The gallery as squatspace

Teri Hoskin & Russell Smith

Lucas Ilhein

Lucas Ilhein

LOCATION: As a co-founder of Squatspace, the artist-run gallery that operated from the Broadway squats in Sydney in the 90s, Lucas Ihlein is a veteran negotiator of the use of public and private spaces. For the duration of their latest exhibition, BILATERAL, Ihlein and collaborator Jane Simon negotiated to live in the Experimental Art Foundation (EAF) gallery in Adelaide. This challenges the dominant mode of exhibitions, where the artist simply installs the work and leaves, rarely taking an interest in its multiple effects and reinforcing the idea of art and the gallery as a kind of placeless, autonomous world. Although the work is a response to Adelaide, it brings other places into tension with the gallery: 3 exhibited works were made on the 1999 Artists Regional Exchange Project (ARX5) in Perth (dream narratives on typewriter rolls), Hong Kong (business cards with gnomic pseudo-proverbs in English, German and Cantonese) and Singapore (copies of a small booklet, My Typewriter Only Speaks English, featuring found and original images and texts).

MATERIAL: BILATERAL makes use of old and new writing/inscription technologies: nostalgic and playful, slow before fast, paying attention to everyday, seemingly inconsequential remainders. Rubber stamps, silk screen prints, stencilled letters and Letraset reference 60s and 70s network art practices, while contemporary technologies are used in refreshing, ordinary ways. A VCR suspended in a net throws an oblique projection of an aeroplane flight path over Sydney across 2 walls and above a bed. SMS messages form the basis of textpadpomes, for example, CAN’T READ/SCREEN CRACKED and POLAROID HAS GONE BUST SO STOCK UP ON FILM CAUSE THEY WON’T MAKE IT ANYMORE. As postcards these sell for $1 each—here in Adelaide there aren’t too many buyers. The touch-ability of the work and its invitation to participate is unusual and meets with resistance as well as engagement. A couple of people I ask think the sign “please buy” doesn’t mean what it says, that it’s some sort of trick, part of the ‘art.’ The use of discarded and found materials draws attention to the processes of making. The gallery becomes a workshop, or a sweatshop (I spend ages ironing T-shirts, others carefully/tediously stamp textpadpome postcards). Cheap white cotton T-shirts are stencilled with national stereotypes: ALL-DANES-ARE-HYPER-CONFORMIST-FASHION-VICTIMS; ALL AMERICANS ARE OBNOXIOUS; ALL AFGHANS ARE QUEUE JUMPERS. The blackboard invites guests/visitors to add more stereotypes eg south australians only have 4 types of love. Ihlein prints some of these during the exhibition, adding to the extensive collection.

INTER-ACTIONS: The work generates several special events and day to day interactions with gallery visitors which involve collaborators, ring-ins, and chance encounters. For instance, a screening of films about film (Samuel Beckett’s Film and Gustav Deutsch’s Film Ist) is introduced with a parodic discussion between local and interstate Beckett scholars (with EXPAT and EXPERT stencilled on their T-shirts) littered with false information, pretentious misreadings and spurious pseudo-debates. The screening is then ‘interrupted’ by a rare performance of AM Fine’s Piece for Fluxorchestra (1966)—24 performers recruited from local likely suspects. In the tiny Iris cinema (40 stuffed-tight leather seats) the work performs itself during the interval and is completed by unscripted interjections from a baby in the front row. In Event for Touristic Sites the exhibition takes to the streets during the Christmas Pageant, with Ihlein and collaborators bearing T-shirts stencilled with national stereotypings and armed with a digital video and Polaroid camera. Ihlein makes strategic use of local resources, from people to venues and events, in return making himself available to all and sundry, from dream researchers to community arts network meetings, to a local activist who also squatted in the gallery using it as a resource to make papier mâché guns.

IMMATERIAL: “The only 3d work I do is farming.” Artist statement. Contact letters fixed to the wall.

JUDGEMENT: The scattering of books and journals from the EAF library, along with Ihlein’s notes, work as a kind of open manuscript of work-in-progress showing sources and influences. The practice is performative and pedagogical, spontaneous and historical. From one of the typewriters:

6 crates filled with assorted reading materials ferdinand pessoa poems, ferrara poems, sausage roll 2.20 by simon barney, Dangerous Darwinism (‘i aint descended from no ape’), the chinese literary scene by Kai-Yu Hsu; Spine 3; Mafia for beginners; Audio on Wheels; The Australian Friday November 5th “free Trade Fight Against Terror” WTO in sysdney pic of a protestor (mid twenty sometting-backpack) being wrest hauled away by three police—one looking particularly peeved.”(sic.)

These are Ihlein’s footnotes, his referencing system.

“To settle on private land without pretence or title” is one of the more archaic definitions of ‘squat.’ The works and events at the EAF are fuelled by Ihlein’s engagement with the everyday politics and practices of squatting on disused private properties. In turning the gallery into his own ‘borrowed’ personal space, interactions with local artists and writers, gallery visitors, students and staff become key elements of the ethics and aesthetics of the event: Ihlein offers coffee and biscuits to gallery visitors and makes himself continually available for questions and discussions. It could sound horribly worthy but somehow he brings a light, playful tone that sidesteps the moralising often associated with activist art practices. He says the whole experience of living in the gallery and interacting continually with visitors, often for hours at a time, though productive, is also profoundly disconcerting and exhausting. There is a major ambiguity in this gesture: on the one hand, Ihlein’s desire to be present and to monitor and intervene in audiences’ responses to the work could extend the notion of artistic control by manipulating the reading of the work. However, it also involves gestures of hospitality, generosity and vulnerability: a politics of networked exchange and encounter. Plans for future work include screenings of the Expanded Cinema [pioneering new media and multimedia] films of the late 60s and early 70s.

Lucas Ihlein, BILATERAL Residency and Exhibition, Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Oct 25-Nov 16, 2002

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 31

© Teri Hoskin & Russel Smith; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2003