modern art projects

Eco Spirit Exhibition

Eco Spirit Exhibition, Guest Curation by Jacquelene Drinkall

On 6th April 2014, Morton House Woodford guest curator and exhibiting artist Jacquelene Drinkall presented Eco Spirit. This exhibition celebrated the powers of the imagination to create vibrant and transcendental artistic productions in the social space of the home. The home is the ‘oikos’ – the Greek word for both home and the prefix eco. The art and science of ecology and economy experiment within and extend from the vitality of the home. Eco Spirit featured Guest Artists Alex Wisser, Ben Denham, Beata Geyer/James Culkin, Bim Morton, Fiona Davies, Georgie Pollard, Gianni Wise, John A Douglas, Locust Jones, Paul Greedy/Tom Ellard, Sarah-Jane Norman, Sarah Keighery and Vicky Browne.

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Special thanks to Mandy Schöne-Salter, Fleur MacDonald, Billy Gruner and Nikki Walkerden for documenting the event. Images courtesy of the artists and Morton House owners.

This event was booked out, please refer to our upcoming events for the next MAP event.

 

ECO SPIRIT Curatorial Essay by Jacquelene Drinkall

Eco Spirit is an exhibition that celebrates the powers of the imagination and the intra-active pulse of materials and mind to create vibrant and transcendental artistic productions in the social space of the home. The home is the ‘oikos’ – the Greek word for both home and the prefix eco. The art and science of ecology and economy experiment within and extend from the vitality of the home. The suffix ‘logy’ refers to the learning of a subject or sciences or bodies of knowledge, whereas the suffix ‘onomy’ refers to the rules and laws of a subject or sciences or bodies of knowledge. The rules of economy and the learning of ecology are rooted in our home on earth, whereas astronomy and astrology battle it out for a logic of the stars in the sky. The Morton Cave House is resonant with the ecological activism of the original builders, Deirdre and Ivor Morton, who both grew up in Walter Burley Griffin’s Castelcrag live-in artistic and theosophical centre. Theosophy is an esoteric philosophy of divinity rooted in the mysteries of nature. Morton house is now full of wonderful artwork, textiles and objects such as telecommunications wire baskets collected from South Africa and Australia by Cristina Ricci, one of the owners. Her partner John Porter and house co-owner is an environmental scientist with National Parks, so Cristina and John share a great love of art and environment with the original owner builders with whom they are friends. The Morton’s son Bim Morton, who helped build the house, also contributes some woodcraft artwork to the Modern Art Projects (MAP) event, to help tell the broader artistic story of the house. Deirdre and Ivor certainly do not identify as theosophers themselves in this day and age. However it is reasonable to assume that their strong early association with the creative thinkers, artists, architects and bohemians who shared their home at Castlecrag provided foundations for emergence of their own radical spirit and involvement with progressive ecological movements of more recent decades. Eco Spirit will bring many artworks by contemporary artists to the house, and a multiplicity of contemporary belief and disbelief systems connected to experimental art practices.

My curatorial approach for Eco Spirit is underscored by Timothy Morton’s writings on art, integral ecology, object-oriented ontology, as well as my ongoing research of aesthetics of telepathy and telekinesis.[1] Bim and the American Tim are not related, but could be considered Eco Spirit brothers perhaps, and it is from here that I discuss the work of Timothy Morton until I then return to Bim’s anthropomorphic table. Tim Morton’s book Ecology Without Nature makes strong connection between the environment and the unconscious.[2] Theosopher Claude Bragdon said earlier that the “ …partial waking state is the soil in which remembered dreams develop …,”[3] which parallels both Morton concept, as well as Jacques Derrida’s notion of geotrauma and the cultivation of the telepathy of psychoanalytic transference within ecological geographies.[4]  Morton recognises the awkwardness of bringing the environment and the unconscious to the foreground of conscious attention, because both are meant to be in the distance, as out of mind wastelands of murky memories and where waste is routinely discarded.

