27 September 2009

Soft Glue at Black & Blue

After being buzzed-in and walking up what seems never-ending flights of stairs to get into Black & Blue Gallery in Redfern, Sydney, one is usually rewarded with what is (in my opinion) one of the city's most beautiful views - over Prince Alfred Park, Central station and out toward the CBD. Of an evening, the lights of the city skyline shine like pixelated stars and the night seems to breathe through the gaps of darkness. Crisp and clear.

On Friday night, however, Black & Blue's view could not be seen and the skyline's breath could certainly not be heard - but something else was afoot. The gallery was packed with the God-knows-not-who of the young Sydney art scene; there was music playing louder than I've ever experienced at an opening (courtesy of Sounds: Alex Kiers, curated by Toby Chapman), and there was nothing on the walls.

Instead, artists Charlie Sofo and Mary MacDougall's works have been installed onto a self-supporting wooden structure, designed by curator Joel Mu, that takes up about 60% of the gallery space. Shaped like a long-based 'L', the structure sits about a foot off the ground like a low giant's-chair. Yet, one section of the "chair's" base has panels missing, so is a frame only and is therefore not exactly like a chair.

Sofo's works are placed upon the panelled section of the structure's horizontal base - including meticulously painted bubble wrap, an evenly dirty quilt, a pingpong ball, among other intriguing things; and leant against the L's vertical are MacDougall's works - beautiful oil paintings on sheets of clear glass, which reside somewhere between being delicately fragile and sporadically energetic. A small window has been cut into the upper left corner of the vertical panel so the view of the city can, more or less, still be observed. However, given the opening was so packed, it effectively worked as a frame for whoever's face happened to be chatting beyond it.

I love the use of such a cumbersome structure to exhibit art; it imbues the space with this very tangible absence of 'wallness', which I find fantastic. I like the way Mu is very subtly nudging us to consider why this beautiful space (or any space) should necessarily have works 'hung' or 'installed' in the traditional way. I think the fact that (especially in a situation where the room is jam-packed) people have to clamber over through the unpanelled section of the structure's base - to greet their friends, traverse the gallery, get a drink or simply find somewhere to stand - is a fascinating approach to shaking up the way art is experienced. It makes for a very different view from the gallery. Equally crisp and clear.

Soft Glue - Charlie Sofo & Mary MacDougall opened on 25 September and runs through 10 October. It then travels to Melbourne's Rear View Gallery where it will reside from 16 through 31 October.

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