Project Contemporary Artspace, Wollongong – October 2005
studio performance Chronography
Project Contemporary Artspace in Wollongong, 2005
TIME OUT OF MIND
Brereton slips into a creative mood as easily as a Samoan puts on a lei
or a lâvalava. Both parents were artists after all: his father a
well-known sculptor and ceramicist, and his mother a pioneer fibre artist.
Kurt grew up throwing pots, and climbing in and out of the mangroves of
a subtropical fishing village near Mullumbimby, on the North Coast of
New South Wales.
So creativity was a birthright. And despite a polymorphous array of subsequent
activities – he publishes essays, gives academic lectures, makes
films and multimedia video – painting has re-emerged as the normal
respiration of his intelligence. (For when cyberspace acquired a huge
mass it dragged Brereton in after it, while hand-made art sat, like a
range of mountains, or a set of waves, at the limits of his Infohorizon).
But in the tranced subtlety of this new Chronography series, you can still
sense the smooth beats of the Pacific woven into his nervous system, and
the fractal shimmer of fish scales moiréd by light.
But what are they about?
Well, at one level they are about the time it takes for them to happen
(which is another way of us experiencing time, away from the rhythms of
viewing Network TV, for instance). At another level they're about their
own merciless physicality—the raw poetry of materials, in the face
of all the mediated products of intermediated media. At another level
they're about the gap between what we see and what we know. At another
level (lower voice to gravelly academic depths) they take part in the
ongoing connected effort whereby pixellised images on a screen, Aboriginal
dot painting, the reproductive technology of the dot matrix, Minimalist
music, and the semiotic qualities of Modernist art (pointillism, Pollock,
abstraction) can offer a language with which to communicate. (Excuse me
while I rest my beard on my knees).
Time is the key to this work. It acknowledges that we are all doing time.
We spend our lives with time. Our failures are failures to live with it
(think of boredom, facelifts, or cryogenic experiments); while our successes
are about redeeming it. These canvases – finely nuanced, alert,
lyrical - represent a category of performance, a ritual of inscription
that takes place over several days. Though successive, like assembly lines
or filofax scheduling, there’s something refractive here to the
regular forms of organised time.
Here time is experienced in depth, as well as length. You can lose the
passport of your identity in the powerful inwardness of this time. Words
like “Bulli”, and dates like “20-26 May, 2002”
no longer make any sense. For the reason that time becomes space and place.
During painting of this kind, the body climbs inside the mind, and like
many other psychodynamic practices which deepen your awareness and attention
- whether from Buddhism, or other contemplative traditions, or this purely
secular technique of painting canvases – it gives you a sort of
edge, a more fluid and tactical intelligence. The more awareness you have
about the way your attention works on a moment-to-moment level, the more
suppleness, the more space will form around that activity. This quality
of attention has the ability to de-reify the given reality of ordinary
experience, which in some sense is the first step on the ladder of gnosis.
However all this has nothing at all to do with the purity of religious
belief. For there’s always mischievous humour with Brereton (as
in his previous exhibition Art Realty), showing him up as a Magical Socialist,
a Groucho Marxist. Some of the choices of backdrop (Taiwan elections,
tablecloths, Jackson drips, birthday announcements) and the spacing of
those dashes recall the timing of that great comic’s use of the
cigar: gags are made separated by varying intervals, a way of leaving
space between his straight lines for a laugh.
Chronography is undoubtedly a homage to Indigenous culture as local source,
even as it echoes the fragmentation of images in our own over-engineered
cultural stew, sometimes known as post modernity. The technique of applying
dots of pigment with a stick, or the reverse end of a paintbrush, took
off in the Western desert when it transferred traditional forms such as
sand painting and body art onto portable non-traditional materials such
as acrylic paint on composition board and canvas. They also reference
the pixels that mediate the image within contemporary technology. But
here Brereton’s dharma lights up in dashes. Buddha, son of the Beach
Boys, is taken to the outback.
In Kurt Brereton’s new series, life, art, and politics converge
– non-violently of course - in a cunning tapestry of radiance and
scruple, witness and example, nurture and nag. In these cosmic-satirical
flashcards, he’s caught a wave and rode it all the way to the shore.
Co-Ordinator of Public Programs
Art Gallery of NSW