In Morton’s ecology of interconnectedness, the ‘mesh’ of ecological and virtual thinking have become entangled. Morton’s dark ecology explores the demonic energies of hyperobjects that accompany environmental crisis, such as global warming, polystyrene and nuclear pollution. The human brain and all its quantum computational and transformative powers to bring about geotrauma and the age of the anthropocene show how Morton’s thoughts resonate with common themes within Speculative Realism and Speculative Materialism. Through ecological crisis, new understandings of diabolic materialism are ushering in new forms of uncanny magical transformation and apocalyptic religiosity.

Morton’s theories are echoed and extended by a number of other artists, scientists and theorists, including quantum physicist and feminist philosopher Karen Barad who also applies quantum action at a distance within arts discourses[5] as well as Jane Bennett who looks at the vast amounts of plastic rubbish in the ocean and brings forth newly configured theories of vitalism, entelechy and shui to help break down distinctions between human and non-human agency.[6] The concept of entelechy comes from Hans Dreisch, an early twentieth century biologist whose theories were inseparable from his philosophical and theosophical engagement with telepathy. Theosophical thinkers were also engaged in quantum physics and engaged in exploring ‘four-dimensional vistas’ and powers of thought. For example, theosophical architect Claude Bragdon practiced telepathy with playing cards and created architectural experiments based on four-dimensional hypercube tesseracts, and atomic and molecular structures. Morton’s ecological aesthetics are interwoven with quantum theories of cause and effect and full of telepathic and telekinetic vitalisms. For Morton, the aesthetic dimension is the telekinetic quantum dimension.[7]

Within this MAP event the art works presented explore loosely speculative and theosophical themes in an intricately interwoven manner. Bim Morton’s table with anthropomorphic legs is resonant with eco spirit. Many of his works celebrate the spiritual process of anthropomorphising wood, finding hands, faces and beings within the grain of wood and carving out avatars of ecological consciousness. The table and brain are important facilitators of the transferences between learning and rules, ecology and economy. This is also explored through Karl Marx’s discussions of commodity fetishism in Capital, resonant with the kitsch of vaudeville and spiritualism. Marx represents the commodity as a wooden table with not just wooden legs that rear up like an animal, but also with a wooden brain. The possessed commodity has a “mystical character” and is “a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”[8] When a wooden table becomes a commodity “It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was.”[9] Theories of economy can be traced to Marx’s fascination with the powers of religion, the queer problem of consciousness, and the role of imagination in revolution. Bim’s poetic writing accompanies his artwork and draws a connection between ecology and economy:

Bim Morton

 

“The many arms of mother nature call for small pitiance … but who makes eye contact with a beggar? The world gives to all its great riches, but who gives alms to mother nature?”[9]

 

 

The heritage of the spiritual in art has influenced contemporary visual, performative and media art, for example in the work of James Lee Byers, Linda Montano, Susan MacWilliam, Mariko Mori, Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Domenico DeClario, Michael Nelson Tjakamarra and Micky Allen. At Eco Spirit John A Douglas’ live performance art, Incursion #1 (damp), will be slowed down to the entelechial vital force of slime mould movement inside the central atrium vitrine. Douglas also explores ‘queer’ and otherworldly anthropomorphisation of mould microbiology in a series of photographic lighboxes called Incursion # 1(Firebird Suite). I use the word queer in the sense that Barad uses the term, to connote the ecological nature of performativity, but I could also use the term ‘spooky’ in the sense that Albert Einstein used this word to describe the weirdness of quantum action at a distance. Douglas’ Incursion works are inspired by the way his dialysis fluid spilt on his CD collection and subsequently grew mould. Douglas explores the uneasy sympathetic relationship between the human and the nonhuman: “Human dwellings, like the human body, are subjected to incursions of growths, detritus, dirt and decay.”[11] Sarah-Jane Norman is an indigenous artist who was raised by spiritualist parents. Her upbringing has led her to have a lifelong fascination with the paranormal. Her mother was a spiritual medium and her father had a vast library on Alistair Crowley and taught her to dowse with a pendulum at the age of eight. Norman, who has a house in the Blue Mountains, emails from Berlin where she lives half of the year: “… ectoplasm images are particularly interesting, insofar as they represent the female body in a state of (staged) sensational, abject rapture, white muslin flowing from noses and vaginas, completely undercutting the morality of the day.”[12] For Eco Spirit Norman converts her original performance of mediumistic ectoplasm from film to video, as a telecine in Hokum. Historically ectoplasm has been performed and simulated using a mesh-like gauze, like gooey, crumpled and interfolded forms that are like unnatural wo/man-made psychic mesh or slime moulds emerging from bodily orifices.

