LARESA KOSLOFF, Agility Drill, 2011, production still. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne/Sydney.

LAUREN BRINCAT, Hear This, 2011, production still, video documentation of a performance, video: 8 min 5 sec. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne/Sydney. 

Social Sculpture

Anna Schwartz Gallery
Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

“Social sculpture,” a term put forward by Joseph Beuys in the 1960s, encouraged an appreciation of art in situations rather than simply objects. With a model for art that was total—inclusive, participatory and multi-dimensional—Beuys’ concept implies that art does not operate outside of context. With a selection of works by seven young Australian and Australia-based artists, 
Anna Schwartz Gallery’s “Social Sculpture” embraced the give-and-take between object, setting and viewer.

“‘Social sculpture’ is less politically idealistic” in the present, claims exhibition curator Charlotte Day in her catalog essay, yet the term “remains, importantly, a heroic endeavor.” This is an interesting proposition, because in many ways the works on display felt purposely unheroic. They employ modest materials, frequently offhand presentation and playful means—such as calls to respond to text instructions, measure invisible weights and volunteer to be part of an artist’s performance—in order to involve ordinary people as participants rather than spectators.

One of the most engaging works on display was also one of the smallest in scale: a tiny screen showing a video of artist Kate Mitchell carrying a businessman on her back all the way to work, in an endurance piece called Lost a Bet (2011). At once hilarious and disturbing, the footage of a young woman carrying a grown manin a business suit upends notions of feminism, labor and what it means to be a struggling artist today. There is an intense appeal to the work—the more one laughs, the more uncomfortable one feels, and soon one starts to wonder about the mind-set of the participant (or participants) who answered Mitchell’s newspaper advertisement calling for collaborators. If this is a joke, who is in on it? If it is not a joke, is it a tart metaphor for gender roles in society, or is it something more sinister? Can it be both?

Similarly compelling is Lauren Brincat’s video Hear This (2011), which shows the artist alone in her Berlin studio, talking on a telephone with her mother back in Australia. The telephone is made from watermelon wedges that she slices and consumes as she talks, literally eating her own words in a forlornly comical play on homesickness. Several sculptures by the artist are also featured, such as Good Table (2011), which comprises 
a ping-pong table that doubles as a dining table, with a glass top and little brass bells for feet. One can only guess at this object-sculpture’s purpose. Much like the taxidermied cobra that sits next to it (from a separate installation from 2011 entitled The Quick and the Dead), the ping-pong “table” is both uncanny and slightly confused, redolent of the unapologetically ambiguous ethno-chic home decor associated with 1970s suburban living. The work speaks of the divide between the ordinary and the sacred—something the idea of social sculpture gleefully interrupts.

Other exhibited works consider the gallery itself: its spatial properties, including weight and volume, and its furniture, such as plinths and pedestals. Agatha Gothe-Snape’s Text Work (2011) guides visitors to a bright yellow line and strident wall text, which instructs them not to cross the line or touch the art. Though stepping over the line carries no real repercussions, the work has actual transgression built into it: the thrill of breaking the rules.

 Laresa Kosloff’s color-coded sporting hurdles, entitled Agility Drill (2011), are placed in the center of the gallery, obliging visitors to walk around or between them. They are accompanied by a video that shows the artist guiding a performer over the hurdles awkwardly, limb by limb, in the style of freeze-frame photography. One cannot help but think of the artistic process, with its own set of hurdles and pitfalls, and the idea of the artist-athlete as a person training toward success or failure.

“Social Sculpture” introduces an engaging selection of artists who address questions about art’s function today. Socially engaged and spatially aware, these works consider art as a part of daily life rather than as a way to remove oneself from it. Perhaps this is the sort 
of heroism—everyday offbeat actions rather than grand authorial gestures—to which this new work aspires.

RossiRossi E-flux 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art