A few days ago I posted a mention about an exhibition review in 'The Age', it seems the author, Robert Nelson found my article and sent me it, in it's entirety. So with much fanfare, here is the article.
‘Basil Sellers Art Prize’, Ian Potter Museum, University of Melbourne, Parkville, until 26 October
The social role of sport is to provide an outlet for intelligent people to behave like brainless people. Everyone knows that there’s no intrinsic point in shifting a leather ball from one post to another, no matter how energetic or invested the contest. Nothing is achieved outside the game; no one is wiser or can add a benefit to the world beyond the fury of the struggle.
Intelligent people also recognize the costs of sport, severe and permanent injuries, which burden our hospitals every weekend. But sport is a sanctioned release from responsible thinking, and all these scruples are put aside. The whole point of sport is to insulate you from things that matter.
The habit of getting excited and screaming for no good reason creates a momentary dome of ignorance; it’s a hallowed asylum of folly, a carnevalesque institution of mania against the onus of wisdom. Important and urgent questions should be discussed, like global warming; but the clamorous distraction of sport assures even the brainiest people that they too can enjoy the mind of an idiot.
I was therefore skeptical of the ‘Basil Sellers Art Prize’. Why conceive a lucrative prize around sport? Sport is the antithesis of art, because art is all about a purpose beyond the work.
Art engenders speculation, a portal to new insights and imaginative growth. Like music, science and philosophy, art promotes an intoxicating wonder for where the mind can reach. Sport offers no similar transcendence, because it lacks any admirable purpose beyond its own arbitrary exertions.
Once inside the show, however, I had to admit that some of the works are brilliant. The masterpiece is ‘Bicycles’ by James Angus, which should have won the prize. The sculpture is a track-bike that merges three separate frames, with three tyres, train-drives, handlebars, pedals and spokes. The machine is throbbing with a sense of immanence, as if growing through speed. As its form is replicated, the bike is caught in its own vibrations, as if each shudder and thrust in a stressful ride causes the bike to reproduce itself, to project more versions of itself as tremors of staggering zeal.
The craftsmanship of this sculpture matches the concept. I hope that the artist can gain one of Elvis Richardson’s trophies, which amount to a gaudy army, like a field of slayers, such as little boys might play with. So many wins! The copious ripper victories, represented by a horde of trinkets, makes you reflect on the utter futility of winning, unless you get financial reward (in which case you could do something valuable with the prize money).
Elsewhere, Richardson’s trophies reveal their own entropy, as her noble cups are rotting away, just as they deserve. It’s the neglect to which all sporting victories are destined, because they’re essentially trivial and ultimately give history nothing to remember.
Kate Daw & Stewart Russell celebrate a marvellous moment from the Olympics in 1968 when Peter Norman rose to the podium, performing a black power salute with a black athlete. You feel that Norman really earned the beautiful monument that Daw & Russell create for him. Tellingly, Norman’s brave political action completely displaces any memorableness of his athletic achievement.
Some of the works are cheeky, such as Scott Redford’s hilarious video, which shows men spraying the word ‘dead’ onto surfboards only to cut them up. On another monitor, two young women in bikinis come into a luxurious apartment to perform this morbid office. Laying the boards between the floor and foot of the bed, the beach-babes clumsily hack the wobbling boards with a saw, which sticks and jambs the further they get into it. The bodies of the women convulse erratically in this sacrilegious castration of surfing prowess.
I felt that the winner, Daniel Crooks’ video, ‘Static no. 11 (man running)’, maybe deserved eleventh place. It shows a man on a running machine in a gym. But something odd happens. The integrity of the filmed image is stretched across a vertical gulf, which yields a slippery fill of reciprocal flows, as in an irregular mirror. The director of the Potter, Chris McCauliffe, gives a clever analysis of the work, “like an eerie photo-finish caught up in a time warp”.
It made me reflect that maybe this “abstract ballet” deserves to win after all, because it’s the closest to sport and the furthest from art: it doesn’t reveal a purpose beyond its own tricks, an electronic banality striving for hermetic excellence.
robert.nelson @ artdes. monash. edu. au