music / “Love & Desire”, National Gallery of Australia, February 15. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA
SWISS kinetic artist Jean Tinguely was once described by American art critic John Canaday as someone who “makes fools of machines, while the rest of mankind permits machines to make fools of them”.
There is no better way to describe the playful work offered to us at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, where the Tinguely influence is strong in the tweaked title and the cheerful air of material collage.
Forget art as a passive experience, there is no standing back and musing in this exhibition. These three artists – Dan Moor, Tom Buckland, and Nicci Haynes – have every intention of involving you to complete their works, posing the question, “do we even need artists any more?” They are committed to the recycling and reuse of discarded things, transforming them into whimsical experiences, using imagination to help us consider some very serious subjects.
Dan Moor works as an electrician on huge industrial projects like solar farms, and during just one job, rescued 400,000 clipped single-use, black, stainless steel cable-ties from the bins. Moor called upon his community to help him transform them into art, and there are 30 works in the gallery by a range of makers of all ages. He has set up a station of tools so that exhibition visitors can sit and make their own contributions.
The result is something akin to reforestation, with hairy, black shapes creeping outwards from a corner of the room, sculpting lines that seem drawn in the air with a giant Sharpie pen. Moor is giving permission for us to rethink waste and to reconsider the notion of uselessness.
No-one needs drawing skills to take a ride on Tom Buckland’s drawing-machine, Loop (I’m gonna build myself a time machine on particle physics and the power of steam, it runs on diesel oil and Donnie Darko daydreams).
Part bicycle, part surfboard, all time-machine, it is rigged up to hold coloured textas against a spinning disk matrix. The movement of the bike as it is pedalled means that the pens loop and dash randomly, leaving wild swirling marks. Mounted behind the rider, the disk’s coloured spin gains graphic density with every ride, suggesting that the bicycle is emerging from some kind of portal. Adding to the fantasy of the experience is a pair of aviator goggles to wear and a book on astrophysics to read as you peddle, lashed to the front handlebars. There’s a joyful absurdism in everything Buckland does; his practice never fails to take us out of the ordinary.
Equally eccentric is the latest piece from Nicci Haynes, who keeps smashing through the boundaries of printmaking and drawing to incorporate her love of experimental machines and filmmaking. She describes this work, “The Signaller”, as a kind of flip-book and references early attempts at creating moving pictures.
True to form, she populates the machine herself, captured in multiple flailing poses taped to a conveyor belt with a handle that is turned by the viewer to animate the action. It is positioned low so that, unless you are a small human, you have to hunch down and look up through the magnifying panel as you crank, a pose that forces you to peer up to her analogue “cliffs-edge” capering. It’s fun to do and fun to watch.
There’s nothing slick in the room, nothing forces distance between work and viewer. Everything is active and activating without being mocking. The answer to their question is a resounding yes: the world needs more artists like this.
Tinguely would be proud of them.