlightened cynicism. This is, therefore, a bravely unfashionable show, and an overtly political articulation (as the accompanying text, also by the artist, makes clear; perhaps too lucidly to be genuinely sad, with its capital letter critique of Capital, Self, and Subject). The effect is ironic, but not nihilistic: since sadness desires its opposite affect, joy (the realisation of forces) Gawronski's Sad Art is doubtless utopian in impulse.
A more immanent utopia is simultaneously celebrated in the backroom of the gallery. Chris Gill and Stephen O'Connell's footy shaped disco-ball, spinning above smelly green astroturf, stages a hybrid event of two of Melbourne's most popular collective weekend amusements.