Ash Keating

Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne Next Wave Festival 2008
23 – 31 May 2008

As the Next Wave Festival spread its long reaching tentacles over Melbourne’s diverse artist run initiatives, urban open air spaces, people’s lounge rooms and, peculiarly, its strip clubs, we were invited to embrace its overarching theme ‘Closer Together’. As the thematic string that links the projects and performances of the festival, the notion of being closer together sought to solicit from the viewer an emotional and critical response—an intense physical shudder, a yearning for something better or possibly a reflective exploration of one’s sense of self in an increasingly hyperreal world. Next Wave 2008 successfully shed light on Melbourne’s emerging artists, curators and writer’s practices whilst also engaging with extremely relevant cultural discourses surrounding globalisation, environmental sustainability and our continued dislocation from the world around us.

One project which reflected the breadth and diversity of Next Wave’s programming was Ash Keating’s ambitious 2020?. This project made an underlying statement on society’s never ending and ever increasing production of material waste, whilst also exploring collaborative practice in art. Raiding his local tip yard, Keating appropriated an overwhelming amount of detritus and hard rubbish, re-assembling it into an uncanny and pliable sculptural pile of trash within the bowels of the Meat Market in North Melbourne. Acting as both artist and curator, Keating invited artists, including Susan Jacobs, the collective Inverted Topology, Bianca Hester and Ardi Gunawan amongst others, to intervene in, re-use and re-assemble the trash into fluid, protean and ever-changing works.

When I viewed the project during its first few days, there was considerable activity within the cavernous space of the Meat Market. The main space was framed with large billboard-sized advertising posters subverted through a canny play or removal of words from the advertising slogans, foregrounding Keating’s own history of culture jamming and activism. In one of the old stalls there was video documentation of the various stages of the project—creating a closed loop of imagery—while on either side of the main space, there were work areas set up with trash carefully audited and segmented into various material types and colours.

Sitting in the centre of the main space in a sprawling display of geometric form and structure, Inverted Topology assembled an intricate, abstract and modular sculptural work resembling a children’s playground of times past. Displaying an architectural quality unseen in their previous works, Inverted Topology used planks of recycled wood, brightly coloured milk crates and old steel buttresses to assemble a structure which jutted out and encroached upon the space. The work’s strong geometric lines and inherent materiality was contrasted by a sweeping and languid sheet of white plastic tubing which flowed around and within its various nooks and crannies, acting as a visible link or open invitation to other artists to extend upon it. The modularity of the work allowed for the easy addition and subtraction of material, almost embedding the sculptural form itself with the concepts surrounding collaboration and the free-flowing nature of the 2020? project.

There was an awareness of the materials and ideas that already inhabited the space as sporadic new entries and exits took place. In a work that created a visible link between Inverted Topology’s geometric form and Campbell Drake and James Carey’s aesthetically beautiful wooden waterfall, which draped elegantly over the edge of the scaffolding in a dramatic display of scale, Chaco Kato deftly created miniature tangled biomorphic-looking blobs with old black and grey telephone cords. As these blobs spewed out of an opening in the plastic sheeting, a diagonally patterned mesh of fishing wire shaded them in an exploration of space and perspective. Its subtlety was a sublime intervention in an already crowded space.

2020? succeeded in generating valuable discourse on the role of art and its ability to draw light on and inform the wider social body on impending sustainability issues. For Keating and his band of collaborators this is an incredibly pressing matter, and in this regard 2020? was successful in bringing us all ‘closer together’ in the utopian hope for a sustainable future.