Review: Future Proof

Future Proof
Boxcopy
24 Sept - 22 Oct 2016
Curated by Amy-Clare McCarthy & Katherine Dionysius

All images by Llewellyn Millhouse

Annie Macindoe / Prepositions of Time and Space / 2016

Words by Sarah Thomson

In this season of graduate exhibitions from the two largest Bachelor of Fine Art degrees in Brisbane, at the Queensland College of Art (QCA) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), we see the work of our newest emerging artists as they leave the structure of arts education to pursue a ‘professional art practice’. The title of QUT’s visual arts graduate showcase is Now What?: a poignant summary of how many graduates must be feeling as they come to the end of their degrees and face the prospect of life as a practicing artist. Their future is uncertain as they move from curriculums and due dates to finding and creating opportunities for their practice independently. Future Proof brings together the work of four recent graduates, chosen from the previous year’s graduate exhibitions by curators Amy-Clare McCarthy and Katherine Dionysius. Selected for the strength of their artists’ practices, the works in Future Proof demonstrate the diversity of work being produced by Brisbane art school graduates. The exhibition seeks not to support a curatorial premise but rather, like a graduate exhibition, to showcase the works of seemingly disparate practices, brought together by cohort. Future Proof features new work developed for the exhibition by Matthew Sneesby, Annie Macindoe, Spencer Harvie and Holly Bates, reflecting the broader practices of each artist.

Matthew Sneesby’s Minds Slope (2016) is a continuation of his exploration into colour and material through Post-Minimalist sculpture-paintings. A large black sheet of industrial PVC hangs on the wall, the top of the sheet peeling off to reveal that the reverse is painted with gold leaf. A crisp white square is painted onto the black PVC, evoking the history of Modernist abstraction yet interrupted by the rebelling canvas, climbing off the wall and doubling over the white square. The clean white has been imposed on the textural PVC; however, this attempt to create a perfect form proves futile as the canvas does not willingly perform its duty. The shimmering gold acts as an unexpected visual treat against the monochrome palette, one that the audience may only see as the result of what seems to be a happy accident, suggesting that beauty may emerge from surrendering our attempts at perfection and control.

Matthew Sneesby / Minds Slope / 2016

Annie Macindoe’s two-channel video work Prepositions of Time and Place (2016) seeks to express the ‘complex feelings associated with experiences of loss and trauma’1 in a public context, challenging the assumption that these feelings and processes of grief should only be expressed in private. Blurred splotches of light punctuate the darkness on the screen as white text fades in and out of vision. Seemingly random combinations of phrases such as ‘What happened?/Where are you?’, ‘Maybe later/I was there’ and ‘Can’t wait/I have to leave’ appear on the parallel screens creating a fragmented glimpse into Macindoe’s personal thoughts and memories. Unfocused light slowly dances around while phrases come and go, creating a feeling ‘like the moment between sleeping and consciousness’2 when seemingly random fragments of memories swirl around in the mind, perhaps preventing one from falling asleep. There exists an anxiety in Macindoe’s video work, created by the fragmented nature of the ebbing and flowing text and the inability to grasp a clear narrative or explanation for the words on the screen. Macindoe treats language as an abstract form, like poetry, reflecting the way that our words often fail to express our intangible thoughts and feelings. She combines both visual and written language to create and convey complex, fleeting and indescribable emotions. This ambiguity and fragmentation allows the viewer to transplant their own experiences and memories onto the work, creating a sense of shared experience. Despite the inherent anxiety in the work, the opportunity for empathetic response results in the impression that despite our own private traumas, the act of sharing rather than suppressing these feelings can be part of the process of healing.

Spencer Harvie’s practice focuses on the ways we attempt to control the chaotic and unpredictable world around us. He subverts these systems and methods of organisation to ultimately highlight how futile our attempts at control really are. Holes and Mounds (2016) expands on Harvie’s previous work in sculpture, moving towards more abstract, organic forms. He presents a cluster of lush, glittering stalagmite-like forms that seem to climb through layers of circular holes in a layered wooden structure; the fluidity of the mountainous forms contrasting with the rigid constraint of the wooden casing. There is an ambiguity to Harvie’s work that questions whether these slimy, psychedelic forms grew through the pre-existing holes, like mould or creeping plants, seeping their way into a constructed landscape. Or perhaps the structure was constructed around them in a futile attempt to control their growth. Either way, the structure is insufficient to fully control the unpredictable and adaptable force of nature. This work appears to symbolise the strength of imagination and creativity to ultimately persevere through controlling structures and systems to make space for itself.

