prime two

Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
5 April 2003

With a blaze of colour and an hysterical carnival atmosphere, Prime Two provided a lively six hour program of youth art and culture which utterly transformed the Queensland Art Gallery. Fashion displays and street dancing took over gallery spaces, while rock'n'roll circus acts illuminated the water mall. In the sculpture garden, an outdoor stage provided beats and rhythms that pulsated across Brisbane's south side. Inside, a DJ in the '80s style 'rumpus room' sent retro tunes spiraling around the formal architecture. A party atmosphere persisted as gallery visitors chilled out on bean bags, watched '80s television programs, played childhood board games, made paper 'identity dolls', had their portraits drawn, watched MC battles, played hacky sack, and experienced a pumping performance by local musical group the Resin Dogs. lt was exciting and often exhilarating, with around four thousand young people attending the event. Undoubtedly, such audience numbers highlight the success of Prime Two, yet this success has not come without a price.

Over a number of recent exhibitions, the Queensland Art Gallery has begun to incorporate extreme public programming tactics. Didactic panels, catalogue essays and guided tours are no longer the only accompaniment to an art exhibition. Rather, activities, which require the viewer's physical engagement are also being employed. Accompanying the 2001 William Robinson retrospective, for example, visitors were invited to sketch farm animals which were kept in a pen in the Gallery's upper sculpture garden. In many ways these activities can greatly enhance one's experience, yet in other ways, they can also compromise the artwork displayed. The instance of Archie Moore's artwork Chalk it Out at Prime Two exemplified such concerns.

Moore's work invited the viewer to express, on a large black board, their best or worse experiences of school. lt did not take long until the board had been covered with numerous drawings and stories. Within his practice, Moore often engages with an exploration of language and commonly uses materials such as chalk or pastel on blackboard paint. This work was clearly then an extension of such previous practices, the major difference being the action of the viewer completing the task that is usually done by the artist. This gesture, of requesting the viewer's touch to 'complete' the artwork, has not been uncommon in contemporary art practices since the phenomenological developments in Minimalism. The Queensland Art Gallery is obviously not unaware of such artistic practices. Yet its employment of 'interactives', devised not by artists but by gallery staff, can make it, as in this instance, difficult to differentiate the 'interactives' from 'art'. Consequently, the Queensland Art Gallery, despite its good intentions, at times may rather be compromising the art that it appears to advocate.

Many of the events within Prime Two were premised on their entertainment value. Jemima Wyman's performance work Body Double was entertaining while it also addressed the values of our entertainment culture. Its references to slapstick action comedy were often quite hilarious and the third installment of her performance, completed collaboratively with the artist's sister, was incredibly entertaining. Audience members laughed out loud as they watched two absurdly coloured figures in full body suites proceed to fight each other and then turn on the large, long and phallic-shaped stuffed form that they had dragged out to join them. Unlike its surrounding Prime Two events, where one could choose to play board games, or watch fashion shows, Wyman's work forcibly involved the audience. There was quite a crowd surrounding the performance, though not all were watching. It was quite a surprise then, for some, as they became implicated in the performance as Wyman and her sister penetrated the crowd, in the space close between people, with their martial art kicks and punches. These actions pierced through the performance's entertaining nature and demanded something more, some further form of engagement from the viewer.

Had Wyman not been so forceful, her work might have become lost among the carnival atmosphere of Prime Two. This would have perhaps been similarly the case for Moore's work if it had not requested the direct involvement of the viewer. The Prins+Rinzen mural installation, with its sharp design and bold colour was by contrast too prominent not to be seen while other exhibits- the paintings by Arryn Snowball, the Minister's Awards for excellence in Art, and the exhibition 'Otherworlds: Images of Fantasy and Fiction'-were not so fortunately observed, seeming quietly additive rather than integral to the Prime Two program. Consequently, though Prime Two included much art it did not manage to focus the viewer's attention so much on this aspect of the program.

Prime Two aimed to attract a greater youth audience and this was ultimately achieved. It is important for the State's leading gallery to focus on increasing its public attendance. Greater attendance numbers equate directly to greater sponsorship dollars and this is necessary support for the Gallery. It must be asked however, as Prime Two exemplified, at what cost?