julia gorman, james lynch, andrew mcqualter, ricky swallow
Sarah Cottier, Sydney
30 May - 30 June, 2001


This is Rubik's first Sydney exhibition in a commercial context. Needless to say it is a long way from the group's initial, perhaps more 'underground' origins. In fact Rubik, comprising the Melbourne artists Julia Gorman, James Lynch, Andrew McQualter and Ricky Swallow, began life as a quasi-zine to which other artists were invited to contribute. These publications are on show at Sarah Cattier alongside the individual work of the artists mentioned. It is instructive to consider their collective tone and thematic scope outside of this show. In it are some wryly illuminating works. It would be misguided however to conceive Rubik's latest offering as representing a unified collective. Missing in this instance is the exciting and unpredictable discursiveness of the Rubik publications. It is as if the show's success demanded strategies additional to those offered by the conventional gallery setting.

Upon entering Sarah Cattier the viewer is first confronted by work of Andrew McQualter. His delicately traced images in blues and browns line the facing wall. As a series they depict the artist Lygia Clark known for her paper 'wearables'. McQualter makes analogies between Clark's deft but otherwise absurd endeavour and his own role as a contemporary practitioner. For him this is a role distinguished as much by 'doing' as by doing nothing-in particular. However the artist's impersonal technique deprives the images of their affect. More engaging is McQualter's single large tracing of a figure holding a sheet of slides to the 'light'. The image resonates from its subtle and knowing interplay of contradictions. The figure represented holds the transparent slides against the white light of the gallery's solid wall while we return simply to looking and to surface gazing.

Equally subtle though far removed aesthetically from McQualter's work are Ricky Swallow's objects. The most significant of these consists of a free-standing and dissociated fragment of apparently modernist furniture. Tucked under this form is a cast human skull set in layers of multi-coloured resin. The multi-coloured strata of the skull correspond exactly to the plywood layers of the furniture fragment. In fact Swallow's world is one always already in ruin. A work like Skull in the Wood parodies life-style conventions based on comfort by presenting a signifier of privilege in close proximity to reminders of human mortality. Simultaneously, the work's visual layering implies culture 's continuity as well as its ever possible return to past models. Yet as a museum curia its existence has been predetermined as it atrophies in paradoxical immobility. Perhaps this is an ironic reference to the conflicting demands of contemporary cultural production caught ambiguously between critique and commodity.

Continuing this vein of paradox is James Lynch's two part installation. The first consists of a number of spray cans sitting on newspaper seemingly spread to avoid overspray. On closer inspection however each component of the ensemble turns out to be fake. The newspapers have been painstakingly copied as have the spray cans and tell tale paint traces. Up close they betray a material roughness that dispels and reveals the charade. The work is a witty tour de force that comments on contemporary painting and its institutional housing. On an adjoining wall the artist presents an equally faux woodgrain panel lined with a series of deliberately 'bad' paintings. These contain a variety of kitsch slogans like 'Sad and Horny' or 'Lost and Sleazy'. Overall the work suggests a teen clubhouse caught in the white, alien environment of the contemporary art gallery. As a mini self-contained gallery of its own, the work extends the metaphor in a variety of playful ways.

Viewed as a whole this exhibition at Sarah Cattier is well conceived though hardly indicative of the metamorphic scope of Rubik's initial printed incarnations. At its strongest the show's underlying current of humour and visual game-play is a welcome and vital engagement with the sober confines of the gallery. Similarly the viewer could consider the exhibition a convenient means of introducing work by Cattier's most recent addition Julia Gorman to a Sydney audience. Gorman's expansive red and pink vinyl cut 'painting' Force Majeure, is both striking and evocative. Like a Rorschach ink-blot the work invokes apparitions perhaps of locomotives or of some unidentifiable electrical ducting. The artist's gouaches, in comparison, seem pedestrian, like a series of technical exercises. This sense of contradiction influences the rest of the show which, no matter how enjoyable, teeters occasionally on the brink of an unspoken cynicism. This is further hinted at by the title under which it is listed in the 'Rubik, inventory of events and publications', 'Weird, Stupid and Short-lived'.