coastal, exhibitions, rocks, South Australia

SALA 2019: Swatch at Fabrik

July 16, 2019

I decided to exclude the abstractions component of Fleurieuscapes from the 3 print series in Swatch since images in the abstraction tradition are not a popular genre in landscape photography in Australia. What is popular in the conventional photography of the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula are photos within the tradition of the aesthetics of the picturesque. These are primarily pictures of landscape that represent nature as wilderness and are designed to produce sensations of pleasure in the viewer. These are often stereotyped, lazy photographs of conventional beautiful scenery; and these visual cliches are ingrained in the way that we see the world. The picturesque is commonly now seen as belonging to the province of the amateur.

If the picturesque originally meant after the manner of painters and it calls the work of painters to mind through an association of ideas, then the term landscape also has its roots in the historic tradition of the representation of the landscape in painting. The existence of climate change, the production of space by capital, and the landscape as a product of historical process raise the question of whether “picturesque”,  can still provide a valid category of aesthetic engagement and the new narrative structures of contemporary photography.  

The other two images being exhibited in Swatch at Fabrik are of ordinary landscapes: a close up of a seaweed form in the littoral zone, and a picture of a broader coastal landscape between Petrel Cove and Kings Beach adjacent to the Heritage Trail. The picture of seaweed in the morning light is similar to the seaweed picture below:

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seaweed form, Encounter Beach

In keeping with the ethos of Swatch the photos are samples to show a SALA hills audience what I doing with the Fleurieuscapes project. There is nothing as complex as a critical climate aesthetics in this series: it is about the morning light, the coastal textures and forms of the ordinary landscape that I see whilst on the various coastal poodlewalks, as well as the fleeting moments in the ordinary or mundane The series is a sample from the open-ended Fleurieuscapes project, which consists of photos of my coastal neighbourhood in the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It’s aesthetics is an exploration of the relationship between art and life— the photographic picture as an object of experience only comes into being as an art work (hung in an exhibition is a gallery during an art festival) through its relations to the ideas and concerns of the art institution, which position both its ontological status (i.e. that it is an art work and not some other sort of thing) and its meaning as an art work and not just a picture in a blog post.  

I consider Swatch’s’ salon style hang to be an appropriate exhibition form for  the SALA Festival that allows the informal language of popular culture and the non-professional and amateur classes. This mid-winter Festival is a state-wide visual art event that celebrates and promotes the diverse talents of local artists for local audiences. The festival presents 6-9000 artists across hundreds of exhibitions, unique collaborations and shows in hundreds of spaces throughout the city of Adelaide and regions. It is so big that it is impossible to see all the work being exhibited, and it is quite difficult for individual artists to bring their work to the forefront.  Hence the idea of grouping various exhibitions in a suburb–eg., SALA at the Port— or several exhibitions in one large space as with Fabrik.

coastal landscape, Fleurieu Peninsula

A salon-style hang places pictures in groups of different sizes where the works are placed alongside, above, and below each other. Historically (ie., in the 19th century) a salon hang suggested a hierarchy in that works by artists of importance were hung lower on the wall, while those by less important artists were hung higher. I presume that the curators of Fabrik will avoid this historical style of hang in favour of one that places an emphasis on the 20th century’s idea of seeing —ie., the various works of an individual artist become part of a collection/exhibition and help us see that the works in the exhibition show what the 40 SA artists are working on at the moment.

Hopefully, curatorial approach to the salon style hang will ensure that the closeness of the artworks not only help the viewer’s eye to immediately define the similarities and differences of each piece, but also enable the viewer to see the interrelationships between the plurality of images within the exhibition. On this interpretation the multiple images and different (polyphonic) voices highlighted in a salon hang refer to, or “reference”, other images, since it is an exhibition and not just a collection of works. There is also an interweaving, an intertextuality and a historicity (or historical context) of the exhibition which undermines the curator (as author of the exhibition) as a single voice creating a monologue and creates a dialogue with other artists and the audience in the local and particular context of a SALA festival.

What is attractive about a salon hang is that it emphasises the plurality of voices, the way images contain traces and tracings of otherness and of other mediums, and the play of divergent times or temporalities. These can be recognised by the active viewer who is familiar with the styles and idioms in the visual language and with the clichés and formulas of visual art, with the viewer/reader seeing how the work of art is shot through with rhizomatic references, quotations, and influences. A salon hang is attractive as it highlights that what is produced by the exhibition is a cross-fertilization of images and mediums, which allow the subterranean levels of expression (parody, the grotesque, earthy and of the body) to be lodged within the legitimated and authoritative forms of visual art discourseThis multiplicity allows new perspectives on the world to be opened up.

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