Non in casa

Blyth Street. 2013

Wiggly Worlds

Late last year, I was given a hand-made invitation to Liang Luscombe’s exhibition Non-in-casa; the final chord of a twelve-month mentorship and collaboration with Melbourne-based painter Angela Brennan. At the end of November, I walked to Angela’s house in East Brunswick. After knocking a few times, her husband Will opened the front door and extended an arm towards L’s work Wiggly World – a blotchy pink-blue singing pot that had Devo’s song ‘Wiggly World’ emanating from it. The pot was covered with lumpy, worm-shaped motifs and was supported by a three-legged miner’s table, which was in turn held up by an overturned drawer. Around the room, other anthropomorphic vessels and vases were nestled in and around provisional towers of Angela’s antique and op shop furniture. Entering the living room, I was greeted by L’s partner Ed, who poured me a glass of orange Aperol Spritz from behind L’s knock-off Dinner for Two (after Richard Artschwager), which was masquerading as a bar.

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As well as drawing from a crossing-over of social relations as writer, curator and artist, L’s practice in the last few years has taken an interest in painting’s precarious relationship to functionality. Of historical significance to her is Russian Constructivist El Lissitzky, who described his 1923 work Proun Room as “the station where one changes from painting to architecture.”1 Dixon, Tim, “El Lissitzky – Proun Room,” Open File – Blog, December 2, 2011. Accessed January 3,, 2014, http://openfileblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/el-lissitzky-proun-room.html. While researching the work of the Constructivists, L also encountered the work of the Italian design collective Memphis Group in the retrospective exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990, at the V&A gallery in London. She explained:

When looking at Memphis Group furniture, it struck me that while the Constructivists promoted functionalism in their ideas, their artworks failed to have any functional purpose. Instead they opened painting out to the spatial. However, to me, the Memphis Group had in some way realised the objectives of the Constructivists by creating an intersection between furniture and sculpture.

For her 2012 exhibition Bauhaus Fisher Price at TCB artinc., L produced a series of do-it-yourself Andrea Branzi Ginger chairs. Part sculpture, part prop, part painting, the chairs combined cool minimalist aesthetics with bombastic, eighties-inspired pattern design. At this point, her curiosity seemed to drift away from functionality and toward the more unexpected aspects of appropriation and the knock-off.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Octavian Frieze, 2013, earthenware tiles and plasticine, detail. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Before her travel to Rome, L was investigating American artist Richard Artschwager, whose art practice has a purely look-but-don’t-touch relationship with functionality similar to that of the Constructivists. Interestingly though, his pictorial sculptures produce a space where the spectator and the spectated slip between design, sculpture and painting. I like the Artschwager knock-off for the same reason I like El Lissitzky’s Proun Room, and I think that’s because it’s more of a tribute to contextual slipperiness than to function for function’s sake. In the original work, Table with Pink Tablecloth, Artschwager adopts the grammar of minimalism to unleash a slippery contradiction. Through a process of “pushing painting into a three dimensional form,”2 Brody, Jennifer DeVere, Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play(Duke University Press, 2008), 50. he makes a work that’s not essentially painterly, nor sculptural, but both. I imagine Artschwager having fun with the way his work problematised the exclusive and equally excluding task of high modernism in a manner similar to Diogenes, who famously plucked a chicken and held up a feather after Plato announced that “man is a featherless biped.”3 Chambers, Ross, “Divided Attention,” in Loiterature (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999). . During her stay in Rome, L appropriated Artschwager’s Table with Pink Tablecloth by producing the same work, with a classic Italian red-and-white checked tablecloth substituted for the pink tablecloth of the original. Later in Melbourne, L rebuilt the work again, and has now used it as a bar, a performance and a meeting place in Angela’s living room. From this, we can assume that Dinner for Two (after Richard Artschwager) will see further appropriations, destabilising what would normally be seen as a ‘closed’ or ‘finished’ work, creating instead a perpetual work-in-progress that capitalises not on authorship, or closed contexts, but instead on art’s ability to be multivalent, slippery and social.

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The exhibition, apart from its appropriations, is loosely a conversation between Angela and L about their respective encounters with Rome. The Nero and Augustus slabs that rest provisionally on either side of Angela’s Art Deco chair – the chair itself sits atop a four-legged table – are two works that L made with miraculously divided attention: on one hand daydreaming about the Villa of Agrippa, and on the other thinking about the space of Angela’s living room. In conversation, L told me how impressed she was by a series of ancient frescos, friezes and crumbling artefacts that were exhibited in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. She was interested in how the physical fragments and traces made possible a flood of imaginative reconstructions. Like displaced or damaged frescos, the stories that readily attach to them can also undergo a type of contextual entropy. Faults in translation, articulation, and forgetfulness are in themselves causes of contextual slipperiness. From a villa in Naples to Angela’s living room, stories and objects becomes vulnerable to unexpected contingencies and spontaneous digressions when recollected.

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Octavian Frieze, 2013, earthenware tiles and plasticine, detail. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Octavian Frieze, 2013, earthenware tiles and plasticine, detail. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Octavian Frieze could easily be described in Artschwagerian terms, as a gratuitous daydream pushed into three dimensions. Octavian Frieze was made in response to The Garden Room: a remarkable painted fresco of the Villa of Livia’s external garden that dates back to the Republican Era. Back in East Brunswick, L’s frieze is set in a bay window that looks out onto a patch of grass in Angela’s front yard, and is made of hundreds of hand-formed, hand-glazed hexagonal tiles. The corners of these tiles have since folded over, broken off and been repatriated by L who provisionally stuck them to the bay window with grey plasticine, which in turn functions as the malleable layer between the familiar and the uncanny.4 The title Non-in-Casa, which was stewed up spontaneously by L and Angela, also has associations with Das Unheimliche, which in German means “that which is not familiar, not homely, or not at home.”

