Joshua Petherick’s exhibition Cusp and Cornice at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) brought together two bodies of work, Gutters and Carriers. Both traverse ideas of the everyday, and evoke points of reference within art history such as the Dadaist’s adoration of the arbitrary, the concept of found objects and strategies of chance composition. Petherick sees these influences, particularly the consideration of the everyday, as some of the most ‘omnipresent and mystifying things to research in one’s work’.1
With CCP’s entranceway as a clear vantage point, the objects titled Carriers sit predominantly on the right-hand side of Gallery One’s long expanse, sporadically dispersed around the concrete floor. At first glance, the series of eight works appear as found, inverted shopping bags; however, upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the works are constructed from digital photographic prints and then assembled by Petherick himself. By doing so, Petherick shifts the photographic image from its conventional use to that of space and structure and into sculptural form. Not only do Carriers take the form of the commercial everyday object, but the photographic images that make up the bag linings depict various mundane objects and materials, including clothing, leaves and other detritus found and collected by the artist during his travels between the studio and home. It’s a funny and entirely plausible idea, which on a windy day leaves might blow in through the large gallery entranceway, mimicking the motifs found in Petherick’s shoppers.
The blank space between the text and the binding of a book or the margin of two facing pages is something encountered frequently in everyday life, yet it is rarely acknowledged. Referred to as the ‘gutter’, this was the starting point for Petherick’s body of work made under the same name. His source material was a stack of old Sotheby’s auction catalogues, from which he selected pages containing glossy artwork reproductions and details spread over the double page. Conventionally, the gutter in design and printing allows the eye to rest and ensures that words don’t get lost in the spine of the book. In this case, the catalogues have reproduced images in full bleed; thus, instead of being a blank space, the gutter is filled with colour and pixels. Extracting this specific section of the page and undertaking a range of digital techniques including scanning, cropping, enlarging and filtering, the details become abstract distortions: minimalist lines and a wash of marbled colour are fragmented and disembodied. The artists’ gestures that were once reproduced in the auction catalogues are exposed as mere printing marks, traces of Petherick’s mechanised process.
The resulting prints are contained in thin white frames that have been sawn through and upturned, so that the glass acts as a pocket or literal gutter for collecting dust. In this case, the protective and perhaps hierarchical function of the frame is co-opted in a comic gesture. Some pieces are dispersed across the gallery floor, four hang side by side on the wall and one sits inconspicuously and somewhat precariously, in an area of high foot traffic, situated under the gallery’s overhanging front desk. Petherick again blurs the boundary between two-dimensional pictorial space and three-dimensional sculptural form. Here, the gutter of a page is transformed into a gutter in a dimensional and functional sense, such as a street gutter that collects leaves.
Petherick’s practice takes its starting point from artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Hans Arp, all who devised various strategies to harness chance occurrence and the arbitrary.2 Petherick begins with a concept and enables the end result to open up to chance abstraction through a mechanised process of heavy working and re-working. Thus, Petherick’s systems of manual and serial processing that have produced the linings of Carriers and the microscopic detail of Gutters have removed the artist’s hand, instead emphasising their mechanical reproduction.
The subtle, dry humour uncovered in Cusp and Cornice, specifically Petherick’s subtraction, addition, re-purposing and rearrangement of forms, takes something away from objects and images otherwise elevated to the status of art (through the context of a gallery or a frame), reminding us of the everyday and arbitrary nature of the work.
Shena Jamieson is a Melbourne-based writer.