In Surface Tension Biljana Jancic consolidates the site-specificity of her practice with a new work structured around a series of interventions that interrogate the relationship of ‘content’ and ‘container’ at UTS Gallery. The evolution of art spaces, for display and exhibition, has an aesthetic history of its own: from the residential palazzi of noble Italian families, to the first grand European galleries open to the public, to modernist ‘white cubes’ and the black and grey boxes designated for video and performance-based art. Within this mix are institutional university galleries, which function as important sites for contemporary art today. Jancic’s focus on the institution is evident from recent work. In Exit Strategies at SCA Gallery (Fauvette Loureiro Scholarship Award, 2016) Jancic delivered a dynamic superimposition of institutional spaces rendered in light. With A Beach (Beneath) (Primavera 2016: Young Australian Artists) surfaces of reflective industrial tape and chroma-key blue wall/floor projections recalibrated our perception of the limits of the white cube gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
A brief history of this container: In 1996 the UTS Gallery was located in the new building for the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building by Cox Richardson architects. The building reflects the 1990s trend for postmodern architecture and stands today as a curious blend of both vernacular and modernist languages. It wasn’t deemed an art gallery at the time but rather (in the language of the bureaucracy) a ‘mixed-use’ zone for academic or commercial display. UTS Gallery has made modifications to what is, in essence, a glass box that receives light from two interlocking atriums. The space has presented challenges for its artists - particular those working with projection-based materials. However, where others have seen limitations - Jancic has confronted the site-specificity of the gallery head-on. Her first, and crucial, intervention was to deny any additional surfaces afforded by the modular wall system and return the gallery to an institutional a priori condition: glass box / polished floor / concrete column. Jancic's tabula rasa creates a new spatial field to engage with adjacent spaces and the wider UTS environment.
In Surface Tension, the singular column, which demarcates the space, is taken as a vortex for a play of surface interventions in industrial tape and light projection. With reference to Suprematist grammar the column defies our expectations of solid/void and from this pre-determined coordinate an array of industrial tape forms radiate across the horizontal plate of the gallery. The new surfaces are architectonic and hard-edged. They (re)produce iterations of the horizontal banding of the architecture and angularity of the visible stairwell (mapped from a vertical to horizontal plane). Beyond this, the horizontality also cites the brutalist spandrel panels of the iconic UTS Tower. The silver reinforced aluminum tape reflects the play of light in the gallery, and the blue chroma-key tape points to existing works within the UTS Art Collection such as Michael Johnson’s Untitled (1969) - a painting which features a column of iridescent blue in the tradition of post-painterly abstraction.
Next, two intersecting trajectories of tape-based surface forms cut across the gallery floor plate: one vector in aluminum tape darts across, then folds up the far wall - sharing this surface with a large scale projection. The second, in chroma-key blue tape, crosses this axis then scales the glass envelope in denial of any termination of this axis. From afar, this blue vector seems almost to pierce the glass skin of the gallery and project itself into the space of stairwell. The projection is, at once, both image and surface in that it stretched across the gallery wall in entirety. This reveals a subtle interplay of forms: a horizontal screen-like element, through which light leaks and bleeds, with shadows of vegetation. At first glance, this surface seems a part of the architecture itself - perhaps a refraction of light through the brise soleil of the courtyard. The soft-edge, organic shadow forms engage with the visible atrium planting and diffuse the presence of a hard edge between interior/exterior. On closer inspection this projected image is actually two: it is folded and mirrored at its centre. In Surface Tension Jancic’s interventions never depart their context and in doing so complicate our reading, and sensibility, of surface, depth and materiality within the gallery space.
In The Ends of Art and Design cultural theorist Stuart Kendall argues (with some conviction) that it is design, not fine art or contemporary art, which dominates contemporary visual culture today. But Surface Tension complicates any neat hierarchy. With her ongoing interventions into the spaces and surfaces which surround - Biljana Jancic both adopts and critiques the practices and languages of design. Working with surface as material she questions the authority of the designer (or architect) as the prime provider of spatial experience and surface enclosures. This complicates our expectations of both art and design and forces us to interact with the container - as the source of the content. That Surface Tension unfolds within the heart of the design schools at UTS, makes the work an even more stimulating and provocative assessment of the contemporary condition.