Theosophical aesthetics, for example Annie Besant’s thought forms, had a great impact on Australian modernism and this legacy returns to haunt pioneering experiments in new media. Paul Greedy and Tom Ellard’s collaborative artwork, Home Clavilux, carries on the theosophical work of Thomas Wilfred, who developed the original Clavilux, and it attempts to visualise a sonic musical instrument tied to colour theories drawing upon spiritual, psychological and scientific belief systems. The artwork literally brings Besant’s thought forms and coloured aura theories into the world of cybernetic new media art. The iridescent cybermesh of thought forms suggests the unheimlich  virtual ‘home’ of interaction between psyche and world. In exploration of this theme my wearable coloured arabesque headpiece, EEG DNA data skullcap, woven out of telecommunication wire is partly inspired by Besant’s thought forms and ectoplasm mesh, as well as DNA helix, antennae and unicorn horns. It also has spike forms mapped to the coordinates of an EEG device I have worked with in a related new media artwork called Harlequin UFO. Since art school I have been completely fascinated by Besant and C. W. Leadbeatter’s book Thought Forms, especially the thought forms that resembled auras and cybermesh, which can be seen in my woven telecommunications wire.

Besant was also a leading feminist Fabian socialist and deeply involved in education reform and pioneered early forms of postcolonialism with her campaigning for Indian Home Rule League, demonstrating patterns of quantum entanglements between spiritual, economic and ecological concerns that continue across time and space. Resonant with social concerns are Locust Jones’ drawings. Jones’ drawing Fukushima is full of references to traumas of the world, and directly references tsunami damage to Daiichi nuclear reactors. The Fukushima disaster extends the hyperobject of nuclear waste and radically disturbs all forms of eco, with many homes left empty for many hundreds of years and damage done to DNA – the biological homes of future beings. Nuclear contamination is an indirect result of the human mind’s ability to act at a distance over uranium through the use of quantum physics, mathematics and technicity. A reproduced detail of Jones’ Fukushima is shown on the door of the Morton House pantry fridge, a common flat-surfaced magnetic site to display paper artifacts within most homes. Photocopies will be available for exhibition visitors to take for their own fridges. Jones’ ceramic objects are found in the garden near an enchanting elvish pizza kiln that emerges from the ground with the aura of a stupa combined with the look of an anthill mound. Both sites for Locust’s artworks are proximate to apparatuses for either the heating or cooling of foodstuffs.

A strong feature of theosophy was the exploration of emotional, spiritual, political and scientific theories of vibratory colour, atomic molecules and the recognition of geometry within nature. Eco Spirit includes a new work exploring abstraction and colour by Beata Geyer, an artist trained in both art and architecture who lives just around the corner from Morton House. Geyer collaborates with James Culkin creating new rectangular coloured objects guided by the window design features of the Morton House. Geyer and Culkin’s work Sectio Aurea explores the magical geometry of the golden ratio, a mathematical formula linked to some of the deepest entelechial structures of the fractal universe. The Golden section played a crucial role in the founding of the theosophical movement. Theosophers rediscovered the use of magical proportions in Greek and Egyptian mathematical aesthetics and thought the Fibonacci series to be the alchemical key to nature itself. Sarah Keighery, another very local artist, presents Colour Code 555 – Pure Lustre, these are rounded abstract alchemical earthen vessels with red and gold pigments, resonant with suggestion of sacred crimson blood displayed for divine communion and undergoing an alchemical ontogenesis. Her objects resemble sculptural, painterly soaks or chalices seemingly emerging from the earth. Installation of these objects engages a dialogue with the waterfall rock pools that flow from the house down the giant rock face into the ravine. Keighery’s witchy abstractions use “foods, plants, minerals and other substances [that] have been utilised as a replacement for traditional materials like painting.”[13]

