Light Projects

Light Projects, Melbourne

After almost three years, Light Projects, a Melbourne artist run initiative based in the suburb of Northcote, has closed. During its time, the gallery consistently showed work reflecting a strong commitment to research-based practices. Light Projects initially started as a collaborative effort by Leslie Eastman and Tamsin Green, evolving organically to include Imogen Beynon, Brooke Shanti Fenner, Brad Haylock and Stephen Palmer, who met through their time at Monash University. At Light Projects, they sought to provide a space where issues arising out of an interest in light, both in a phenomenological and symbolic sense, could be examined. This premise, along with the gallery’s store frontage and the support, through rental subsidy, of the psychoanalytic practice of Dr Patrick Johnson, formed the conceptual ground for much of the work shown at the space. These themes and conditions defining Light Projects made it more of a project in itself, than a project space. Some exhibitions seemed to stray or ignore this theme, but given the breadth of metaphor assigned to light in Western history, it is a kind of catchall. Such an all-encompassing category produces a kind of vertigo, but by linking this theme to a specific space, Light Projects was able to provide unique conditions for its elaboration and examination.

Ultra Neon was an exhibition which looked at light through the medium of neon. Work by Brad Haylock, Euan Heng, Fiona Macdonald, Sanja Pahoki, Kiron Robinson and Andy Thomson presented the street frontage as a kind of specialty store through the focus on neon, commenting on the ubiquity of this medium as well as celebrating it. Another show which used the store front in this way was curated by Brad Haylock, where avant-garde practices were reduced to a kind of interior decoration or window dressing. Haylock used the store-front of the gallery to emphasise this reduction as a strategy of display, with work by Elizabeth Newman, Spiros Panigirakis, Kerrie Poliness and Haylock himself.

Leslie Eastman’s solo installation, A History’s Shadow, turned the store front into a large camera obscura, where the street was projected within the gallery. Brooke Shanti Fenner also addressed the shop window, using it as a shadow screen in order to frame questions of subjectivity and corporeality. The window, as a boundary, was thematised as the line between experience and the experiencer. Again, using this boundary, Devon Atkins and Thea Rechner each created film loops in Near and Far, Atkins’s work visible by night while Rechner’s used daylight to project colour on the gallery walls.

Operating under the pronoun XYZ, Leslie Eastman and Natasha Johns-Messenger, in their show Synoptic 11, used the technology of a video head-piece to frame and activate spectatorship as embodied within the space. The video intervened between the eyes of the spectator and the installation. In a similar fashion, Andy Thomson’s Karaoke Theory featured a video projection of an oscillating fan with a flow of air from behind a false wall. In both these works, the resulting disorientation reflected on the tension between the physical image and its represented object. In a different take on this tension, the group show Forms of Deception dealt with representation as deception and simulacra. Artists Max Creasy, Stephen Palmer (who curated the show), Clare Rae and Emma White showed work which used the truth value of photography to deceive the audience.

Kit Wise curated the show When the Dead Help the Living. Wise, along with Jordan Baseman, Si Sapsford, and Damiano Bertoli, showed work dealing with the idea of the dead as an archive accessed through memory and digital media. United States based artist Mark Booth and Melbourne artist Michael Graeve presented a collaborative laboratory using sound and performance to interrogate form in the context of writing, painting, text and image. Another collaborative exchange saw Monique Redmond and Andy Thomson examine the temporality of the garden, literally shifting the seasonal blossoming of fruit trees into the gallery in their multi-media installation Mons Garden. This took seasonal change out of the construct of a cycle to present time as unmeasurable. Influence(s) was a collaboration between Ardi Gunawan and Nikos Pantazis, where the I Ching was used to form the approach to the studio materials at hand, resulting in a series of improbable and increasingly dangerous performances. Another loose collaborative project brought together the studio practice of artists Laura Carthew, Oliver Cloke, Brooke Shanti Fenner, Nickk Hertzog, Tahlia Jolly, David Mutch and Mattie Young, in a show which was structured by Fluxus-like events.

A collaborative work between Melbourne based Fiona Macdonald and Canadian artist Thérèse Mastroiacovo dealt with the controversy surrounding Lynda Benglis’s intervention into the November 1974 issue of Artforum, which famously drove half its editorial contingency to resign and start the austere journal October. The artists link this event to the possibility of interpreting (or citing) art history without being ‘corrected’ by those heavily invested in the production of that history. Kel Glaister’s work in MDR combined the comedy of a cream pie in the face with the visceral feedback of a blood nose, while Tim Coster presented a collapsed stereo/archetype of a meditation space in Midday Attunement, by feeding recordings of wind-chimes through Auto-Tune®, a ubiquitous vocal filter used in creating one-hit-wonders.

Alex Martinis Roe worked with collaborative fallout in her project Affirmations, which celebrated collaboration, as one-on-one encounter, as much as it seemed to mourn its occasional non-event after one participant withdrew. Therese Keogh’s Beeswax Project was an installation which combined elements of repeatable, hive-like architectural principles with the fragility of beeswax sculpture.

Michael Needham explored the limits of representation and subjectivity in Contours of the Self, utilising drawing, sculpture and architectural intervention to question a sense of self-fascination. Jeremy Bakker’s installation I is another placed the otherness of language literally within a series of crystal vitrines. Letters and words were cut from books and isolated, while a silent matt-black sphere sat embedded in the gallery floor as a kind of being-without-language. Christian Capurro’s The Waste of Breath showed marks on circular mirrors made by spreading liquid-paper using the artist’s breath.

Sanja Pahoki developed a show after the death of her grandmother, which was both a kind of memorial and a work which eloquently detailed the problems of trying to represent personal loss in the context of an art gallery. In Submarine, Kristina Tsoulis-Reay’s paintings explored the being of underwater animals, examining the continuity expected within biological nature via an increasingly complex relationship to the environment. Similarly, Kiron Robinson and Hanna Tai exhibited Holding on, Looking Down, a collaborative installation which built an immersive environment which responded to the immensity of the ocean in subtle formal shorthand.

Patrick Johnson, whose psychoanalytic practice occupies the rooms above the gallery space, developed the exhibition Invisible Drawings, with staff and students from the local primary school. The romanticised ‘primal scene’ of childhood creativity was examined in this intervention, which questioned whether the interpretive projection of the adult has any place within it. Brad Haylock’s exhibition, On Difference and Indifference, critiqued the limits of the Manichean rhetoric of international politics, by collapsing wordplay into physicality, and in doing so rendered any strict political binary absurd. Light Projects also featured some short-duration group shows featuring work by Damiano Bertoli, Kieran Boland, Lauren Brown, Candice Cranmer, Storm Gold & Julian Holcroft, Jess Hood, Tegan Lewis, Donna McRae, Clare Rae, Rendall & Spier, Cyrus Tang, Fiona Williams and Kate Woodcroft.

It seems fitting that one of the last shows at Light Projects was the latest instalment of Fiona Macdonald’s sustained critique of the artists run space and its operational milieu. This project has been released as a slow series over the last decade, and critiques the tropes of experimental installation as much as it relies on them.

Light Projects, like all projects, had to come to an end or veer from its original purpose. It is the dedication to its original impetus which defined it, and it is the integrity of those involved which saw it close. Interest and motivation—to use another metaphor of light—fades, and in the service of another broad category—change—it will be interesting to see what projects come next for the artists involved.

Sanja Pahoki, Because my Grandmother Died, 2011. Installation detail. Photograph Clare Rae. Courtesy the artist. 

Brad Haylock, On Difference and Indifference, 2009. Installation detail. Photograph Clare Rae. Courtesy the artist.