Of Spears and Pruning Hooks, II
Spectrum Project Space, ECU, Mt Lawley
1 May 2014 - 16 May 2014
In the routine implementation of their duties and during scheduled 'amnesties', the WA Police take possession of firearms, knives and other weapons, and these items are systematically dismantled for safe disposal. The idea to create artworks from them manifested through discussion between Ian Boyd from the WA Police and Stuart Elliott, a practicing artist. Based on the resounding success of the first show, Of Spears and Pruning Hooks is now scheduled as a biennial exhibition hosted by Edith Cowan University.
Curated by Sue Starcken and Stuart Elliott, Of Spears and Pruning Hooks II is showing in May 2014, at the Spectrum Project Space, ECU Mt Lawley. Its premise draws on the biblical reference to a metaphorical resurrection of tenets from negative to positive and an ethical transformation of iniquity. In the context of this show, gun remnants, knife segments and sundry devices are transformed into art and in the process shake off the shackles of a nebulous or even destructive past. Participation in the show is by invitation and this years' group of artists have created some extraordinary works in keeping with the experimental nature of the project. All works are for sale and a percentage of proceeds will be donated to 'Bright Blue', the Police Commissioners fund for sick children.
In a diverse array of responses to the curatorial brief, a group of some thirty plus artists have loosed a maverick eye over the remnants of weapons to develop provocative ideas and tensions around politically charged and socially fraught materials. Granted a living cipher these fragmented objects harbour a poignant, (if awkward), history - whatever their pedigree - and their indexical bearings retain a vestigial whiff of resemblance to their raw or hosting materials. Subject matter, medium, and perhaps most importantly, conceptual rigour ultimately collude in the transformation of often discomfiting, but always thought provoking, fabrication. In a truly semiotic turn, a resemblance to origins gives way to symbolic re-couplings into hybrid and fantastical forms. The heart of indexicality is subsumed by the impetus to create anew from an already symbolically charged medium.
Within a congress of ideas and strewn purposes, weapons may remain at least once removed from the intentions of their making. Their creation marks a juncture of the intentional and the coincidental in a kindling of the raw space of ideas and innovation – as well as the trafficking of a kind of magic. In all, a one sided aptitude for 'truth' strikes an uneasy union that augurs a life of thought and a life of deeds to loosely betray original intention. We are not the first of all artists to cast a poetic eye to the allure and dark charm of weapons as fodder for creation. As stark reminders of latent violence, for example, Andy Warhol depicted the gun as an intrinsic mischief-maker and an iconic object in paintings and in silkscreened work destined for mass reproduction. These works accomplish what so much of mass image reproduction does – they help to domesticate iconic imagery by drawing it inexorably into the ideological fabric of our culture. More recently, eX de Medici has entwined intricate gun and surveillance imagery into serpentine floral greenery in an intricate and audacious work on paper. Her iconic portrayal, The Law, 2013, surreptitiously tucks corporate logos into her highly accomplished and labyrinthine narrative as points for pause in the negotiation of semiotic structures and the timorous basis of a world devoted to such global behemoths.
A myriad of ideas in this gathering of artists brings together richly associative iconic objects with incisive commentary on the social implications of potentially lethal weapons. The expressive endeavour of meaning itself is enfolded within a consequentialist debate that stridently articulates a judgement over the social nuance of weapons resonating with competing perceptions of what is deemed to be 'good' in society. This is an eloquent tussle of signification and these works turn up the heat on cultural dialogue and the consideration of social schemata. How we perceive weapons, of course, depends on our context. But context also navigates our slant on art, and given that we are here combining the two - and indeed converting one to the other – well may we be entering a contrarian continuum. By staring down the hallmarks of inventive insight, though, the works in this exhibition function as something like testimony to social satire, gritty realism, historical drama and optimistic fantasy.
By virtue of cognitive cultural agency, how we negotiate weapons cannot be entirely dissociated from how we 'feel' about them. Working with them at any level of creation is challenging in every phase of their fabrication. Variously, in planning work for this show, artists have doubtless experienced ideas vying and jostling with perhaps good humour or belligerent petulance - and then again, neither is staunching bewilderment entirely uncommon. With profound ingenuity, though, they have delivered works that are extraordinary in their technical and aesthetic breadth and often decidedly disquieting in their acumen. Generated from a resounding surfeit of ideas, the wide-ranging works in this show attest to the bold aptitude of artists committed to the tenets of experimentation and innovation. Theirs is a visual language that siphons history and yokes it to the contemporary. It assimilates medium, technology and intellectual rigour and it includes techniques so various and exemplary as the rippling soft render of frottage, the muted lustre of reassembled worn metal, and ironically carved gun stock wood. As narrative form they tell stories of endangered species and corporate greed, maternal nurture and the stoic mettle of hybrid vegetation. As ironic structure, they invert and melt the gun and symbolically divest it of deleterious power. Hewn gun-stocks become the basis for a lavish fashion icon and gun barrels and mechanisms are transformed into bold miniatures of childhood. A resolute functionality shapes the compelling quiet of the braille embossed cipher as much as the carved 'hoodie' satirises a quiescent menace. Bold and intelligent, this grouping of artists and their works usher a compelling vision of heightened sensibility.
Finally, the triumphant line of this show owes its lofty achievement to the supreme good grace and towering intellect of artists dedicated to the task of interrogating and testing the blemishes, eccentricities and unfathomable idiosyncracies of human beings in their social and socially legislated environments. This edition of OSAPH has yielded a prodigious and luminous body of work that punctuates a poignant nucleus to the rumbling life of objects cast into the foundry of creative pursuit. We are served well by these artists inventing anew the language of innovation, irony and largesse.