peter alwast

working like a tiger
The Farm, Brisbane
1 – 23 August 2003

I don’t get Peter Alwast’s title, Working Like a Tiger. I can’t help but think of Rob Sitch in the dgeneration’s The Late Show c.1992 and a particular skit when he impersonated Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan who, when asked directly about about his game, would always end up describing his lovemaking as ‘like a tiger, like a tiger’. Perhaps Alwast is suggesting that he has been working very passionately on the exhibition? It is a complex show comprising a wall drawing continuing around the gallery’s periphery, paintings, photographs, and a series of transparent walls built inside the small space. Like Khan, Alwast has his speciality (painting—Khan’s was bowling) but plays the role of an all-rounder and aims to excel across all facets of the game.

It has been a long time between innings for Alwast who last made a show in Brisbane, his home town, in 1999. In the same year he was awarded a Samstag scholarship and in 2000 headed over to New York to undertake MFA studies at the Parsons School of Design. He stayed in New York until earlier this year and Working Like a Tiger is his first show since returning.

The show includes around twenty works—photographs, silicone and enamel paintings on mylar and a large cut-out—installed on a series of transparent temporary walls built inside the small gallery. The temporary walls are arranged to create two corridor-like spaces and two small enclosed rooms. With a group of people viewing the show simultaneously, as no doubt happened at the opening, I could imagine that an intention of the transparent walls was to allow the viewer’s eyes to shift from focussing on a work in the immediate foreground to another in the distance and to other viewers also regarding works. Viewing the show solo, however, I read the installation component as (another) painting/installation metaphor. Constructed from timber frames over which the artist has ‘stretched’ a transparent plastic film, the temporary walls resemble large painting stretchers awaiting canvases. Painted on the peripheral walls surrounding the installation is a horizon line that increases in intensity from the floor to about half way up the walls. From certain perspectives the horizon line seems to bisect the temporary walls, forming a cross-member for the stretcher-like structures. The painting analogy appears to continue in Alwast’s use of the transparent walls to hang the other work. On photographic paper and mylar, even when quite large, these works feel ethereal, as if they were delicate ideas for paintings that lacked the confidence to be big stretched canvases.

The individual works in Working Like a Tiger are sensitive and romantic. Alwast’s choice of imagery is broad and moves from the strangely familiar forms of MRI scans and the Arabic Al-Jazeeera logo, to text taken from emotive pop songs and a graceful bird motif which is repeated in a number of works. This imagery is often combined with capricious abstract gestures executed in a manner that calls to mind the good bad-art feel of Sigmar Polke and Albert Oehlen. The personal and delicate nature of the works seems to invite the viewer into a conversation about the relationship between the various forms and imagery used. As Angela Goddard suggests in her catalogue essay, it is as if Alwast has created a psychological space within each piece that facilitates a very personal discussion between viewer and artist.1 In one of the first works encounted in the gallery, a text quoting the Dalai Lama reads ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama says we should be able to change perspective’. It is composed alongside a decorative design of blue diamonds, an extremely vertical perspective down onto a New York street, two scarabs crossed in front of a palm tree and the word ‘monsters’ written in cursive across hand-ruled lines. Bits of the observed world overlap with uncertain memories, dreams and popular culture to form images that are at once deeply subjective and shared with other viewers. Further to this is the conversation taking place between various works via the repetition of certain elements such as MRI scans, birds, clouds and the night sky.

Overshadowing the works’ relationship to the viewer and to each other, however, is the connection between them and the installation components (the transparent walls and wall drawing). The connection is neither articulated coherently nor does it remain open to a range of different readings in a manner that is sympathetic to individual works. In the end I found the installation components to be awkward and distracting. It is enough that Alwast has made a number of beautiful and engaging paintings. The other elements felt like a contrivance that unnecessarily complicated the act of viewing the show.

notes: 

1. Angela Goddard, untitled catalogue essay, Peter Alwast: Working Like a Tiger, The Farm, Brisbane, 2003.