Killing Time at the MCA

November 13, 2007 at 2:16 am (Uncategorized)

It took us two and a half hours to get to our friends’ house in Birchgrove in the inner west on Sunday. Two and a half hours door to door. And it took other friends two hours to get to our place from their Surry Hills home on Friday night. It is still called it a ‘public transport network’ in Sydney, but quite frankly I don’t see any evidence of any linkage whatsoever. In fact, the Manly Ferry timetable seems to have been thoughtfully arranged specifically to enable you to wave at your ‘connecting’ ferry as it pulls out of the Quay just ahead of your pulling in. And when you happen to be there merrily sending off your means on transport on a Sunday, well, that’s an even bigger treat: you’ll be rewarded with a wait of about an hour ’til the next one.

So Llew and I found ourselves stranded at Circular Quay for an hour. Yes, we do really like these friends. We must, because leaving home on a Sunday is officially all but banned at our house, and leaving home to spend two and a half hours in public transport is simply asking for trouble. I’m really so pleased the State Government, in its worryingly finite wisdom, is actually planning to reduce our transport services – that’s going to be a big success, I can tell.

Luckily the the Museum of Contemporary Art (the MCA, which Frank Sartor, “Planning” Minister, wanted to demolish. I’d like to demolish Frank – the man has terrible instincts and the greatest contempt for architectural values I have ever seen anywhere) is right down at the Quay. I’d been meaning to go in for a wander for some time, so I suggested to Llew we spend the hour in the soothing embrace of its Art Deco bosom browsing art, and he agreed.

We started on Level 4, currently devoted to the Julie Rrap retrospective, Body Double. Bodies are Rrap’s thing. If she were a chef, ‘tits ‘n’ arse’ would be her signature dish. Not that her work is crude, on the contrary. She’s clearly and specifically engaged with the body as a spatial, philosophic, at times comedic and certainly dialogistic concern. In particular I liked some of her photographic work very much: the Marilyn Monroe glass dress appearing to billow over the grate, and several provocative and funny images from her 1999 Porous Bodies series: Honey Ants, Horse’s Tail and Cow Tongue Tie. The first is quite beautiful, the second cheeky (in more ways than one), and the third is a perfect Push-Me-Pull-You, repulsive and compelling.

I also loved Disclosures: A Photographic Construct, her 1982 series of self-portraits. These representations of her naked corporeal self really succeed in disrobing the viewer, even as the slightest change to her pose and/or props adds layers of concealment to her own image. I think it really works, and it’s engaging conceptually and intellectually as much as visually.

The sound of unearthly breathing coming from an entirely darkened room was creepy, so I saved Body Double, Rrap’s most recent work, to last. It took ages for my eyes to adjust in the blackness of that room, and even once I had I felt very, very uncertain about my position in relation to the work, almost like an intruder standing over a stranger’s bed in the dead of night. Creepy again, but do you see how she reverses the role on you? I became the aberration in the space. Timidly, and only once Llew returned to show me how to approach in the darkness, I moved around the…? Multi-modal installation, I guess. But that’s mechanical language for something that seems disconcertingly more.

Still shivering slightly, we went down to Level 3 to Cross Currents: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art. As you leave the elevator you walk right into Ah Xian’s gorgeous busts. They’re simply stunning. My favourites are the three spread out on individual blocks as you face the lifts. Bust 80, which is so delicate seeming in comparison, so fine, and the two carved lacquer busts made of resin and fibreglass, one with the dragon motif and the other with the lotus scroll. We were leaning in so close to examine the intricate carving that security felt the need to come over and tell us to back up.

We realised we were going to miss the next ferry too if we weren’t looking lively, so we really had to fly around the remainder of the exhibit. No matter. I can still tell you what else I really liked: Karl Wieske’s work in enamels, one series of paintings on wood and another on Belgian linen. The work on wood was so textured and unusual (I really wanted to run my hand along those grooves), and the works on linen had a completely different spirit, they were really bold and enlivened and it was like the difference in the two materials really accounted for a difference in temperament. Finally, Djirrirra Wunungmurra’s exquisite barks and poles. The timing was excellent, actually, because I’ve only just filed a couple of stories on Indigenous art, so I was still absorbing my interviews with some dealers and gallery owners (hence the gap in posts. I had a hell of a day yesterday transcribing and writing, I was right down to the wire). Her works seemed to me to employ traditional materials whilst incorporating some of the clean lines of modernity. They had a beautiful freshness for work that is so deeply embedded in history.

We made our ferry in the end, had a lovely afternoon, and had an overpriced cab ride home. That’s a Sunday in Sydney for you.

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