Spencer Harvie / Holes and Mounds / 2016

Holly Bates’ practice confronts pre-conceived notions about female sexuality and the female body. In her work Whiplash (2016), Bates presents a shiny black pleather punching bag with four pink whips draped off it, almost unnoticeably dripping murky black liquid onto the concave concrete slab below, pooling in the centre. This liquid is a mixture of black ink and lubricant, evoking the hostile secretions of squids as well as mimicking bodily fluids. Bates uses the aesthetics of sports and sex to present notions about the abject female body through shiny, polished and aesthetically pleasing surfaces. The catalogue essay speaks of the way Bates contrasts the hard, almost aggressive materiality of the industrial chain, concrete slab and whips with the stereotypically ‘feminine’ colour pink. The bag is made from tacky, shiny PVC like that used in fetish costumes found in adult shops. The work speaks of the hardness and softness of human sexuality, highlighting the relationship between the ‘icky’ and the seductive and our squeamishness around female bodily functions.

Holly Bates / Whiplash / 2016

What differentiates this exhibition from other group exhibitions of recent graduates is the surprising aesthetic harmony of the work and the approach of the curators Amy-Clare McCarthy and Katherine Dionysius. Despite the avoidance of a prescribed curatorial theme, the works harmonise well together in the intimate, one-room venue of the Boxcopy gallery. An aesthetic dialogue exists between the works through their contrasting forms; the shiny pink pleather, gooey, glittery mounds, industrial but seductive PVC sheeting and dancing light spots. The inclusion of four works seems to offer a broad enough cross section of graduate work while not crowding the space and interestingly dispels any notion that there exists a QCA or QUT ‘style’. Future Proof’s curators now occupy professional curatorial roles while having experience in artist run initiatives in Brisbane, such as Current Projects and Inhouse ARI. As part of the BARI Festival programming and the use of the Boxcopy gallery space, the project gives the curators an opportunity to work on a truly independent project outside of their professional roles and also gives the artists an opportunity to work with professional curators who have experience within larger art institutions.

Future Proof follows the model of a graduation exhibition by not enforcing a defined theme, and instead providing a platform to glimpse at the development of emerging artists’ practices one year on from graduation. McCarthy and Dionysius selected the exhibiting artists from graduate exhibitions in 2015 and spent approximately nine months leading up to Future Proof in constant discussion with the artists to develop new work for the show. Their approach not only highlights their involvement in and understanding of the Brisbane art scene, showing the diversity of mediums and conceptual approaches, but also the importance of support and mentorship in the crucial years after graduation, bridging the gap between university art practice and professional art practice. Importantly, Future Proof provides a platform for engaging with the work of recent graduates outside of the institutions in which they studied. For graduates in 2016, projects like Future Proof may provide an example for what happens after jumping into professional art practice, especially in a small city with limited professional opportunities for emerging artists in more traditional institutional settings. It highlights the need for mentorship and support in the early stages of artists’ careers and the crucial role that artist run spaces and initiatives play, especially in Brisbane.

The strength of Brisbane’s growing ARI scene is both a symptom of the lack of opportunities that might exist for art graduates but also an indication of the determination, drive and ambition of many creatives to carve out spaces to exhibit and share their work. Macindoe’s and Bates’ work share highly personal experiences in an attempt to create an open dialogue, greater understanding and acceptance. Harvie’s sculptural forms break through the confines that attempt to control them and Sneesby’s work offers a literal silver - or rather gold - lining. There seems to be an optimistic outlook in the work in Future Proof and in the concept of the exhibition itself. In the midst of art school closures and funding cuts for the arts, it acknowledges the challenges that exist for recent graduates and highlights the need for communities to come together to support each other. If one can grasp onto this ideal with a strong sense of optimism, and with the attitude that adversity blossoms creativity and art, then we may in fact be future proof.

  1. Future Proof catalogue essay by Amy-Clare McCarthy and Katherine Dionysius (read here)

  2. Ibid.