Tuesday 13 December 2011

Review of Your Garden is Looking a Mess Could You Please Tidy it up at PayneShurvell

Your Garden is Looking a Mess Could You Please Tidy it up
4 November 2011 – 7 January 2012

PayneShurvell’s small gallery space is currently full to the brim with a mass of works by some big name artists, including Peter Blake and Bruce McLean, both hanging on the walls and strewn across the floor, loosely linked by the theme of cigarette packets and printed matter, or, rather, the disappearance thereof, in the age of radical digitisation and prohibition of tobacco advertising. The soundtrack to this exploration into the changing visual and cultural landscape is provided by Nicky Coutts’ Eastern (2010), a re-enactment of the final scene in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) by thirty non-professional actors in Tokyo. Playing on an eight and a half minute loop, the repetitive Western music soon begins to grate, but it certainly sets the scene for nostalgic flashbacks to the heyday of social smoking.

“Listen, while I tell you a story…” Rudolf Reiber’s artist’s book (Where the flavor is, 2011) is a compilation of texts from the many Marlboro cinema advertisements, themselves often featuring rugged cowboys riding high in the saddle across panoramic landscapes. Peter Blake’s one-off print, made especially for this show, and bearing the same title, also harks back to iconic advertising imagery, this time of Lucky Strike. Finally, in the 1980s, Niall Monroe worked as a tobacco pack designer for STAR, and his work of the same name displays a number of limited edition packets, culminating in the cult design, launched only in Switzerland, celebrating the fall of the Berlin wall.

But is all of this soon to be a thing of the past? Recent legislation in Australia means that from December 2012, all cigarette packaging must be plain and logo free. It is perhaps with this in mind that Marie-Jeanne Hoffner shot her short film in which she uses a scalpel to dismantle, scrape clean, and reassemble a Gauloise packet (Untitled, 2011). Dermot O’Brien takes this one step further by turning his Marlboro packet into an intricate and tiny model of the Bates Motel (Untitled, 2011).

The concept for the show comes from Andrew Curtis, an artist himself, but who also works in a print studio, and who is worried about the demise of this medium. Thus, other works included in the exhibition, which are not focused on the tobacco industry, include Greg Day’s Studland (2011), a large collage comprising ripped and torn posters from advertising billboards, and Gerhard Lang’s Unrecorded Leaf (2011), a series of five frottages made from leaves, each with a slight outline as if it were shaking in the breeze, purportedly exploring the interaction between man and his landscape. A leaf, after all, is the basis of all printed matter.

Perhaps the most innovative work, however, is Their Grassy Places (1971-2011) by Bruce McLean. In the 1960s, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford commissioned their gardener to use fertiliser to create their profiles on their lawn at Woburn Abbey, and a photograph of this was published in the Daily Mirror. McLean then bought the rights to this image and reprinted it in Studio International as an art piece. He later tried to resell this to the Daily Mirror, but they were not interested. For Your Garden is Looking a Mess Could You Please Tidy it up, McLean is inserting his print into a copy of the Daily Mirror bought for each day of the show’s run. He will then sign each of these as an edition. Whether or not the Daily Mirror will be interested now, who can say? Either way, what this peculiarly intriguing exhibition makes clear is that, despite the dying habit of handwritten notes, the homogenisation of books, newspapers and letters into online media, and the banning of cigarette advertising (not least following the actual death of three of the Marlboro campaign’s cowboys, two from lung cancer, one from emphysema), the interaction between visual and printed matter, and the potential for its exploitation, is far from dead.


Rudolf Reiber
Where the flavor is
Artist’s Book

Dermot O’Brien
Laser cut card, Marlboro packet, adhesive

Bruce McLean
Their Grassy Places
45 newspapers containing a screenprint signed and specifically dated by the artist
Edition of 45

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