Disclose: Project Another Country| Tim Walsh
Dis-close sees Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan end Boxcopy’s first series of artist projects in their Margaret Street space by tearing and hacking the paint from the brick wall. There is no other way to describe this other than to put it bluntly: this is a destructive act. And it is a departure from an aesthetic that is normally defined by a community-driven, collective approach. Yet, Dis-close highlights an increasingly prevalent theme in the work of the Aquilizans — an interest in the ways we can see history or think historically in the present. To consider this we must, perhaps appropriately, begin with some historical context.
The Aquilizan’s medium is almost religiously refuse — unwanted, discarded and redundant materials turned into often transcendent forms. Past works have included the recent installation Inflight (Project: Another Country) for ‘The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, which saw their favoured recycled mediums turned into thousands of small, handmade aeroplanes that rose from a giant mound reminiscent of a garbage heap. Over 6500 planes were made as part of a school-based, state-wide aeroplane-making drive and incorporated into the monumental work. As a symbol, the aeroplane can be one of fear, of travel and migration — even functioning as religious iconography. Participants were able to make their own aircraft with the same materials used to form the works on display. This personal, almost socialist presentation of art differentiates the Aquilizan’s practice from the recent anarchic sculptural trend, profiled in the 2007 opening exhibition of New York’s New Museum entitled Unmonumental. Though the forms are often presented as transcendent, they never escape the viewer — they are relatable, personal objects that tell us about the artists and the community involved.
For the 2008 Singapore Biennale over 4000 used thongs were collected from a Singaporean correctional facility and speared onto bamboo poles, hoisted many metres above the ground, away from the viewer. Entitled Flight, this installation was re-fashioned into a set of angelic wings for a 2009 exhibition at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum in Quezon City. Brought back to the ground, the wings were scaled back to relatively human-size. Besides obviously connecting with the transcendental themes already touched upon, the wings evoke one of the foundational tenets of the Aquilizan’s practice — a constant reinvention of previous forms into new works. Components or parts of previous works are returned to the artists and stored under their house only to return months down the track in a new iteration. What was once rubbish attains a profound position as art object. At the end of the exhibition, the work does not return to refuse — for the Aquilizans, art is able to initiate an irreversible, transformative experience that turns what was unwanted excess into a medium.
Here we can begin to approach the key theme of Dis-close. Perhaps the closest connection to previous works would be Lucid, a selection of strange ocular pieces installed in Fort Lytton, a series of 19th century concrete bunkers built to defend the port of Brisbane from potential naval attack. Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, Fort Lytton was used as part of 2009’s ARC Biennale for temporary installations by a number of contemporary artists. Presented as temporary works, Lucid featured large magnifying glasses that focussed the eye upon indelible marks and gouges that peppered the heritage-listed structures. The magnifying glasses re-emerged for Looking through the Glassland, (as part of the Woodford Folk Festival) here used to focus upon the rusting body of a 1957 Holden, and then again in a solo exhibition In God We Trust presented at Jan Manton Art in Brisbane earlier this year. Art’s power here was to bring the viewer’s attention to signs of history normally overlooked.
Dis-close sees the layers of paint and plaster peeled from the wall on one side of the Boxcopy gallery space to reveal the underlying brickwork. The space informs the work first and foremost — upon viewing the space for the first time the Aquilizans were drawn to the original brick wall. Prior to Dis-close, the wall was covered with a white, irregular plaster — in patches the outline of the rectangular bricks emerged, the lines of mortar visible. The effect was the structural focus of the room dipping in and out of visibility — showing itself partially in some areas, and in others entirely obscured. Allegorically the very process of stripping layers of paint works to describe the intention of the piece — a search for an original, underlying foundation buried beneath layers of time and experience. The artists see this process as painting — an important distinction given the rarefied position painting holds in art history and its invariably self-reflective nature. Painting tends to always consider itself in relation to its past. Perhaps we can even draw a connection with the stroke of the brush and the cut of the scalpel — both wish to disclose or reveal something. Whether we consider this something as already present, simply waiting beneath the surface or being created through the very act highlights the distinction being considered here.
Through this process the layers that are excavated reveal a history of the space made visible. By cutting into and through this strata the Aquilizan’s work uncovers previous versions of the exhibition space; the pristine gallery standard white, the burgundy of Dirk Yates’ Office of Australia (presented at Boxcopy earlier this year — where Yates replicated the original colonial colours in the space) the white beneath that and further back towards the brick. What is most surprising is how thin the layer of paint revealed is, the differentiation in colours only partially visible. Each era is only barely tangible — which is original, which a copy is too hard, perhaps impossible to say. The Aquilizan’s work reveals history as extremely tenuous. It is thin and hard to grasp. It is here we reconnect to the redemptive quality of the Aquilizan’s practice – the history of this space is only a millimetre deep – never has the potential for greater experiences and ideas appeared so visible, ironically on the smallest scale.
by Tim Walsh
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