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Walking around with an almost-empty glass of Aperol Spritz, new and familiar faces pass through the front door. Conversations gradually escalate, drowning out the serenading pots. Still audible above the chattering, though, is the video behind me at the far end of Brennan’s living room, Italian Phrasebook and Dictionary. This two-part video installation was made during L’s residency at the British School at Rome, and the way she came to this work is something that a lot of us can relate to. Being an ‘itinerary artist’5 Kwan, Miwon, One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: MIT Press, 2002), 46. , comes with the assumption that the traveling practitioner will collect research on-site and then, with some degree of authority, produce a body of work that incorporates said research. For L, the slide from artist to tourist was an interesting one. Taking amateurism as her object and negotiating her inability to speak the language, L recorded two Italian speakers and two English speakers as they read aloud a series of phonetically-spelt phrases from an Italian phrasebook. In the Italian speakers’ version, there were moments where the participants became tourists in their own language; in the English version, the participants gave the impression of speaking English, despite making no sense.6 On a tangential note, for an example of linguistic nonsense taken to its logical conclusion see: Rose, Peter “Secondary Currents”, UbuWeb, accessed January 3,, 2014, http://www.ubu.com/film/rose_secondary.html. On each television monitor, the spoken phrases appear as subtitles, alternating between the phonetic spelling and its English translation. Being a tourist reduces one’s competencies to the level of amateur; it’s a provisional and wobbly space, full of innocent faux pas’ and cheerful experiments. Depending on how you look at it, there’s a special kind of freedom associated with being an amateur, not only because it gives justification for being sloppy and inaccurate, but because it reveals myriad new experiences through the act of doing, something rare and overlooked in situations where process is a one-way road to the efficient execution of a goal.

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Octavian Frieze, 2013, earthenware tiles and plasticine, detail. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Elvis Pot, 2013, earthenware, iPod and speakers. 40 x 10 x 10cm. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton

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Behind Italian Phrasebook and Dictionary is Arrivederci Roma, a lyrical painting of Angela’s, staring the titular phrase. The painting has a round clock formation in the centre, painted using a tin stencil that Angela found at her farm, 175 kilometres west of Melbourne. The phrase itself originally comes from an old popular Italian song composed by Renato Rascel in 1958. The song reveals another side of the tourist encounter:

I envy you, tourist, you come, you feast on forums and ruins, then suddenly you discover the fountain of Trevim which is there all for you. There’s a Roman legend attached to this old fountain, by which, if you throw in a penny then you’ll bind fate to make you come back. Goodbye Rome, Goodbye, Au Revoir. While the English girl departs a little kid comes by, goes into the fountain, picks up the penny and goes away.

Instead of returning to Rome and throwing money into the Trevim, Brennan paints the places she wishes to revisit. On the right of this painting hangs The Appian Way, a smaller painting made by a 26 year-old Angela from a postcard she bought on the Appia Antica a few years before. In conversation, Angela said that the act of painting these mementos gave her a strong feeling of a saturated temporality; it makes her think that today’s Rome is the same as the Rome she knew then, and that it will remain her Rome forever, “… you know, with the quintessential Italian pine, the strange di-Chiricoesque water tower (which turns out to be the Mausoleum of the Orazi and Curiazi family). I wish I were in Rome today.”

Since the 1980s, Angela’s work has been admired for producing a space of whimsical and ‘lawless’ subjectivity, one that leaves behind rules and outcomes, in the pursuit of enjoyment and the unpredictability of making. For Angela, the attitude associated with archaic notion of ‘amateurism,’ which has its roots in the Latin word amator, meaning ‘to love’, is unselfconsciously embodied in her paintings and ceramic pots. In light of Angela’s collaboration and mentorship with L it’s not surprising that the works in this exhibition offer up a space of explorative and collective daydreaming, of wobbly pots and permeable contexts. To live in a wiggly world is to have divided attention, something Walter Benjamin famously associates with the aftereffects of modernity. It’s having one foot in Rome and the other in East Brunswick.

Georgina Criddle

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Angela Brennan, The Appian Way, 1986, oil on canvas. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Liang Luscombe, Untitled, 2013, earthenware. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Angela Brennan & Liang Luscombe, Vivaldi Vase, 2013, stoneware, iPod and speakers, 50 x 20 x 20cm.Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Octavian Frieze, 2013, earthenware tiles and plasticine, detail. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Angela Brennan, The Appian Way, 1986, oil on canvas. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Wiggly World, 2013, wood, earthenware, iPod and speakers, dimensions variable. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Non in casa, 2013, installation view, Blyth Street. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

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Wiggly World, 2013, wood, earthenware, iPod and speakers, dimensions variable. Photo credit: Matthew Stanton.

1.
 Dixon, Tim, “El Lissitzky – Proun Room,” Open File – Blog, December 2, 2011. Accessed January 3,, 2014, http://openfileblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/el-lissitzky-proun-room.html.
2.
 Brody, Jennifer DeVere, Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play(Duke University Press, 2008), 50.
3.
 Chambers, Ross, “Divided Attention,” in Loiterature (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
4.
 The title Non-in-Casa, which was stewed up spontaneously by L and Angela, also has associations with Das Unheimliche, which in German means “that which is not familiar, not homely, or not at home.”
5.
 Kwan, Miwon, One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: MIT Press, 2002), 46.
6.
 On a tangential note, for an example of linguistic nonsense taken to its logical conclusion see: Rose, Peter “Secondary Currents”, UbuWeb, accessed January 3,, 2014, http://www.ubu.com/film/rose_secondary.html.