Rounds Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts 26 June – 25 August 2010
Rounds is fundamentally based upon dialogues between artists, their artworks and their processes. Conversation is integral to the twenty-nine artworks presented at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA). Nine emerging Western Australian artists have been involved in the project, conceived by artist and curator Sarah Rowbottam, since September 2009. The curatorial premise is simple: rather than asking artists to respond to an overarching theme or subject, each was required to create a new artwork for the exhibition. These artworks were passed on to another participant, and based upon the work received and their discussion with its creator, the artists would then proceed to generate another work, and so on. This process was repeated across four cycles, to facilitate experimentation and generate ideas.
It is an intriguing concept: providing a space for artists to expose their working methodologies and interrogate each other’s practices. However, the exhibition format does not convey the entirety of the Rounds project and its ambitious scope. With so many conversations and dialogues absorbed in the process, the basic premise of the exhibition is lost amidst a confusing array of outcomes.
The show is certainly overwhelming. Rebecca Baumann’s Untitled Cascade (2010) is an arresting and simple work of cascading gold tinsel animated by an electric fan placed behind; it makes a profound grab for attention upon entering the exhibition. Also notable is Elise / Jürgen’s Round Four (2010), in which a video camera films Jürgen’s attempts to ‘find his centre’ through yoga. Installed high-up on a wall of the gallery, the piece is teasingly disorienting when the viewer angles their head to see the screen. Here, Rowbottam demonstrates a lucid approach in her curation of the exhibition, playfully positioning the work parallel to Neil Aldum’s Contractionary Physical Policy (2010); a large wooden swing-set on casters, which dares the viewer to climb aboard and awkwardly navigate its unpredictable movement.
Such energising exchanges between works are unfortunately not facilitated throughout the rest of Rounds. The density of artworks to be charted in the exhibition makes detecting any influence between artists difficult, a fact compounded by the specious placement of certain works. Hidden behind Untitled Cascade is Bennett Miller’s large installation Milieu intérieur (2010), a sculptural set for the observation of daschunds — the animals feature heavily in Miller’s recent practice — during the course of the exhibition. Miller’s work subverts the criterion for the project, reworking one piece to accommodate the influence of each round of artists, rather than producing a separate work for each cycle. Miller suggests an ideal methodology for working within the Rounds experiment. He maintains the focus of his own practice, not compromising his activity through investigations into disparate themes and influences. Seeing as the creative potential of miscommunication is not thoroughly explored as a potential outcome of the exhibition premise, Miller’s contribution would have been better served by a more privileged position; instead, it appeared annexed to the rest of the artworks.
Paradoxically, the muffling of individual voices and the dissonance between works is both an evocative strength and a glaring weakness in Rounds. What results is an obfuscating maze of outcomes that perhaps does not demonstrate the open, experimental context of the exhibition. Quieter and more subtle works, such as Tim Carter’s On / Off (2009) — a series of seconds-long vignettes observing the removal of clothing presented on a tiny screen — are highly engaging and consummately measured and nuanced. So much so that they become overlooked compared to the more attention-grabbing artworks. The curation fails to accommodate the demands of such individual works in the show, with its dedication to presenting the entire outcome of the Rounds project. Dialogues are not clear or even grounded; instead it sustains one rambling and sprawling monologue.
It is an oft-noted cliché that Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, one typically affixed to any discussion about the practices of its emerging artists. There are positive aspects to this isolation, in that it provides a space for experimentation and conversation that is unique, remaining contextually and culturally specific. On the other hand, it is an inhibiting factor, promoting sameness and a hindering cultural orthodoxy. Rounds should be applauded for attempting to address Perth’s contextual anomie with a framework that is open to the individual creative agencies of its participating artists, but this message is barely audible over the cacophony of outcomes competing for attention.
Nathan Beard and Samuel Tait are both completing a Bachelor of Arts (Art, Honours) at Curtin University, Western Australia.