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Art Injuries | Jacina Leong

Whilst reflecting on this essay, I remembered a conversation I had with an acquaintance, who after spending some time looking at an aquarium installation made by the artist questioned, ‘But why would you want a fish tank decorated like this?’ The commissioned fresh-water piece stood out like a gaudy hodge-podge of aquarium décor in an otherwise streamlined lounge- room. A rusted steel base, with metal corners that once concealed layers of silicone, but were now misshapen and damaged, supported the tank. Its interior was lined with chipped tiles and ornamented with a motley collection of reassembled ‘stuff’: a soccer ball fossilized in resin, a ribbed candelabra sprouting artificial plants, expanding foam, and a golf ball inserted into a ring of ceramic turtles. According to my acquaintance, Wrong Whole Tank Interior, the title of this underwater installation, was a fitting description for something that, on the whole, was aesthetically offensive and not quite right.

While Wrong Whole Tank Interior represented a submerged wasteland to some, Scott was in fact echoing a reemerging trend in contemporary art to reassemble, and ultimately transform, banal materials into new objects. In 2007, New York’s New Museum presented Unmonumental, an exhibition that surveyed recent collage and assemblage (sculptural, two- dimensional, audio and video) in contemporary art practices. The exhibition hinted at the current climate of global anxiety and sense of disenchantment with organizing and guiding principles (law and order, religion), as well as the tendency for collage, and its three-dimensional counterpart, to historically appear in times of trauma and social change. And while there was nothing unfamiliar about the materials the artists had incorporated in their works, everything familiar had been broken down and anarchically reassembled (like our ideologies?) to give the maximum transformative effect.

Scott’s recent exhibition Art Injuries at Boxcopy exemplifies this trend. Her sardonic perspective and interest in visceral and cognitive experiences is also in evidence. In this exhibition, panels of blue bathroom tiles, which have been deliberately cracked in areas and puttied onto wooden supports, lean against the walls of the space. A section of a water cooler (reclaimed from a vacant lot) has been hacked off, and its lame structure left to despondently rest. Nearby, a video work shows a sequence of dream-like imagery – the artist’s sister smiles at the lens of a camera whilst waving a pair of fish lips; a fish is hacked in half on a fly-contaminated chopping board; and a bust is blown up as shards of its ceramic head shower towards the ground.

The artist extends her practice of collage to the soundtrack: Kenny Gee cross Funkadelic-like tunes mix and overlap with the sounds of a motorboat engine, muffled laughter (or someone crying?), and the nostalgic jingle of an arcade video game. Scott also uses tacky and queasy-looking effects to manipulate footage, and further encourage a visceral and somatic response from the viewer. (At one point, a recording of a dirt path and woodlands appear to sway like some hallucinatory scene from a B-grade horror film, as a caricatured wound, floating in the centre of the screen, spurts blood onto the landscape). Taken together, this kind of spatial collage juxtaposes disparate elements for suggestive effect. Images, sounds and objects, which independently have an intended function or association, converge to construct an illusive narrative. Titles often complicate any attempt to locate a fixed interpretation of Scott’s work, and instead act as decoys that appeal through undertones of internal conflicts, sexual pursuits, the abject and just plain weird.

Here the title Art Injuries operates as a device to decode ‘art’ as either the cause or victim of an implied injury. In this case, ‘art’ has been split open and its contents hacked, dismembered, cracked and diseased. The expression ‘to cause injury’ is also an obsolete reference meaning ‘to cause insult’. Does Art Injuries then intend to offend (like the underwater acquisition) through its use of slightly off and warped material?

Perhaps though to take Scott’s work as a purely decipherable exercise is to miss something of the point. For her work is as much about the absurd and comical as it is about recuperating the familiar with new energy and meaning. Her work is intended to be funny. It encourages half-baked and nonsensical interpretations. Then again, humor is a subjective experience, and what may be amusing to some, can be considered lame, crude and downright peculiar to others.

by Jacina Leong

© Copyright 2011. Boxcopy and the writers and artists. Not to be reproduced without permission from Boxcopy.