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un Projects

With energy stolen from the bohemians who decorate the room


Bus Projects, Melbourne
James Ashley, Alex Bienstock, Bradford Kessler, Adam Lehrer, Emily Ličen, Charlie Robert, Samm Sutton, Chelsea Young
August 31 - September 23

My ancestors come from a country called Bohemia. Montmartre was its capital. Courbet, Lautrec, Krebber, Bacher were its heads of state. Nihilism, its imperious national anthem. One day in 2010 the clock tower in the capital’s centre stopped. Witnesses tell that everybody was clutching copies of The Coming Insurrection. This clock tower was a cardboard cutout of another in Frankfurt. Class disparity was rampant, but isn’t it always? The bourgeoisie being the bourgeoisie. The vulnerable cried and couldn’t unionise. The townspeople consumed art. They attended exhibitions on foot or fingered it on screen. I found myself in a shed where I pondered an art that implied a use. And if art is useless, isn’t then life? A wiser person than I once said.

Botched Chadification, Masculinity Under Threat, Music Video, 2023. Photo: Christo Crocker, courtesy the artist and Bus Projects.

A 20-something-year-old cleans his glasses with his undershirt. What are they saying? No response. He opens his notebook and starts writing. Isn’t this meant to be a party? Not an opening or a gig. Are the words coming out of their mouth a hotchpotch of Kontev & Tarquin’s text from that show last winter? Embarrassment is fashion’s antonym. Art is a sum of subjective decisions made by the artist. So why do I behold it, hoping for it to confirm my own subjective values? And who is to care? I care. Somebody is watching him in the crowd. A New York band plays next. Punks as cops with flaccid guitars who take off their clothes. Masculinity under threat. People are into it. The man feels nauseous. He closes his notebook. I’ve dissociated. They performed at 15 Orient. Isn’t that cool? It is dark in the crowd. Nobody can see him crying.

Installation view, Emily Licen & Samm Sutton, This award feels real (gratitude version), 2023, timber cement sheet, plaster, house paint, floor registers, enamel, photo frame, 44cm x 218cm. Cut and paste furniture #1, 2023, Roof eave, folding chair, air freshener, 47cm x 84cm. Photo: Christo Crocker, courtesy the artist and Bus Projects.

He leaves and unbuttons his shirt. Written on his arm is every person is an island or a dog. He passes two talking puppets. Conceptual Art for Melbourne operates twofold. The first is artworks that appear as words or characters, structured like a sentence. Like a folding chair flat on the wall. The latter is a withdrawal from materiality, towards representation. Ha. That’s why everybody treats art like a Rorschach. But, that isn’t what I see here. That’s everywhere. What about narrative? Wax tulips? Bacher? Her signs are not the Association Game. Plurality ate away our brains. Nothing connects us. Not even language. The puppet gestures quotation marks. The self today is an algorithm-fed echo chamber. Is the post-critical still a problem? What? Art is still a parasite. Artists will always be parasites.

Chelsea Young, Maniacs playing, 2023, acrylic, resin, glucose, dye cotton T-shirts and Lycra on canvas. Photo: Christo Crocker, courtesy the artist and Bus Projects.

The man slumps on a couch. A forty-year-old analyst scribes the appointment. Books line the shelves. The orange skyline shadow streams in the windows. Headphones fall from his lap. They might wear classic Reeboks. Knackered Converse. Tracky bottoms tucked in socks. All the point is the point, that there is no romance around. His hand pulls the cord out. Silence. What will we talk about today? It has been three months since I turned 22. My girlfriend’s left me. She resented my cheating. Girls, guys? Both. Do you think you are better than everybody else? No. Do you think people could perceive you as pretentious? I hope not. But I am? How else am I to find my people? What have you done this week? Reading, drinking, smoking. Went to a house party. A single tracking shot through a crowded room. Nobody was talking to each other. A wall of wax busts. Discrete characters. What? Cigarettes. Dilapidated couches covered in mulch. A broken wooden fence. Outback apocalypse. A band played. People pissing on bathroom tiles. Gentrification written on the wall. Anything else? I had this dream where I was trying to charge my iPod. None of the power points were working. There was no energy, no power. Nothing.

Installation view, James Ashley, Radio Therapy, 2023, Wooden cladding screws, guitar, amplifier, drill, found photos, paper, various toys and figurines, dimensions variable. Freak Flag, 2023, Spray adhesive, oil paint, hair, 60cm x 220cm. Photo: Christo Crocker, courtesy the artist and Bus Projects.

Hold up. Nobody loves you like I love you. A busker sings on a misty morning. The man watches the city fill with people from a coffee shop window. He is correcting index cards with cellotape, a fountain pen and white-out. What are you doing? I made errors on my flash cards. You’re weird. What do you want? A cappuccino, please. Grunt. The waiter rips out a page from their pad. They slam it on the table. It reads ‘theory boy cappuccino’ in marker. They turn to the long-haired sommelier. What are you doing tonight? Everything, baby. I’m a bohemian. Did you hear about the wedding? In a discount store warehouse. The fairy lights. People are tasteless. A couple eat fast food and take selfies. The man runs towards a bin and vomits. People notice. The puppets are back. One puppet comes up to him. Hey. Are you okay? I don’t know what’s wrong with me. What’s going on? How do I stop somebody from taking up so much space in my mind? They don’t teach you that at art school. It is okay. Deep breaths. What has been going on with you? Not much. Let’s focus on you. Walking, talking, getting through my day. Tell me what has been going on in your head. It will take me out of mine. Fashion and Majerus. Katz rates style over content. But there is this guy. He’s the other puppet. A tasteless male. He has made this Black-Eyed Peas Microsoft Zume design mesh grey thing. It is repulsive. That is why he is the tasteless male puppet and I am the tasteful female puppet. See look. I made this Agnes Martin freak flag thing. She pulls out a slide from her pocket and hands it to him. The man holds it up to the cloud-covered sun. It is so lost in the world. Thanks. This is rude. But who are you? I’m a curator. Cool. Can we do a show with you? Yeah. Have you read that Merlin Carpenter text? Everything is fine. Then he goes into the trance, control value, mathematics stuff. You can tell us what it means.

Installation view, Alex Beinstock, Taking a girl to McDonalds, 2022, composite photograph, 33cm x 44cm. Charlie Robert, Shuffle, 2023, Digital print on lycra, steel poles, wood, 128cm x 154cm. Emily Licen & Samm Sutton, This award feels real (gratitude version), 2023, timber cement sheet, plaster, house paint, floor registers, enamel, photo frame, 44cm x 218cm. Photo: Christo Crocker, courtesy the artist and Bus Projects.

Douglas Maxted is a “failed” art historian who lives and makes art in Melbourne.

un Projects’ Editor-in-Residence Program is supported by the City of Yarra, Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne
Editor: Carmen-Sibha Keiso