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A new truth to materials | Raymonde Rajkowski

… the ‘thingness’ of things … – Martin Heidegger

The ‘truth to materials’ in art is an idea that once inspired generations of artists to explore the unique qualities of art media and reveal the ‘true nature’ of materials. Today, it is regarded as a modernist idée fix no longer reflecting the concerns of artists and the aims of art. ‘A new truth to materials’ is an exhibition that brings together a range of works that redefine the notion of materiality and its role in contemporary art and practice.

This exhibition looks into ways in which materiality of the media is expressed through the treatment and handling of materials, which frequently involves dissecting and pulling apart objects and devices into their components and then combining them back in ways that often subvert their original utility. On occasions, these new arrangements are left in an ‘unpackaged’ and fragile state, making the artwork look half finished. In their explorations, these artists do not engage in an act of ‘deconstruction’ in the sense of the postmodern critique, but each of them develops their own distinct ways of looking at the issue of materiality in art and life in general. With the new attitude comes an appreciation that the artist could remain ‘true to materials’ simply by engaging with the content of the objects they work with. These artists remind us that even in the age of information, the materials, whether natural or man-made, remain integral to the creation and interpretation of art.

The works on display consist of a variety of media, ranging from found and made objects to mechanical devices, paintings and projected images. Revealed in their works are the artist’s fascination with material objects and their arrangements, evident in the varied ways in which they pry into their media and dissect them to reveal their hidden innards:

Ros s Manning carries out a kind of raw pseudo-scientific research by cannibalising old equipment to construct his custom made electronics, instruments, optical and sound devices. The artist’s interest in the mechanics of high-tech gadgets is largely spurred on by his observations of the brief life most technological devices have today. Entitled Sad Majick (2009), his work exposes the cube shaped colour prism found within data projectors that synthesize modulated lights to obtain images in full colour. After gutting a number of data projectors to extract the hidden marvel, the artist built a contraption powered by a semi-random wind mechanism to convert with the prism white light into colours, using the very mechanisms designed to project images to generate them instead.

Chloe Cogle employs an outmoded medium, the slide projector, to examine the structural and material properties of the image by interrogating its source that of the film slides and devices used for projection. Her work for this exhibition, entitled Cemetery as sources (2009), consists of slide projectors operated by timers which project images onto suspended screens made of tracing paper that enable the image to appear on both sides. A contact microphone connected to the projectors amplifies the sound of the changing slides, accentuating the mechanical nature of the optical experience.

Chris Handran puts to good use do-it-yourself techniques, junkshop materials and obsolete technology in order to investigate, among other things, the materiality of still and moving images. His collection of works for the exhibition uses snapshot photographs and transparency film to create small minimalist objects and assemblages displayed on a tall plinth and narrow shelves along the wall. Instead of projected images, the viewer has an opportunity to engage with their source, which has been converted by the artist into discrete objects by means of their display and other interventions, manipulations and misuses.

Miles Hall interrogates painting conventions by separating both the processes and materials from the narrative they might suggest. His work draws on the rich Venetian colour scheme favoured by Tiepolo in his painting `The Glorification of the Barbaro Family’ completed in 1750, but instead of figuration and perspective, Hall emphasises the materiality of paint and the colour found in the painting. His work includes a number of plywood sheets (used for casting concrete) leaning against the wall that are covered with layers of thick impasto oil paint applied by the artist with a palette knife. By means of its sheer physical size and the structure of the paintwork, this artwork draws attention to the physical nature of paintings.

This exhibition is intended to draw attention to the new sense of materiality found in the artwork of artists who show little regard for ‘deconstructive’ methodologies of the postmodern era. While most of us remain mesmerised by the sleek look of ever-smaller gadgets that handle ever-more information, these artists show the audacity to open up these everyday ‘devices’, scatter around the contents and play with it to make the inner-workings once again visible. In the process, these artists often destroy the original function of their objects and gadgets, images and ideas, and replace it with the utility of questionable nature and value, as if they wanted to draw our attention to the ominous loss of materiality in the world we now live.

In a time when technology is seamlessly integrated and packaged in the ever-smaller boxes, with the mechanics and processes of the machine hidden away and unknown to most of us, works such as the ones that form this exhibition play an important role in reminding us about human corporality and the physical nature of our existence.

by Raymonde Rajkowski


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