Maureen Burns:

Domestic Pulp-itations
Tin Sheds, Sydney
20 July – 11 August 2007

In Maureen Burns’ Domestic Pulp-itations at the Tin Sheds gallery, domestic objects are scattered around the architecture in an airy commentary on the participation of art and design in the culture of mass production and colonisation. Cups, bowls, coffee tables, lights, bags and banana lounges are carefully strewn across the walls and floor of the gallery, some at eye-height following standard gallery conventions, others seeming to have flown in with some other framework in mind.

To the artist, each object is firstly lovingly collected, and she can tell you the unique history of its arrival and its stay in her collection. The large yellow stencil lamp with armchair and curtain fabric is the only part of this show left over from her past habit of collecting imagery from home magazines. The rest are objects from eBay. The 1960’s boomerang table popped up from Melbourne at a bargain price, with an ‘aboriginalia’ motif as well as the sought-after shape. The ‘Sleeping Mexican’ plaque appealed for its family-sentimental attachments for the artist, but it was also collected because it continued the sub-thematics of exotica in the collection, that had already appeared in the print of an interior with a Mies Van Der Rohe chair and African head sculpture. Sometimes the actual object was not collected, as when, for example, the iconic Featherston webbed relaxation chairs that are far too expensive to actually buy—Grant Featherston being a leading Australian designer in the internationalised Danish style so popular in ’50s and ’60s—it is more practical to just work with the eBay photo. Parts of the collection stay merged with the artist’s life—the orange Bessemer fruit bowl is reportedly in use in her kitchen—but others such as the waste paper basket in plastic weave and the 1970’s blue modernist Umbra designer waste paper bin, are now in the eBay box waiting to go back into circulation.

Consequently, as visitors to the show, we do not come across the objects themselves. We see that they have been lovingly translated into new and fresh forms of their visual appearances as digitally crafted prints and cut-outs. Their conversion from object to image seems appropriate to their nature. It duplicates and extends the processes of distanciation and alienation that produced them—as mass produced objects themselves, in their function to try to reduce colonised cultures to design motifs, and in their new position as tokens of exchange via eBay. Elements that contradict that process keep popping up in the work, however. Even though reduced to flat images, they have multiple forms, sometimes box-framed, like objects again, sometimes being continuous with the walls to which they have self-adhered, sometimes lying as prone felt against a wall or out on the floor. They also appear in duplicate, as plates and tables bouncing around walls in an apparently purposeless excitement. Sometimes their repetition recontextualises them—as, after not being able to avoid being attracted to the offensive aboriginalia design motif bouncing across the back wall on its boomerang-shaped cut-out coffee-table, for example, I later saw it reproduced again, printed over a grid of dots in a small framed print, a little footnote to signal critique in case anyone was unsure. Mainly, however, it is the location of the translated objects around the walls and floor that makes visitors realise that while much of the physicality of the objects may be lost in their conversion to their flattened likenesses, it is restored under our very feet through their acknowledgement of the even more physical architectural forms and space that we also occupy.

The absurd possibility then entered my head that the objects from Joyce Hinterding and David Haines’s The Blinds and the Shutters could have floated back into the earth’s atmosphere and onto the Tin Sheds’ walls. With many others, I saw them float off six years ago in a multi-video and sound work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. They were the contents of an already strangely dislocated white modernist house, and they floated out across the walls of the room in which we stood watching them leave, seeming to head out of any reference point known on the earth’s surface. The literal movement within the represented space of the image over-rode the still, literal space of the room on which it was projected and in which we stood watching. In Domestic Pulp-itations, the objects seem to have returned, represented as playfully bouncing across walls, as if to familiarise themselves with their new environment where literal space has been made more evident because of their interaction with it.