Various artists: Out of place. ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton. Until June 13, 2021.
Out of place is a challenging exhibition that revolves around the concepts of disjunction and "alterity", where what we see or what we think we see or anticipate seeing is quite different from what is actually presented in the gallery. The literary theorist and critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak saw alterity as a strategy through which to remake history, to unscramble assumptions about existing realities and taught notions of normality. Much of the work in the exhibition is edgy, confronting, enigmatic and decipherable only with a heavy dose of critical theory.
The exhibition is the brainchild of the newly appointed curator at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Oscar Capezio, who has brought together an international contingent of artists. They are Hany Armanious, Boyle Family, Bonita Bub, Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley, Fiona Connor, Thomas Demand, Dale Harding, Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky, Anna Kristensen and Jasper Jordan-Lang. He has also provided a catalogue essay more thought-provoking than many gallery catalogues that frequently consist of lavishly produced, poor-quality reproductions accompanied by a slight text and an interview with the artist.
It is an exhibition of visual surprises, traps and ambushes, where what you see is definitely not what you get. The Boyle Family's slabs of environment - a dried-up river course in the Tanami Desert or a cobbled wall - are as striking today as when they were first exhibited in Melville Hall at the ANU in 1980 in the Landscape art two way reaction exhibition before the National Gallery opened its doors. The mixture of fibreglass and plastic with stone and bits of desert challenged as to what reality was being presented. Now that the older generation of the Boyle Family, Mark and Joan, has died, their children continue to make work that erodes the boundary between art and reality.
The husband-and-wife team Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky were born in the Soviet Union and since 1988 they have been working in New York. They approach reality through the lens of the Russian avant-garde Absurdists, especially the wonderful poet Danill Kharms. In the piece at this exhibition, Sandglass (Establishing Shot 1), 2004, originally commissioned by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, they subvert the audience anticipation that a film of the Arizona Desert is inextricably a slice of reality. An establishing shot is a standard filmic device where a long shot at the beginning of a scene informs the audience of the setting. Here, on first encounter, the video seems almost motionless with time slowed down, but it seems curiously out of focus until for a moment, we become aware that we are witnessing overlapping sequences that crystallise, then again drift apart. Dictums about truth in photography are inverted - "all photographs lie, films do it in motion".
Dale Harding, a young Indigenous artist from Queensland, challenges the audience through his elegant paintings on glass, while Anna Kristensen in her beautifully worked paintings disorients her audience as she dissolves boundaries between painting, photography and physical space. The marvellous Hany Armanious is represented by a five-metre-long print that has been printed on the gallery wall that is like an image not made by human hands - the traces of an artist's studio. The enigmatic scribbling and paint blotches contain more signs of artistic struggle than a dozen heroic portraits of artists staring into the heavens.
Out of place is not an easy show or one particularly pleasing to the eye but it contains sufficient surprising nuggets of gold to make a visit to the Drill Hall a must.