Literature Reviews

Assignment 1 Part 1

On Smoke, Circles and Air.

I have always found Steve Carr’s approach to art making mystifying and strangely inspiring. And while the “meaning” of his work often remained elusive, I have often wondered what, will this guy come up with next. The recent talk he gave at Whitecliffe School of Art and Design entitled “Smoke, Circles and Air” answered many questions for me about his earlier work, his practice and finished with an insight into his latest work Dead Time. Originally trained in sculpture Carr also works in performance, photography and film and it is his film work that I am going to concentrate on for the subject of this reflection.

Carr works a lot in the performance realm and an early work “Air Guitar” which features him playing an imaginary guitar to the music of 90s guitar God Joe Satriani was not only part of his Masters submission but seems to be the genesis for his fascination with smoke, circles and air in his art. In his “air” guitar performance he repeatedly swings his arm around in wild circles to simulate rock star guitar ability while smoke from a smoke machine rises from behind him like some kind of wizard’s spell has been cast.

This is an interesting foray into self mythologizing for Carr who previously, known for doing Elvis impersonations, has now cast himself in the central role and as in his own words sees himself not only as the artist but possibly as “a wizard” (Carr). This reference to the wizard is important to Carr’s work as a wizard is someone who performs magic and alchemy: transforming objects from one state to another, which is a constant theme that runs through his work.

Fast forward a few years and we come to one of Carr’s most definitive and recognised works “Burn out” Here the absurdity and alchemical questing of Carr’s art meet in celebration of a rebellious rite of passage; for kiwi Bogan’s to burn some rubber! The film composed in one shot is essentially a black ute spinning its wheels in an attempt at “doing doughnuts” making black tyre marks in a “circular” shape on the road, all the while white smoke plumes out the back of the ute and up into the air. There is a photographic still quality to the work, shot at dawn, the sky is changing from pink to blue and after the vehicle has careened its way out of the picture plane all we are left with is smoke. Smoke hanging in the ether.

On the surface Carr’s film “Burn Out” could be seen as an excuse to glorify a banal and potentially self destructive act but on deeper reflection it alludes to studies in motion and alchemical processes of transforming states. However part scientist and part con man the wizard is also closely aligned to the “trickster” which is an archetype that arts writer Anthony Byrt puts forward has reinserted itself into contemporary art today and one that Carr as an artist seems happy to embody.

On the surface one may fell they are being taken for a ride with some of Carr’s works, some of which involve a hefty poke at the art world or question what we consider the role of the artist to be especially as he makes no bones that out sourcing his work to professionals is part of his practice.

In Carr’s film “Turkey shoot” he has hired a stylist to transform a raw turkey into a fully roasted and ready to serve turkey from a 1980s T.V. commercial. On a cursory view a raw turkey that is being braised by a blow torch, might be perceived as the height of banality. However if you consider the whole film from start to finish is only 7 minutes long and the finished product actually does look like a real roasted turkey then you do appreciate the nod to artifice and suggested magic of the piece. Especially with the trademark Carr puff of smoke added at the end of the film.

However Carr’s most recent work ”Dead time” and “Screen shots” deliver a more scientific and poetic look at the nature of changing states. In “Dead time” Carr employ’s the use of a super slow motion camera to record a bullet piercing an apple and in “Screen shots” an earlier work he uses the same technology to slow down the effects of piercing a balloon full of paint. The results are stunning and need to be seen to be really appreciated.

Screen Shots by Steve Carr

Reflecting on this closing part of Carr’s talk, Carr retold the audience how initially the editor helping him with Dead time couldn’t understand at first why Carr had given so much time to footage of the apple before and after the bullet pierces the apple. However once the editor had watched it through a few times he got it and realised the work was actually more about the states of the apple before and after the actual bullet piercing moment that was the most interesting.

Dead Time Steve Carr

With these last two works Carr still manages to pack an artistic punch or should I say spell; aimed at destabilising and asking questions about space and time as we know it. With references to pop art history, still life, science and the study of motion by people like artist/scientist Eadward Muybridge these works certainly open up an array of possibilities and give plenty of food for though for any potential viewer.

To view Steve Carr’s work visit his website.

Assignment 1 Part 2 Write two reviews from a selection of five articles.

Everyday painting and the pluralistic era”

In his extract “Everyday Painting” Barry Schwabsky outlines the difficulty of aesthetic judgment and classification in regard to contemporary painting today. He goes on to argue that in our age of pluralism the strict codes that modernism once tried to exercise over painting couldn’t possibly expect exist – in other words evaluating painting today with the paintings of another era or style is as futile as comparing comparing apples with oranges.
And this is what also really grabbed me about his article, within the opening paragraphs, Schwabsky had emphatically separated what we know today as contemporary painting from the rigors and confines evident in the history of preceding episodic art.

Schwabsky’s article starts with the prosaic line “Before there was art, there was painting.” (P10) He qualify’s this by explaining that while the cave paintings left behind by our Paleolithic ancestors are certainly mysterious they have nothing to do with the concepts of aesthetics that arose in eighteenth century Europe, or the “field of autonomous art” which came at the same time as painting began to detach it self from the service of the church and the court.

Schwabsky’s states that unfortunately many viewers still hold classical periods like the renaissance or baroque as exemplars for how the art of today should be viewed and what is not considered when viewing these idealized tableaux’s, is that these works were most often…

“devotional images whose surpassing beauty was valued at the time more for its power to kindle faith than for its own sake and functioned as propaganda for the rulers who commissioned them; their impressive qualities were intended to reflect back on the patron rather than onto the painting itself” (p10 Schawbsky)

I have reread this passage many times and smiled a wry smile to think about an artist’s like Leonardo Da Vinci who often in the service of church and court, may of been keener to work on his design for a helicopter than the Mona Lisa.

Fast forward a few hundred years and were at the beginning of the 20th century and in walks Marcel Duchamp. Schawbsky acknowledges that thanks to Duchamp championing the readymade “for the last hundred years or so in principle, anything can be art” and in spite of his ideas not taking effect in a big way until the 1960s

If art can be a snow shovel or a urinal then why shouldn’t it be some live horses or dead cows a tent… or even an immaterial something possibly transmitted by telepathy between two people and inaccessible to anyone else.

So while people like Duchamp provided a torch of freedom for artist to paint differently or to not paint at all, it is back to a kind of “everyday painting” that Schawbsky takes us to find refuge from the spectacle and anxiety that can accompany experimental artists and their curators – Not as an apology but more as incite into the longevity of an art form that quietly gets on and keeps doing it.

The ordinariness of painting has become one of its most important characteristics. It’s where the much-cited modern project of linking art with everyday life continues to be worked out.

As a photographer I am often engaged in this project – and wonder why Schawbsky doesn’t mention or compare the strong links between photography’s undying quest to link art with everyday life and the everyday painters but ah it is the preface to a painting book, one has to have a bias sometimes.

From Greg Watts:

There is an interesting quote by the American composer John Adams that Gregory O’brien cites concerning what he sees as the necesity for art to retain its ability to comunicate…”what’s happened in twentieth century art in general …is that it’s gone in a very wrongheaded direction and become very self referential. Systems (of musical grammer) become developed that are virtually solpipistic and have no relationship to the lingua franca, musical or emotional…once an art form becomes self-referential it’s bound to die”.


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