Stuart Kendall (2011),The Ends of Art and Design, Nebraska: Infra-Red Thin Press.
This installation is composed of a live feed of the ceiling in the adjacent space.
The feed is then split into 4 channels which are projected primarily onto the gallery floor.
The work is a reference to deconstructivist design. It is also a play on the imminent collapse of the institution which commissioned the work.
Biljana Jancic makes site-specific interventions into the volumetric forms of given architectural spaces and situations. These may take the form of sculptural installations, markings across floor and walls or light, projected, cast and shaped as well as alluded to through other materials such as reflective tapes and vinyls. She uses readily available materials, often nudging them away from yet retaining some reference to their light industrial or everyday purposes. Conduit and plumbing piping features heavily, for example, as do forms of industrial tape. Jancic’s interventions not only concentrate visual, spatial and psychological experiences of space, they draw attention to what we might think of as an expectation of that space: the wider societal and historical context in which it sits; the uses it is more generally put to; how both individuals and groups of people tend to inhabit or move through it; or the way in which the white cube gallery is treated as somehow neutral, a space of abstraction or pure form of a kind articulated within Suprematism. In Jancic’s work exhibition spaces are treated as somehow always at once sculptural volumes, architectural forms and modalities akin to bodies – sensory, simultaneously contained yet always in flux, always forming, deposing and forming themselves again in relation to others.
For Primavera 2016 Jancic is bringing together two formal elements or approaches seen in previous discrete projects, creating both a tension between two different forms of visual field, but also a space that amplifies the visual presence of visitors in the gallery, casting them in shadow and reflection across the floor and walls. One element is a shaft of mirrored tape running across the floor and out through the door of the gallery, both piercing the skin of the gallery as an architectural container and linking the exhibition with a world beyond. As in the example of her work Opposed (2013) at the Lock-Up in Newcastle, this surface acts akin to light cleaving space, a fundamentally ephemeral yet structural gesture that also encourages a thinking not simply of but beyond the architectural and exhibition setting – the work figuratively projects the imagination elsewhere.
Something similar occurs through the second element also, a projection of a distorted, unkeyed rectangle of blue light into a wedge or corner in the space. This is the default blue of a blank screen, a placeholder for content (and so an indication of time passing, of the act of waiting for something to appear). It is an inbetween space, or a holding space that Jancic has explored previously through using blue tape to mark out the field of the unkeyed projection (Channel, 2015), just as she has used this Chroma Key blue to colour plastic piping constructions that stand in as a spatial outline for absent walls (Untitled, 2015). This blue also brings to mind the work of Yves Klein and a sense of the void, not just a space of waiting or an inbetween state, but a space of profound emptiness, the beautiful emptiness that draws perception, the psychological and the imaginative self far beyond the confines of the gallery.
In the wake of ‘60s minimal sculpture and site-specific installation of the ‘70s onwards it became something of a convention to talk of or write about artwork as being ‘about’ space, to cite artwork as being an articulation of the space it inhabits, or involved in transforming our perception and experience of a given space. The 21st century modulation of this is the social dimension introduced to such practice through ‘80s and ‘90s installation art, a concern with spaces as lived, as marked by their conventions of use but also by less acknowledged actions, events and behaviours, including forms of oppressive socialisation or even acts of violence. Jancic adroitly steps into this complex historical layering of sculptural trajectories, producing work that in its immediate experience does not simply live up to but steps through these frames of art and history, steps beyond the rhetoric of physical site specificity to that of perceptual projection and imagination.
Catalogue essay from ‘Primavera 2016 – Young Australian Artists’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia.
