Nola Farman is a quirky doyenne of Australian interdisciplinary art, whose practice spans from the 1960s to the present. Her work ranges from large-scale environmental installation and media art through to smaller installations, paintings, drawings and artist books, such as those on display in Flight at Gallery East in Sydney’s Clovelly.

A Clovelly resident, Farman has been stealthily upping the neo-Fluxus quotient in the seaside suburb with this exhibition and also her regular experimental poetry and prose readings, Off Track, held at a local restaurant. There’s a sense that Farman, now in her late 70s, is bringing her career as an artist home to roost, and Flight presents itself as an assemblage of various aesthetic curios, accompanied by a series of wall texts that engage the viewer in all manner of absurdist banter while simultaneously giving a conversational coherence to the show.

While wall texts are usually austere and minimal, Flight’s paratexts put language on a level with the art objects, and in his curatorial statement the mysterious Permangelo E Regularis stresses that the key to Farman’s work, “whether she be engaged with electronic installations, digital (media works), painting, drawing, artist books or sculpture from the tiny to the monumental—can be found in her use of language.”

Inertia, Flight, Nola Farman, photo Greg Weight

A banner hanging in the gallery window reads “The Ministry for the Future of Art”—the organisation that ostensibly represents a stable of Permangelo’s artists including Farman. There’s a hint that some of these artists, such as Nora Fleming and Noel Farina who share her initials and also provide the commentary on the works, may be Farman’s alter-egos. Alongside the first oil painting, Inertia (of a rather psychedelic garden snail, not unlike the kind of naïve artwork you may find in the corner of an op shop), Noel Farina free-associates about snails: “the first one now will later be last”—and another commentator, Tiny Bubbles, replies “Nola is a ‘master chef’ who has in my mind re-instated the big, fleshy escargot as simple and marvellous.” With the work’s touches of gold leaf and inflated price of $12,250 it’s clear that this exhibition is playfully tongue-in-cheek.

A conceptual centrepiece of the exhibition is an incomplete canvas, Unfinished and Untitled, a beguiling self-portrait of the artist in sunglasses surrounded by various everyday objects. An elaborate contract titled “A Whiff of the Oily Rag” has been drawn up to allow the work to be either bought outright or borrowed for periods of up to three months. Alternatively, in what seems like an analogue to and possible spoof of crowdfunding, but also perhaps a reference back to the snail and slow art, donations can be made to motivate the artist to finish the work within two years.

On a table at the front of the gallery are Farman’s artist books. Being a poet myself, these are my favourite things in the exhibition and include Kulinaria: Recipes for Disaster with food stains from various meals the artist has eaten—hence a page with balsamic vinegar or one with now rancid whole grain mustard—alongside the tongue-twisting “Parking Places I Could Have Had If I Had Needed a Parking Place in Paris.”

Flight invites us to consider the strange currents and currencies of contemporary art: from framing ripped cardboard in a work titled Artwork Not Made By An Elephant to a gaudy mirror with a small attached plate engraved with the word “Entitled.”

Narcissus, Flight, Nola Farman, photo Greg Weight

Nola Farman, Flight, Gallery East, Sydney, 4-14 May

Top image credit: Ein Ei Fur An Eye, Flight, Nola Farman, photo Greg Weight