Some artworks engage directly with the dynamic native garden environment. Georgie Pollard’s Song Sung hangs as cascading dried and woven house paint in dialogue with the matted mesh of native foliage that spills from the roof of the house, triggering a dialogue between the inorganic and the organic materiality of the house and garden. The geometric designs that emerge from using different coloured paints flicker and pulse with gaps in the weaving and the congealed threads of paint-flow. Pollard’s paintings are like veins becoming scar tissue freed from the conventions and bandage-like materiality of canvas.  Ben Denham performs Generation loss (poetics of decay), a ritualistic waterfall performance in a cultish long dress gown in a new work that is informed by his earlier work In Flow, performed at the pool of a Blue Mountains waterfall. Denham’s outdoor actions are sent via low-resolution feed to a screen into the house to explore tensions between the concrete reality and poetic transmission of the live action. The labour produced for both In Flow and the new work is artistic, cognitive and physical yet somehow not immediately practical, bringing an unheimlich or strangely ‘out of the house’ quality to the work.

Alex Wisser presents part of Blank Canvas, a framed 2D photograph of a kitchen dining area. Wisser captures haunting traces of the lives lived within house interiors as they are on the day of the house’s sale. Surveilled and emptied out as commodities on the market, the interiors are charged with a similar kind of eerie telepathic photo paranoia at work in Jane and Louise Wilson’s photographic documentation of Greenham Common, Stasi City and abandoned European warehouses.[14] In Sydney, house prices create a war zone of economic violence for most artists. Wisser’s large two meter long photograph is used as a flat installation object to intersect dynamically like an oversized cubist plane into the 3D kitchen dining area of Morton House, suggestive of an open window porthole into a hyperreal fourth dimension. The documentary photo intrudes into the real domestic space reminding viewers of photography’s potential to contribute to teleportation research, or at least the collision of different realities. As an artist I bring photographic evidence of a UFO structure and human interaction to the exhibition. My Weatherman UFOlogy UFO rests on the earth like an earthdome. As a curator I see an alignment of this UFO work to experiences of the quantum dimension explored by Morton as well as Bragdon and his interest in telepathy, hypercubes, crystals and arabesques.[15]  Vicky Browne presents Five Stones, these are large crystal-shaped black rock-like objects that initially appear to be made by the sublime distillation forces of the ancient earth. Browne’s ceramics celebrate ecomimesis and automatic processes that humans generate to mimic nature through psychic-material binding. Made of ceramic earth by hand, like Morton house made of mud bricks and hidden beneath a rooftop garden, they are human inventions that speak strongly of an imagination that maintains a close connection to earth materiality and design. Brown also shows silvery objects suggestive of alien metallic glazed ceramic deposits on top of a burnt piece of tree wood, called Bells. In a series of smaller works collectively called Searching for Sigourney Weaver, Brown combines household ceramic spherical bowls, goblets and vases with tiny parasitic twig nest extensions that resemble prosthetic homes made by tiny birds or water nymphs.

The entrance to Eco Spirit at Morton House is flagged with esoteric references to the magick of blood in the abstract and elongated rectangular woven polyethylene flags of Blood on Silk; Turn to, turn away by Fiona Davies. Looking back to radical spiritual connections, the red material might also be reminiscent of the red ribbon that Besant always had in her hair as she campaigned for greater political representation of women. It is of course also like the stripes of the barbers pole set free from the spiraling helix structure and electric motors to blow in the wind and commune with ambient environmental affects and forces. Furthering references to visceral corporeality I collaborate with Gianni Wise, whom besides being an artist is also the designer of the cult Carrie movie merchandise distributed by Sony in Australia. Our collaboration reworks the powers of red blood, burning money and telekinesis to reference current controversy regarding Biennale of Sydney, Transfield and heightened attention to the relationship between art and capital. This movement amongst artists ultimately wishes to somehow, almost magically, act at a distance[16] to bring asylum seekers on Manus Island safely back to a Transfield Welcome Centre integrated within our mainland communities. Wise also presents a video depicting the landscape of the Blue Mountains, humming and vibrating to the ambient sound of a large electrical tower, with plastic brains and electrical wire bubbling in the bathtub.[17] Extended cognition is shown to extend from the organic to the inorganic, with landscapes and mindscapes both disrupted and connected by electronic technological intrusions and noospheric pulses.

