Bevan Honey

Wood cuts & charcoals
Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle

There's something opaque, something resistive, about Bevan Honey's latest show. With little to hook a critical (or any other) narrative on, interpretations do not come easily. Certainly, it signals, it gestures, but almost mutely, unassertively - it does not seem to ask for much. Maybe it is content with just 'being itself'; maybe there is a bit of Popeye's 'I yam what I yam…' about it all…

Take the show's title: Wood Cuts & Charcoals. lt is purely descriptive. So, in the long, narrow hall of the Fremantle Arts Centre we are hardly shocked to find neat, strongly graphic and beautifully crafted charcoal images and flattish, wooden, skeletal wall-sculptures. And, what these works have in common, form/content-wise, is that they appear to be geometric diagrams - pared back, spare, precise short-hand 'descriptions' of objects that might exist on either the micro or macro level of our 'real world'.

Well, it would seem we do have at least something of a 'theme', and it allows us to get a foot in the door. But still, Honey plays his cards close to his chest: there are no wall or catalogue notes offering us any accessible intellectual context. So we are not told (in triumphant tones) that, say, 'these works interrogate the follies of the discursive formations of. . .' He doesn't pre-empt or spoon-feed us. Honey seems to want us to think hard ... and as we do, it begins, slowly, to fall into place: it is ultimately 'about' the puzzle of representations - the way they are both physical things in themselves and images of something else ... oh, and one could mumble something about the difference between sign and referent at this point…

And in keeping with such an intent, we find that the works' neatly typed, black titles are a part of the show itself- the play between word and image/thing being, therefore, accentuated. And as regards the wall sculptures, we find ourselves yearning to pull them into a shape, with the tension between their flatness and the shapes they might potentially form acting out the difference between diagram and object. All of which is contextualised by A Brief Linear History. Hanging at the end of the corridor, it is a large charcoal, MDF, vinyl and estapol drawing of a plastic milk-crate gradually turning over - like stills from an animated cartoon - that presents the (oh so) banal 'drama' of representation.

But all this sounds rather neat and illustrative, which is entirely misleading, because Honey enacts rather than shows (which is why it is such a 'difficult' exhibition). Hung in the gallery's hall-space, we find ourselves bodily located by the works, confronted by their apparently dumb physicality; we cannot step back and let them fall into 'place'. Rather their elegant, though awkward, place forces us to experience the tension between the two and three-d. And, as we walk up and down the hall, we find the shapes of the works shifting, taking on new guises: sculptures seem like drawings, the drawings appear like boards. As perspective 'morphs' the work, then, the boundaries between objects and representations are, yet again, confused.

Which is all well and good, of course, but it does beg the question: why does he need to (implicitly) re–visit Saussure, Jakobson, Benveniste, et al? Haven't 'we' learned their lessons? Well, maybe 'we' have, but Honey's project seems (thankfully) unconcerned with accepting art-practice as a kind of vapid, teleological unfolding. Indeed, I cannot help but think that this 'back to the first principles of semiotics' approach, is something of a strategic statement (or, perhaps, elusive non-statement). At a time when most of his contemporaries are busy applying these ideas to social critiques, Honey presents what is perhaps most unfashionable at the moment - an ontological exhibition.

But, because it does not simply spell it out - because it tugs, nags, at us-it appears to also (importantly) problematise this ontology and in doing so, has the uncomfortable feel of one of Wittgenstein's one-liners: Wood Cuts and Charcoals says the (apparently) obvious about signs and signifieds, but in such an opaque way as to ask us just how, in what terms, the obvious can be considered to be so. Accordingly, Honey asks us to ponder the basis of (what we take to be) our visual 'knowing' at a time when we are often too quick to accept, to mimic, to float along with, the wagon-train of the theoretical van-guard as it continually opens up glorious new frontiers for us to people. For this reason - and despite its relatively small size - it is one of the most engaging and impressive solo shows to have lodged itself, mote-like, in the eye of W.A.'s gallery circuit for some time now…