Waiting for the fourth dimension

Dean Kiley queries A CONCEIT at the RMIT Project Space

It was the kid who showed us how it works.

The project—'exhibition’ is too inertly flat—is launched by Kevin Murray. He gives a long, slow and apposite speech, Murrayisms marching neatly out in squadrons of analytical metaphors that line up and do smart manoeuvres on the conceptual, discursive and cultural fields territorialised by A CONCEIT. He talks (off, through and around the exhibition program) about mapping, about ideas of, and, as space. Inevitably he retells that old Borges story of the one-to-one map, the positivist fantasy of the model meeting its referent in an exact fit.

Meanwhile there’s this kid (oh I don’t know…about nine, Enid Blyton-blond, blue sly-eyed, jerky and restless) standing at the kiosk computer in the centre of the (attentive) audience. Unlike the previous well-behaved gallery-goers who’d clicked halfheartedly (next page please) or left the mouse primly alone, the kid discovers a geometric game hidden in the overlapping spinning spheres onscreen, drag’n’dropping this on that and that on them till an exact fit begins another scenario.

Murray continues to summarise what we’ve already worked out: that the invocation of the literary version of ‘conceit’ as per the Metaphysical Poets (Donne et al)—as a deceptive, ingenious and elaborate fusion of disparate and surprising elements—itself models the way the project moves from map to model to choreography to synaesthesia. And back again, providing either a send-up or escape-clause for the empty sloganeering and abstract-art-y pronouncements.

Meanwhile the kid examines the documents, captions and other orientation figures taped to the gallery floor. He does a bad-busker mime of arm-pumping Ready? Set? Go! and skitters from one floor-marking to the next, inscribing as Timezone vectors the designs Murray is describing as Arthur Murray dance-steps.

Murray gestures at some of the stockpile of mapping devices we’ve already collected on our way through the exhibits: keys, symbols, lists, dot-points, typologies, numberings, pointers, drawings, equations, stylised representations, icons, ant tracks, axes, directional arrows, blueprints, movement vectors, flowchart lines, procedural manuals, tables, calibration marks, schematic charts, constructible (think Chemistry-class to-scale model) movable assemblages, captions, titles, instrument arrays, bricolage whiteboards. This is one project where the thematic metaphor providing a coherent model and cohesive microcosm is, precisely, that of models and microcosms, so the collaboration is more than five artists working with roughly commensurate rubrics. In a nice extrapolation of the working principle, it’s difficult to know who—from John Lycette, Greg O’Connor, Darren Tofts, Christopher Waller and Peter Webb—had done what or worked with which bits…until or unless you sifted through the website afterwards. The launch resonates with an anxiety of provenance and of navigation: should one watch multimedia as slide-show; does that do anything; ought we be touching that; am I stepping on an exhibit?

Meanwhile the kid fiddles with anything that moves and immerses himself in whatever doesn’t, bouncing from one item to another in a Chinese-checkers or string-art geometry until he’s seen the sites, covered the territory and can safely be bored.

A CONCEIT worked on mapping the exhibition time-space in three dimensions. There’s the planar (print program), with its ironising of the comprehensive modular diagram as coded index or algebraic commentary or interpretive key. There’s the sited (gallery installation), with its playful proliferation of topographic ideas, objects, stories, readings, sonics, nodes, connections and breakdowns using computer screen, video, slides, models, mounted displays, documentation and all available surfaces. And then there’s the virtual (onscreen), framed by kiosk or pulled-out down the modem line, with its (false) promise of precisely-articulated 3D working model and its sleights-of-interactivity offering uncontextualised tourist circumnavigations of static excerpts. It was effective work, despite some inflatable baroque vaguenesses (‘songlines’? lite-Todorov ‘morphology of a grammar’? ‘This is a place for the intellectually amplified’?) that may also be called hyperbolic conceits, and a frustrating hesitancy (refusal?) to use the usual convergent places (program, website) to disarticulate diverse modelling practices that are not reducible to each other except via the abstraction, simplification and regularisation of Doing-A-Diagram ™. Which may be the archetypal gallery experience.

The launch simulated all three dimensions at once. Given this, I’d have thought further reflexivity was a natural extension: a working back to gallery praxis (eg what’s a curator, and do they decide on the map’s borders?) and to exhibition constituencies (how are we the users/readers/audience placed and routed and corralled?) via the project.

The 4th dimension, that of interactive working through, was generously modelled by the blond mischievous boy: less official map than quick sketch, less hermeneutic than heuristic. Better, he demonstrated how to play with the work(s).

A CONCEIT, a collaborative mapping in 3 spaces, curator Christopher Waller, artists and authors: John Lycette, Greg O’Connor, Darren Tofts, Christopher Waller, Peter Webb, RMIT Project Space, Melbourne, June 2 – 9

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 34

© Dean Kiley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1998