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The works in Longevity, produced by six Melbourne artists between 1989 and 2000, explore various ways of representing memories of the recent past and visions of the future. The exhibition examines how contexts are constructed to promote artistic longevity (the exhibition itself being one of those contexts). The notion of longevity is considered here on a number of levels. The show, although not challenging standard conventions of display, does succeed in presenting works that are stylistically disparate yet contained by the curatorial theme. As the curator Bala Starr states in her exhibition catalogue, 'Longevity is in one sense a distillation of a particular moment and the recollections of particular artists and a curator, decisions that over time provide a part of art history’ . This leads into questions about the role of the art museum in creating an art historical discourse, the voice of the artist and the gaps that exist between the artworks: what is not on display rather than what is. In the last few years at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, there have been a number projects that have re-contextualised museum or gallery collections from an artist's perspective. Some of these have had mixed results-Janet Laurence's overly stylised and superficial re-presentations of taxidermied animals and archeological curios, and Fred Wilson's Viewing the Invisible spring to mind.
Longevity locates itself at this juncture where history and the history of art collide, creating fresh perspectives on old and new work. Bianca Hester's installation catalogues the involved and complex social networks that make up the artist-run scene. With its photocopier and booklets, the installation projects a sense of busy enterprise and earnest questioning (reminiscent of Sandra Bridie's Talk Artist Initiative artist interviews). Meeting places, bars, coffee shops and familiar landmarks become colloquial reference points. Mini-histories are collated and displayed on trestle tables along with folders, maps, cut-out names and photographs glued to small cards. Locating ephemeral means of production within a museum context highlights the often vulnerable position occupied by people in artist-run spaces, and suggests that such archiving is essential to maintaining an ongoing critical profile.
The day to day business of running spaces and promoting shows and meeting other like-minded artists becomes the basis for the artwork itself. Within the confines of the exhibition space the works of Lyndal Walker and Bianca Hester create a certain inhouse ambiance. Their works celebrate a notion of lifestyle and the personal. Walker in particular has shifted from a considered documentary style to works which utilize staged narratives closer in content to film stills or fashion photography. Callum Morton is featured in one of Walker's digital prints, robbing a Seven Eleven, a reference to his artworks which re-construct the signage of fast food stores. Morton, also represented in Longevity, offers a seductive sculptural piece Next to Nothing with reflective mirror tiles, disco ball and flashing lights, perhaps inadvertently raising questions about the longevity of 'good ideas'.
Mutlu Cerkez's work which shares the same room as Morton's takes the form of a line of one hundred and twelve small calendars and a painting charting a period of time, (possibly a projection of the artist's potential life span) from 1990 (the year of the work's production) to the year 2065. (I actually found this work reminiscent of the New Zealand 'life time' driver's license. Issued in 1980 it expired in the year 2040. All the licenses were recently declared invalid and owners issued with new ones with considerably shortened time spans). The entropic nature of Cerkez's 1990 work reads well alongside John Dunkley-Smith's serial paintings from 1989. Originally a member of Melbourne's Art Projects along with John Nixon and Peter Tyndall, his work stands as a precursor to that which has gained currency amongst younger artists interested in time-based mediums like video, film, slide projection, and hard edge abstract painting. Dunkley-Smiths 's work has recently been re-examined within the contexts of a retrospective at Glen Eira City Gallery and in various other group shows. The only other suite of paintings in the show, by James Morrison, utilise, by way of contrast, a highly personal and stylised figurative iconography. By not following a linear pictorial history Longevity suggests that contexts can change and shift, challenging specific readings of the works and the notion of Longevity itself.
1. Starr. Bala. Longevity. catalogue. lan Potter Museum of Art, University of Melboume, 2000.