This work was produced at the culmination of an artist residency in The Lock Up in Newcastle, which is a museum and art gallery located in a historic police lock-up.
The white cube space is surrounded by sandstone holding cells. While living in the building I was fascinated by the light spills coming into the cells from the windows and I thought a lot about how this ephemera would have been a sort of metaphorical lifeline to the outside world. On the residency I also walked up the Nobby’s Head breakwater every day and was interested in the way that this structure delineated and incised the harbour while also getting continually battered by the waves. These two references formed the basis of the conceptual framework for the final work I produced.
Who are the others that approach a work of art; audiences, visitors, viewers, participants, collaborators, clients, customers, users? The experience of contemporary art is underscored by scripts and roles that dictate, to a large extent both the reception as well as the creation of artwork. Feedback features the work of Sydney artists Scott Barnes, Biljana Jancic, Gianni Wise, and James who have created artworks that subtly reflect on the conventions and performativity that underscores the experience of art. In so doing they all question what it is to be present in the gallery space, both for the encountering subject and art objects themselves. What does it mean to present? What does it mean to behold?
Today, the pervasiveness of media, surveillance and documentation within society has eroded the space of reflection and criticality in favor of constant spectatorship and exhibitionism. As a strategy for turning attention to the layers of registration that underpins experience, Wise has appropriated commonplace, electronics store, surveillance technologies to create his piece Willing Participant, 2011. The first of his interventions forFeedback is a sensor located at the doorway entry to the gallery which counts the number of bodies that pass through the doorway and records this number on a small digital counter located opposite the entrance to the gallery space. The other aspect of Wise’s intervention is a more sinister and covert system featuring surveillance microphones that populate the gallery space. Their recordings are then treacherously whispered back through a discrete speaker in a corner of the gallery.
Gallery is a territory governed by rules and etiquette that preside over inclusion and visibility within its domain. As a way in which to echo this aspect of the gallery experience Jancic has created a large scale wall drawing, it’s all about you, 2011, based on a skewed and distorted floor plan of 55 Sydenham Road, including both the gallery and the adjacent (and concealed) studio spaces. The title of the drawing points to the site-specificity of the drawing. However, the title also refers to the mirror effect of the aluminium tape of which the drawing is constructed. The drawing subsumes the presence of moving bodies in the space as well as the glow of other works and spotlights which illuminate them, therefore as the title proposes; the piece is all about everything that surrounds it.
On the opposite side of the gallery the bells toil. The campanologist in charge of these custom produced bells built from reshaped aluminium fire extinguisher nozzles is a laptop computer. It follows the logic of the self-patterning program designed by Barnes with the software, SynthEdit. The system according to which the piece functions is laid bare as a tableau of techno-wares arranged on the floor, cordoned off by industrial warning tape. This piece, (n)haiku, 2010 insists on its presence, it wants to show us what it is, however, rather than offering a simple message it opens perception to impossible questions; what is seen, what is heard, what is understood, what is communicated?
Adjacent to Barnes’ still (kicking) life is a less insistent still-life oil painting by James, the Anglicized, adolescent and long since abandoned alter-ego of the director of 55 Sydenham Road, Iakovos Amperidis. He has grazed the local industrial landscape to source the flowers for his site-specific flower arrangement. The piece is a homage to the area of Marrickville where Amperidis grew up and where he now lives but it is also a reference to the late work of the revolutionary Russian constructivist Vladimir Tatlin. Following the rise of Stalinism in the 1920s within the newly formed Soviet Union, Tatlin had to abandon the radical avant-garde practice for which he is remembered within art history. However, he chose to continue to work as an artist, concentrating on conventional and politically mute flower painting.
Feedback offers a diverse range of perspectives which variously dramatise, exploit, reverse and negate the performance involved in the experience of contemporary art.
curated by Biljana Jancic
BILJANA JANCIC / GIANNI WISE / JAMES / SCOTT BARNES
30/6/11 - 17/7/11
31/10 – 16/11/14
give us a couple of weeks