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Crawl 2: Three Moves | Ellie Buttrose & Bree Richards

Arlo Mountford has a talent for playfully tearing history books into confetti and marvelling at the combinations left on the ground. Mountford takes Pieter Bruegel’s ‘The Triumph of Death’ c. 1562 as the backdrop for his animated work ‘The Triumph’ 2010. In Bruegel’s work, skeletons ravage the landscape and though the people are dying from different means, they all face the same end. In Mountford’s work, the skeletons are replaced by black stick figures. They hold shields, wear tunics, wave flags and banners, carry placards under their arm and storm across the screen with flaming torches that have the ‘Fountain’, ‘Brillo box’, ‘Black square’, Oppenheim’s fur-lined cup and saucer, and other iconic art works stamped upon them. Alongside corpses, works by Picasso, Calder, Andre, Smithson, and others litter the landscape.

Songs of revolution fade into the soundtrack by Jimi Hendrix, Pati Smith, and Woody Guthrie. This mélange of radical ideas across generations reminds us that each one has its own revolutionary impetus, which the following generation use as a jumping off point for their own rebellion. These failed revolutions, both social and artistic, are not mourned by Mountford; instead he tips his comic hat to them. In ‘The Triumph’ we watch Modernist art stars superseded by characters with genitals for faces, but we know that even the Chapman brothers will face the same end.

Francis Alÿs even makes an appearance in ‘The Triumph’ with a can of dripping green paint. A reference to ‘The green line’ 2004 in which Alÿs walks across Jerusalem redrawing the green line the Israeli Minister of Defence drew on a map as part of the ceasefire following the 1948–1949 Arab- Israeli war. Alÿs recently uploaded many of his moving images works onto his website, some of which are restricted to online viewing, while others are in the public domain free to download in accordance with creative commons licences.1 This generosity

of spirit has enabled the screening of ‘The Modern Procession’ 2002 (single channel version) as part of this touring exhibition. It documents a Sunday morning procession on 23 June 2002 in which living artist Kiki Smith and (reproductions of) Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Bicycle Wheel’, and Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Standing Woman #2’ were carried on palanquins by art lovers. They were transported from the Museum of Modern Art’s residence in Manhattan through the streets of New York and over the Queensboro Bridge to its temporary location in Queens. The mood was set by the Peruvian brass band, which called New Yorkers out of their houses and neighbourhoods to join the swelling crowd. By taking MoMA’s icons to the streets and by making ‘The Modern Procession’ freely available to download, Alÿs does away with the singularity of modernist masterpieces by making them freely accessible to all.

While this work can be linked to religious pilgrimages all over the world, it ends with a few quick shots of religious icons, clad in tinsel and tied to pilgrims’ backs as they walk along the side of a busy highway in Mexico. Alÿs declared that ‘The Modern Procession’ was created to ‘welcome MoMA’s most sacred icons to the Periphery’. It is a celebration of MoMA’s move to a radically different socio-economic neighbourhood; Queens has a higher than average African American and Hispanic population and the largest Asian community in all of the suburbs of New York. In this sense the work is also a playful nod to the modernist art histories that have been written from outside Europe and North America.

While Mountford and Alÿs play with the iconic art works of the movement, no discussion of modernism would be complete without touching on the specific concerns of painting. Gemma Smith paints Duchamp’s infamous career change to full-time chess player back into the art world in her chessboard paintings. Smith’s first move is to paint a geometric shape onto the surface of a chessboard and it is from here that the game begins. She plays each following shape and colour off against one another and the grid below them. Smith literally paints on and over the grid that held the modernists under its sway. Her loop paintings rely on the same logic, they begin with a surface painting that becomes like the grid of the chess boards. Smith then builds on this, carefully making her moves in loops of paint, negotiating what has already been put down and affecting all the moves that will follow. While the works in this exhibition are all touched by elements of modernism, the weight of history has not become a beast of burden. All three artists are able to tap into it with a sense of playfulness, and this is what that makes their work so alluring.

1. ‘These videos can be downloaded and shared with others as long as the authorship is credited and there is a link back to the website of the author. These videos cannot be altered in any way or used for commercial purpose.’

by Ellie Buttrose

From the utopian ambitions of the modernist movement through pop culture piss-take and the confusion of life in the 21st century, each artist in ‘Three Moves’ engages with a dizzying spectrum of forms and ideas. Works by Arlo Mountford, Gemma Smith, and Francis Alÿs all muck around with Marcel Duchamp’s famous maxim that ‘art is a game’, variously poking fun at, reconfiguring, or playing with an array

of visual referents, from the familiar to the foreign.

These artists have all embarked upon meticulously researched projects spanning diverse conceptual gestures. In his version of a modern day procession for instance, Alÿs sends replicas of iconic 20th century artworks on an amble through the streets of New York. This gently mocking indictment of the art cult sees masterworks born aloft by a throng of po-faced ‘believers’, who each play their parts with aplomb: from the respectfully reverent to the beatifically beaming. The marchers’ measured pace is set by a brass band, and their path strewn with rose petals – fanfare deliberately reminiscent of a saints day celebration. This act of public worship, albeit recontextualised and thrice-removed, retains the utopian spirit of the procession, along with its ability to reinvigorate spiritual faith through spectacle. With this simple action and appreciation of the carnivalesque, Alÿs seeks to truly democratize the sacred space of the art gallery by doing away with it altogether.

Modernist mockery is again at work in Mountford’s gleefully apocalyptic animation, where Pieter Bruegel’s iconic painting ‘The Triumph of Death’ c.1562 is willfully mashed up with tongue-in- cheek references drawn from art history and trash culture alike. Mountford applies his typically sardonic and witty approach to explore the contextual relationship between contemporary art practice and its perceived past. Abstracted figures – sometimes identifiable as idols and artists – take aesthetic cues to shift between scenes, appropriating ideas and images along the way. Indeed, ‘name that reference’ could

Like Mountford, Smith too subverts art history for her own purposes. The chessboard is at once a ‘found’ surface and home to an inventive game of push and pull between spatially interconnected geometric forms. Though these works appear detached and cool in their intent, they are the product of chance as much as anything else, and Smith’s desire to play is the spark for her intuitive creativity. This quality has been taken to its (il)logical extreme in later paintings, where Smith chases a series of casual doodles across the ground, stream of consciousness style. Her playful methodology remains unchanged however, and the ‘found’ forms in this instance are her own loosely conceived underpaintings, reimagined variously as gestural tangles of exuberant colour. Smith’s painterly games pay homage to the visual language of the 20th century avant-garde, yet at the same time are subject to an idiosyncratic set of rules that pivot on the point of ambiguity, between the real and the illusory, the casual and the formal, the structured and the free-form.

In each of these radically different processes, the artists engage with historical narratives and cultural paradigms in order to unravel their structures and send them spinning off in new directions – presenting elusive scenarios that abound with interpretive potential. Rather than breaking free from the past, these artists meet it head on, mining the annals of art history in order to ‘make it new’ – to ham it up, break it open, and take it out to the streets. Three artists, three moves: It’s a nonsensical game between irony and intellect where art wins hands down.

by Bree Richards

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