frequent flyers: forming flight

matthew bradley, peter franov, katherine huang, jim strickland, tim sterling
Curated by Peter Franov
pig, Adelaide
16-20 August, 2001

A number of artists have used the small two-storey building at 220 Hindley Street since Michael Newall and Kristian Burford's duo show during the 2000 Festival (they cleaned out the trash and with the help of friends gave the spaces their first coats of white paint). As an independent gallery, the venue is well located: at the edge of Adelaide's focal 'arts precinct' street, adjacent to the University of South Australia humanities campuses, and two doors up from the popular Worldsend pub.

The slightly run-down and modest appearance of the space means that many passers-by would miss it altogether, a situation that was remedied, in part, during the run of FORMING FLIGHT, by curator Peter Franov's illuminated lightbox which was propped out onto the street whenever the space was open. Franov also had the foresight (and sense of humour) to give the space a name beyond its street number, and so the tall lightbox was stencilled with the word 'pig' and decorated with sections of chequered squares. As an acronym ending with 'gallery', 'pig' offered some amusing possibilities, as did its renegade 'take' on the presence of the local police force. Over the rainy weekend, the lightbox acted as a convenient stand for a bunch of daffodils in a sliced Pepsi bottle, teamed with some balloons, swiped from the University's Open Day decorations, and tied to a street sign. Franov's beautifully written essay which accompanied the exhibition, ranged across various concepts of flight: physical, psychological, metaphysical. His selection of artists, too, was based on the presence of aspects of this idea in their work.

In the front room, Matthew Bradley had painted directly onto the wall the word PAN in big italic letters, with an attendant trademark symbol. For anyone familiar with Bradley's works utilising air travel motifs (such as his work in the 1999 Primavera exhibition), the immediate association would have been with PAN AM airlines. Bradley's use of the prefix PAN also alluded to the mythological Greek god and the fairytale character Peter Pan, while the cinema screen-like dimensions of the work conjured a filmic pan. A number of artists in Adelaide have been working with mural and street art forms, and Bradley's work also referred to a past tag name of his. The text was painted in phosphorescent green and when, at intervals, the lights were switched off, the thing glowed with spectral intensity. Jim Strickland's work in the same room was equally deft. 'All of the lives, of two cranes', was a series of squares of origami paper in subtle hues. Like a diagram of how to make a classic origami crane, the paper sheets progressed from flat and uncreased, through the steps to fold the crane, and unfold the bird again. Images of a figure, crosslegged, folding the crane were applied gently in pastels. The doubling of image and demonstration was appealing, and the softness of the entire exercise was touching. In the second ground floor room were a stack of model steam locomotive engines, constructed from hand cut interlocking sections of various materials: the original model from wood, a kit Tim Sterling had as a boy. Other versions were constructed from clear perspex, mirrored perspex, and cardboard from a pizza box. The clarity of Sterling's idea was enhanced by his remarkable skill: his recent works have involved the hand-sawing of ply into extraordinarily intricate forms. In a kind of temporal leap, the wooden model existed simultaneously in the past and in the future: the clear perspex version like an invisible machine, the mirrored version reflecting its internal spaces endlessly. While the models were about twelve inches in length, it was easy to imagine them as life-size.

Upstairs things were less contained, and precision transformed into a different kind of open field. The work of Peter Franov and Katherine Huang shared the open rooms, so that aspects of each intermingled. Huang's constructions of miniature trestles, opaque plastic boxes, and drawings, spread through the space with Franov's propped paintings, cardboard wedges and wall paintings. A kind of recombinant and spooling diagrammatic aspect energised Huang's work: drawings in coloured felt pen affixed to the wall with lengths of plastic clothes-line and pegs, miniature landscapes populated by butterflies and flowering plants. A swirling movement animated Huang's installation, as if the elements were caught in an updraught.Franov's work too established upward and outward lines of flight: opening flower forms painted on to the walls, trajectories marked in paint and coloured gaffer-tape across the space, models of skateboard terrains. The skateboarding motif was a strong but subtle subtext, operating figuratively and metaphorically. The idea of skateboarding as flying, of getting big air, was spectacularly demonstrated by Franov's sheet-steel skate ramp placed against the wall. For days before the opening, Franov used the ramp as a device to describe the evidence of jumps on to the wall: arching marks left on the paintwork, and chunks of sandy plaster dislodged at the landing point. The performative aspect of the work was definitely palpable.

Another work of Franov's was equally graceful and pragmatic. A large 'karli ' (a clubbing boomerang used by the Walpiri) was constructed from sections of skateboard decks, fused with dovetail joints, the object held upright by a small bench-vice. The proportions of this large model seemed perfectly relative to those of the original, and the strength and pliability of the board decks and the idea of the karli was beautifully appropriate.