qualia interalia

“What’s the color of the wind?” Such are the questions the mini-poet Ned Moore Bonyhady asks. And such are the qualities of the works of art that have motivated our qualophile Matthew Shannon, who is the curator of Margaret Seaworthy Gothic. Which is? It’s the title of the current exhibition at the VCA’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery, with works by Colin Duncan, Nigel Lendon, Andrew Liversidge, Dane Mitchell, and Matthew Shannon himself.

What follows is Matthew’s account:

Margaret Seaworthy Gothic is the custom typeface Lawrence Weiner created and has used in his text works since 1968. It’s a bold sans serif, a bit like Impact, and is not open for the public to license or use.

Weiner’s early texts works made use of default typefaces used in sign writing, Franklin Gothic Extra (the default typeface on pre cut letters available at stationery stores) and FF Offline (a default typeface sometimes used for stencils).  These fonts are obviously potent with a burdensome context, they speak of Fordism and in general aesthetics of standardisation that grew out of the Bauhaus and Vkhutemas. Weiner’s concerns, however, at the time of designing the Margaret Seaworthy Gothic, were more immediate: how to escape the signature association of his work with these default typefaces and how to stabilise the context of his work.

By creating his own typeface, Weiner created a context of pure signature – one, however, not wholly devoid of a relationship to Weiner’s thinking, with its keen interest in Wittgenstein and Freud. Margaret Seaworthy Gothic individualises the body of Weiner’s work within the context of the 20th Century, not simply as a signifier of its geist.

As an artist intrinsically associated with the period, it may seem strange that Weiner has always argued against his work being considered ‘Conceptual Art’; rather, he sees himself resolutely as a sculptor (and, in his words, his work can ‘fuck up your life’). What’s implicit in this way of thinking is that ‘language can represent material without explicit form’ [fn]. As such, words can be as potent in representing, for example, wood as a piece of wood itself. Wood comes forth from the letter forms that make up the word in the same way as the physiological effect of a lover’s presence can be conjured from seeing their name written – their presence coming through the kerning and spacing of the letters. Maybe it could be said it is only in the context of art and love, where the separation of left and right hemispherical brain function is so collapsed, that letter forms can provoke the qualia of a physical presence.

It’s this channelling and conjuring capacity, the magic of translating, that brings the artists Colin Duncan, Nigel Lendon, Andrew Liversidge, Dane Mitchell and myself together. Each work in this show in its own way occupies the gallery as a conceit of relationships, a cybernetic atmosphere and a theatre of aliases. Matter is not banished in the world, but it does take on spooky properties – its scale and identity having been permanently displaced by the network of communications within which it exists.

Colin Duncan’s flat two-dimensional high reliefs render the history of art into a new kind of wingdings; each one is a communicational icon, much like an emoticon, that condenses a huge amount of information into one ultra-recognisable form. These works communicate the entire existence of another work into a complete signifier and, writ large, they fill the gallery with the presence of works that are far removed.

Nigel Lendon’s air works, Maquette for an Invisible Sculpture (1993-2011) and Untitled Invisible Work of Art (2011) [above], directly affect the gallery’s breathable atmosphere, carving in it invisible forms that can only be felt. The architecture of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, the life sustaining air it contains and Nigel’s work merge as one succinct system of interdependence.

Andrew Liversidge’s molten forms made from $1,000 worth of one dollar coins (the artist’s fee) fugues the form of money, turning it back into mere nickel, copper and aluminium alloy – from gold into lead. The actual value of this alloy, know as a ‘melt value’, is roughly $0.01 per $1 coin. Only the circumstance of a system of shared values allows such magical inflation – almost literally turning lead into gold. By taking the alloy of money as a sculptural material, this work transforms financial currency into an artistic one; a transmutation of one economic structure into another, eradicating one value system and replacing it with another through a crude modification of form.

Dane Mitchell’s way-finding devices inscribed with ‘Do Not Enter’ rendered backwards work directly on the institution of a gallery as public space, where the behaviour of the crowd needs to be choreographed with signage and controlled with surveillance cameras along with specialist staff members. Galleries are spaces where the crowd is free to roam, within limits: they are spaces open to the public, but have codes and privacies that are indicative of the invisible structures that control the presentation of art. By reversing the word ‘Do Not Enter’, Dane puts the viewer on the inside of this system of control. Initially, this may seem overly critical of the institution and the audience’s place within it, however I keenly believe the work uses its gallery context to explore ideas around objective vantage point and certainty of presence.

My work – the Manga comic about the white paint that is the default setting of all gallery walls –  highlights the paint itself to probe its infinite depth as a surface, to see its body come to life. In cybernetics every ‘body’ is in commutation with another; there are no inactive elements, no silences. It seems there is an implicit relationship with Conceptual Art of the twentieth century: when art becomes information, every contextual dimension becomes information, too (hence Lawrence Weiner’s struggle with pre-existing typefaces.) And, in much the same way, each of the works in Margaret Seaworthy Gothic seeks to animate the information in what appears to be silence.

Works illustrated above:

Dane Mitchell: Stanchion 1-5, 2011, Chrome plated steel, mylar, laser prints

Colin Duncan: Shadow, Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson, 1915, 2006, Acrylic

Nigel Lendon: Untitled Invisible Work of Art, 2011, Radial fans, motion sensors

Andrew Liversidge: FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT (QUID PRO QUO AND THE GOLDEN TORPOR), 2011, 92% copper, 6% aluminium, 2% nickel

Matthew Shannon: Weave and Gravity, 2011, Risograph prints

footnote: Weiner, Lawrence. ‘Interview: Lawrence Weiner.’ Artkrush Issue #73.  2007. Flavourpill. 8th December 2010 <http://artkrush.com/155783>

Photographs by Pamela Faye and Christian Capurro.


#1 Quentin on 03.12.11 at 10:30 am

Hi Nigel,

Show looks and sounds interesting. I’ll be checking it out next week!

#2 bigpen1 on 03.20.11 at 6:26 am

Andrew Liversidge’s molten forms are spectacular.

#3 Mark Holsworth on 05.02.11 at 6:37 pm

It was a fun and interesting exhibition. I enjoyed it and I wrote a review of the exhibition in my blog.

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