Nikita Vanderbyl

Melbourne Now, the adventure continues

In his review of Melbourne Now John McDonald asserts that, ‘No show in Australia has ever included so many works that invite interaction with the public.’ We should remember that audience engagement was one of the stated aims of Melbourne Now. I’ve always been excited by interactive artworks and artworks that require the audience to do something to complete them (whether it is sticking a sticker on the wall or walking through a room filled with balloons). I do wonder, however, if all of this physical engagement leaves enough room for the more reflective responses which are traditionally undergone in the gallery space? Technically speaking every artwork requires an audience to complete it. Just by standing in front of a two-dimensional painting I’m completing it.

More is required of the audience in this exhibition. Darren Sylvester’s For You (2013), is an illuminated dance floor of the Saturday Night Fever variety, positioned in such a way that the audience is forced to walk across to get to the next section of gallery, while dance music plays in the otherwise deserted space. When I approached this darkened room I was unsure if I was allowed to walk across the artwork. More and more we are told to touch and walk on contemporary artworks, but still I hesitated. The floor looked fragile, and the music was intimidating. On reflection though, the awkwardness and hesitation I felt must surely have been the artist’s intention in placing a dance floor in a gallery. The incongruity and absurdity combined with forced enjoyment left me feeling odd, and not at all like dancing. Perhaps it is different if you see this work with a group of friends.

Another interactive artwork, also at NGV International, is Juan Ford’s You, Me and the Flock (2013), in which audience members are encouraged to stick bat stickers onto the gallery wall. In Laith McGregor’s work OK / KO (2013), you can play ping pong on tables covered with the artist’s intricately drawn portrait. Also in the NGV International building is Anastasia Klose’s shop, which she will staff for the duration of the exhibition selling ‘artist editioned merchandise’. This feeds our desire to take some of the exhibition home with us, as though seeing the work is not enough, we must take more than memories and photos away with us. The gallery knows very well the proclivities of its audience and has commissioned many artists to produce merchandise for the Melbourne Nowstore.

The role of the artist has changed, they are much closer to an entertainer than they’ve ever been. Not only do that have to provide the audience with something stimulating/beautiful/shocking/intriguing, which they’ve done fine in the past. No, the contemporary artist is also part of the artwork, they are living it 24/7 and the audience is expected to witness this and be involved at multiple points. Anastasia Klose exemplifies this with her shop. Her merchandise references the art world. She sells T-shirts with slogans that aren’t quite right, a knock-off version of a fictional real thing. For example, one shirt reads, ‘Claude Money’ and another ‘Pablo Piclasso’. She captures the in-joke hipsterism of the art world, while documenting her progress through it. Her work is described as having a ‘YouTube inspired aesthetic’.

In line with this is the self-documentation which I above associated with the changing role of the artist. They are just like us, taking selfies, or as they were once known, self-portraits. They do the things we do, Klose’s shop is akin to our own shitty retail jobs. They think about what it all means, we do this too, but they do it in the gallery, and we’re only there to watch. If we weren’t watching, would it still be art?

What this amounts to, it seems, is a flattening of our relationship with the artist. This is unsurprising, though, because the artist has always been a figure not quite removed from society, but able to reflect on it. Works such as Klose’s seem to raise the question of whether this reflection has to have meaning for the audience, or just the artist. Has this always been the case? Or were artists of the past also perceived as narcissistic and the only difference now is everyone has the ability to display their narcissism to the world via their smartphones?

In an exhibition like Melbourne Now it is important to have memorable experiences, it is vast and unwieldy and, for some critics, a bit boring. Audience participation makes for a unique experience and one which visitors will remember. In some ways Melbourne Now’s scale is its best and worst feature. On one hand, you may never see so much contemporary art exploring Melbourne and its Nowness, on the other hand, you many never see so much contemporary art because there was too much to see.

Images:

Anastasia KLOSE
born Australia 1978
One stop knock-off shop - Marcel Dachump 2013
T-shirts, posters, mugs, furniture, lucky cats
dimensions (variable)
Collection of the artist
Photo: Vanessa David
© Anastasia Klose, courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Darren SYLVESTER
born Australia 1974
For you 2013
based on Yves Saint Laurent Les Essentials rouge pur couture, La laque couture and Rouge pur couture range revolution lipsticks, Marrakesh sunset palette, Palette city drive, Ombres 5 lumiéres, Pure chromatic eye shadows and Blush radiance
illuminated dance floor, sound system
605.0 x 1500.0 x 1980.0 cm
Supported by VicHealth; assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body