Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon at Stevenson Gallery.
Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon at Stevenson Gallery.
Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied
THE NEW PARTHENON 

A Group Exhibition At Stevenson Gallery, Woodstock 

Until August 26 REVIEW: Danny Shorkend

The intentions of the exhibition are made explicit in the gallery’s leaflet: “The essay form is used as a means to approach a series of formal and philosophical questions around images and the production of meaning The movement between film and object speaks to the dual nature of practices that work with both the tangible and intangible aspects of images.”

One cannot but be moved by the creative and curatorial effect and I found myself sensing something both ephemeral and yet definite at the same time: objects and images are at once part of a specific narrative and impossible to pin down a particular meaning.

The traditional codes - paintings, sculpture and so on - are transcended without losing a sense of the allure of the visual. Yet even this is deconstructed as poetic text, voice-overs, music and the visceral quality of things circumvent traditional methods. For this reason alone, the exhibition is well worth a visit.

So how did it come to be that art has transformed to such a degree?

In a cursory and rather generalised and simplified manner, one might observe the initial pre-modern world view or paradigm wherein art was fused with life processes and served the interests of other narratives - religious and political imperatives, in the main.

The advent of modernism was the isolating and specialisation of practices so that art recoiled into its own, effectively calling on a certain aesthetic predilection and disposition, and rationally defined without being subservient to other interests.

Yet this disinterestedness and arts-for-arts sake mantra was critiqued so that art was not seen as a Sabbath from the mundane and popular.

This is often referred to as a postmodern paradigm shift and includes the deconstruction of master narratives towards a valuation of the complex, inconclusive, hybrid and the impossibility of pinning meaning to a singular narrative.

To complicate the matter further, postmodernism by definition cannot be defined as such, because being within a historic moment disallows a transcendent vantage point.

This seeming diversion sets the scene for the works on “display”. Meschac Gaba’s Detresse, a car light “sculpture”; Jane Alexander’s Survey: Cape of Good Hope and Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnec’s Forever without you use alternative methods of image construction in order to express an idea.

For the material garb is at once a revelation and a concealment - after all, an idea is not amenable to sense perception. And yet the artist works through the senses and perceptual stimulation. In this regard, the film essays brilliantly show the “impurity” of the medium, distorting perspectives, changing colour and tone and superimposing images.

The beauty here - and here I refer to the “central” piece, namely Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon - is that it is not a clean seamless flow of images as one might expect from popular film, but a kind of archival image. More important are the formal elements and awareness of medium being such that the film essays are able to inspire a sense of texture. This lends itself to a very human quality and in this respect the story told (or untold) is emotively stirring.

The New Parthenon can perhaps summarise the array of works on display. For unlike a modernist venture into form without purpose, here text (ideology) and image (that which symbolises an ideology) are brought together.

In sum, one might say the artists in many cases wish to contest radical nationalism, the historic imprint of fascism as a heritage from Europe and colonial oppression. Does the show then reconstruct a new system, a "New Parthenon"? Perhaps as a metaphor, for material structure must by the law of entropy give way. Ideas, however, can endure.

Yet there is no clear-cut picture. Thierry Oussou’s chair and stick installation may elicit numerous associations.

His construction of a new order through reworking natural materials in new patterns is interesting, to say the least, and yet is transient and “primitive” - as “unsculptural”. 

So this adds to the process of deconstruction as a prelude to a reconstruction, as the foundation on which is built not simply a system mobilised around institutions and the so-called powerful, but a return to the power from whence we are all hewn, namely nature, the mechanism of which can be understood - although why the laws of nature are as they are remain unknown.

The New Parthenon, then, calls for inclusivity and a questioning of the so-called classical norm. I have merely described the surface of a plethora of work which can be enjoyed in its immediate effect and through time-space.