John Meade

hauler me
Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

At John Meade's latest show, two large identical canvas images of a gridded architectural space greet the visitor. Black and white and hung vertically opposite one another, these tight geometries of dark reflective windows and criss-crossed girders seem incarceratory and futuristic. Directly in front, an oversized knucklebone shape emerges from the wall. In the larger space there is a cluster of similarly large stone-like polyurethane objects, smoothly sculpted but with a rough, sandy surface. Each one of these carved 'holds' is unique and suspended above eye level. Bathed in a gentle pink light, they both 'warm up' typical Minimalist austerities and offer a kind of camp continuity with some of Meade's previous work-such as the covering, in pink wool, of a child's car ride in 1994. The grid image is repeated as a slide projection on the floor.

Just as we experience difficulty placing ourselves into the illusional frame of the grid - a sense of vertigo or loss of mastery in the face of its self-sufficiency - this entire arrangement questions the role of critical analysis and writing. Unlike art that tells a story, moral or joke, or that playfully deconstructs its status, intention or structures, here the viewer would seem to have nothing to unlock. Meade's work defeats the clichéd trope of 'at first it seems to be x, but in fact it is y'. There is no single vantage position, no privileged perspective for the critic to adopt in uncovering its meaning. Neither ironic nor entertaining, we are instead faced with an almost baffling aloofness, an illegible beauty, and are compelled to perform a movement, or, what Roland Barthes called, an erotics of reading. And it is precisely this irreducible perspectivism and otherness (as Toni Ross explained in this journal two summers ago in relation to Mikala Dwyer's work - Eyeline, #35, Summer 1997/98) that incites the desire of interpretation.

Nevertheless, all art comes to us with certain rules. Hauler Me is aware of the Surrealist-Minimalist legacy, and particularly of its debts to Hans Arp and Louise Bourgeois. But while it opens up lines of play and inquiry, the hauling here is not merely of modernist art history. Rather, the show refers more generally to our experience of forms and desire. An evocation of bodiliness and an almost rote minimalist deferral of aesthetic immediacy assert the uncanny doubling inherent to all perception. We are enfolded in the non-recognisability of the grid and the set of voluminous 'holds'.

The exhibition invitation to Hauler Me depicts a blurred length of rope. There is no explanatory text, and the title is enigmatic. Yet, in our effort to make sense, we defer to the unfamiliar phrasing 'Hauler Me'. To haul, of course, is to pull or drag forcibly: but hauler'? Turning to the dictionary, we discover a 'coal miner', which suggests the origins of the expression 'haul over the coals' but seems otherwise unable to assist our interpretive act. The etymological temptation delivers us 'hole '. Meanwhile the linguistic shifter - the personal pronoun 'me' - suggests that these seemingly impersonal forms are working on a self. Placing the subject in this uncomfortable syntax, of course, also implies a certain narcissistic preoccupation. So the hauling, perhaps, is that of the body and its repetitive psychic threads, of the memory trace of every past experience of the self with forms.

Meade's work is theoretically inflected, but nothing detracts from the untouchable beauty of these forms. With the photographic grid (a site seen by Meade and formally realised by Kenneth Pleban), Meade - a sculptor – is experimenting with spatial representation rather than constructing three-dimensional space. Though the tension is perhaps too subtle, the slide between the depicted and actual space is part of the process of abstracting 'found' forms from culture. The slide projection, which is both static and ephemeral, literalises the contingency of the desiring gaze more effectively than the nova-jet images, which risk becoming overly beautiful objects.

While the forms making up 'Hauler Me' are effectively non-figurative, or defer their symbolism, we also can trace their inspiration to the physical world of objects. Respectively, the expressive cage structure of a high-rise office atrium and the foot and hand holds from an indoor wall-climbing venue metaphorically evoke the competitive masculine cultures of business and sport. However, it is as ungraspable traces of an unattainable logic that these exaggerated phantasms insinuate a phantasmic world.