Stephen Little & Nike Savvas
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney
I begin with a run-down on the premise of my work within this collaboration followed by Nike’s proposed contribution. I then contextualise the linkage between the two contributions and the overlap or crossover dialogue that binds them together into a single, cohesive and multifaceted take on interpretation and experimental presentation. The proposed work also employs slippage with different conceptual and formal approaches used specifically as devices to highlight the explosive and implosive elasticity of exchange, similarity and difference that exists within the work.
Vacuum painting (& support video on small wall-mounted monitor).
Part of the premise for my vacuum works is the affirmation of painting’s ability not only to exist as a materially disembodied conceptualisation (i.e. as conceptual matter) but also to affirm the ability to transfer this conceptual matter between mediums, while retaining the name and discourse ‘painting’. These works are alternatives to traditional conventions used to define painting and are realised through an extension or conceptualisation of painterly discourse beyond its traditional medium e.g. painting in other mediums or painting without paint. Therefore, instead of relying on pictorial traditions and painterly convention to dictate an outcome, I am seeking to effect a re-evaluation of these conventions by conceptually reworking them through other media.
That said, the vacuum paintings represent a reversal of tradition based painterly convention. By way of example - the painter loads a brush with paint that is then pushed, or ‘brushed outward’ across a ground (the canvas), the material limits of the painting being determined by the outer edge of the canvas. The vacuum paintings reverse this scenario. With the first vacuum paintings, after the paint was applied to a ground (i.e. the edge or limits of the support/canvas), the wet paint was allowed to dry and was then sanded to loosen the paint particles. The loose paint is then ‘brushed inward’ to its parameter (i.e. the limit offered by the vacuum casing) by the vacuum brush. The vacuum assumes its role as a support or ground for the paint, a role formerly associated with the stretched canvas. Rather than just conceptually referencing painting, these vacuum works function as painting, and as such are not proxies, surrogates, substitutes etc. They are ‘painting’, but reversed, and conceptualised. Just as the canvas is the painting’s ground, so too, the vacuum becomes the painting’s ground, the difference between these ‘objects’ being that one’s role is external, the other internal.
Similarly, the vacuum painting (and video) I will present in collaboration with Nike follows on from these recent ideas. The vacuum is again used both as a new conceptual material/physical ground for painting, but also represents an act of painterly production based on a concept of materiality that combines the material properties of painting, with the idea of ‘painting’ understood as ‘conceptual material’. This time I will be vacuuming the dust left from the production of the work, that is, the detritus that remains from the process of the activity of making. This will incorporate the whole production period, from the painting and stringing of Nike’s spheres, to the final installation of her 3D painting. The vacuuming of the production process will be photographed & recorded on video. Parts of this will be edited into a short supplemental video to assist in contextualising the vacuum’s function, its relationship to the ball painting, and the discourse that arises as a result of this. The vacuum (+ small, wall-mounted monitor) should be presented next to the ball installation in a smaller, separate but linked (joined) space that annex’s the ball piece.
Just as Leonardo Da Vinci recognised the plastic and temporal potential of dust and saw in its reliefs a miniature terrain, one that he recommended using as a device for measuring time, so, too, did Duchamp begin to breed dust. Man Ray’s photograph Dust Breeding which showed dust on The Large Glass as it lay flat in Duchamp’s studio mimicked Duchamp’s affection for “gray matter,” or “brain facts” over purely retinal or visual seduction. The dust becomes both a symptom of the temporal erosion of the traditions of painting (it’s “gathering dust”) and also becomes a statement about the conceptual future made visible by this very decline. Therefore, the time taken to produce the yellow ball work (throughout its many stages & processes) gives rise to the sedimentation or layering of dust created during the process of making e.g. in the studio, spray booth, stringing, packing and installing etc. In this instance, the brushed up dust that is generated from the activity of making the ball painting is exemplified and presented here as a non-pictorial kind of colour, whose dryness and porosity argue against the fluid or liquid nature of paint understood as a ‘wet medium’.
[Painted yellow & green field with blue sky ball installation with fans]
I noticed when in Cyprus recently in spring that the hills were green and covered with a luminous yellow wildflower. I was then informed that this flower was edible and that my paternal grandparents and family would gather it to sell to others. This was their main occupation – gathering and selling of edible weeds/herbs/wildflowers. My uncle Sotiris, at the age of 18, slipped off a cliff edge whilst gathering ‘Lapsana’ and died. The occupation of my paternal relative’s is important, not only in terms of tracing my family roots to a time of poverty during the British occupation, but also that my grandmother, aunt and uncle were murdered during the Turkish invasion and their land is now occupied by Turkish forces. What struck me was the parallel between the Cyprus hills in spring and those of England. During the same period, the same gentle sloping green hills are covered in a luminous yellow flower, but this time called Rape, or Rape Seed. Although the flower is introduced, cultivated and used for margarines, oils, animal fodder and organic fuel, from a distance it has an almost identical visual appearance to Lapsana in Cyprus. It would be hard to tell them apart and provides for an overlap between the two places. This conflates difference and experience of place space & time, and creates a loop linking my family’s experience of occupation and history back to their oppressor’s landscape. The yellow field addresses the issues of this exhibition head-on, and is compounded and extended by the further layering and contextualisation provided by Stephen’s intervention.
This collaboration comprises of two contributions. One is a large, spectacular, exploding, atomised and dispersed 3D, moving, painted landscape. The other is an unspectacular free standing upright vacuum cleaner, a stand-alone reversal of the atomised landscape, an ‘imploding’ painting. The vacuum is presented bare, in its own space, and is supported by a small, understated wall-mounted video monitor displaying the two simultaneous processes involved in the making of both these elements. The ball piece breaks down the conventions of representation and abstracts the optical as it dissolves outward into space, and the vacuum, rather than offering a dissolution of painting, contracts and compacts it. One is a colourful, ethereal, exploding universe of painterly spatiality, and the other a black hole that conceptually, internalises the space of painting and radically alters its material composition. In one instance, the video documents the ever growing and expanding material construction of the ball element as it captures the process and activity of making. The video also witnesses the concurrent creation of painting presented as ‘conceptual matter’. Here, the vacuum brushes collect the detritus, the fall-out, the discarded activity and spent energy of the activity of constructing painting that invariably finds its way, unseen and undervalued, to the studio and gallery floor. The first element, the balls, is extremely labor intensive while the other, the vacuum painting, merely collects and uses this spent intensity, the ‘energy’ of painting, towards a final affirmation of itself as painting.
The strange paradox that comes to bear on this work through a crossover and dependency between the two elements creates a curiously layered set of contradictions. This in turn binds the different elements together into a single, unified, cohesive and multifaceted artwork that presents a rare and complex set of dialogues for critical evaluation, and offers a bold, contentious and experimental presentation.