Eco Spirit brings a concentration of vital and vibrant cultural capital into a house and garden already fecund with spiritual, ecological and aesthetic significance.

Curatorial statement, Jacquelene Drinkall, February 2014

Special thanks to all the participating artists; the MAP team especially Sarah Breen-Lovett for editing, as well as Billy Gruner and Sarah Keighery; Tom Apperley writing group and Aesthetics After Finitude reading group based at School of Arts and Media, University of New South Wales (SAM UNSW), especially Laura Lotti for editing; College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales for my Honorary Researcher library access; and Lisa Blackman and Warren Neidich for stimulating thinking about telepathy, telekinesis, affect, extended cognition and material engagement.

Vale Jürgen Kerkovius

Vale and deepest thanks to Jürgen Kerkovius, a great young artist, dear friend and COFA PhD candidate of just 29 years of age, who suddenly and very sadly passed away in the lead up to Eco Spirit exhibition. I met Jürgen at Artspace Visual Arts Centre in 2011, when he also had a residency with his the partner Elise Harmsen. Jürgen gave much needed advice for completing my UFO, as he was a genius technician and brilliant creative problem solver. Jürgen also spontaneously organised a collaborative team of Artspace residents to help me complete the painting of some giant papier-mâché skull props for an Occupy Sydney street protest. When the UFO was tested and installed at Cementa_13 at Kandos he helped deinstall it in a flash, having slept in it overnight with a mosquito net suspended from the minarete. Many photos of Jürgen inside the UFO feature in my artist book Weatherman UFOlogy, Kandos Occupation, which is included in Eco Spirit together with the large photo of the UFO. Jürgen was also a very dear friend to Eco Spirit artist Paul Greedy, as well as myself and many others. The world is poorer for Jürgen’s untimely departure and he leaves many strong and powerful memories with those who were lucky to know him.

 


[1] For some of my earlier work on telepathy in art see recent Jacquelene Drinkall, Human and Non-human Telepathic Collaborations from Fluxus to Now, COLLOQUY text, theory, critique, 22, 2011, available online www.arts.monash.edu.au/ecps/colloquy/journal/issue022/drinkall.pdf. See also Jacquelene Drinkall, The Art and Flux of Telepathy 2.0 in Second Life, eds. Nelson Zagalo, Leonel Morgado, Ana Boas-Ventura, in Virtual Worlds and Metaverse Platforms, New Communication and Identity Paradigms, Hershey PA: IGI Global, 2012. And also see Jacquelene Drinkall, Traumaculture and Telepathetic Cyber Fiction, Second Joint International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, ICIDS 2009, Guimares, Portugal, December 2009, Proceedings, Springer LNCS 5915, 2009. My curatorial approach is also strongly informed by participation in Aesthetics After Finitude reading group at the School of Arts and Media and the University of New South Wales and my participation as an artist in a related exhibition curated by Prue Gibson. See Prue Gibson and Stephen Mueke, The Carpentry of Speculative Things, An Art Experiment, Alaska Projects, 2-7 July 2013.

 

[2] Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

 

[3] Claude Bragdon, Four-Dimensional Vistas, New York: Cosimo Classics, 2005 [1916].

 

[4] Jacques Derrida, Geopsychoanalysis: “…and the rest of the world”, American Imago: 48, 2, 1991.

 

[5] Karen Barad, Nature’s Queer Performativity, Qui Parle, 19:2, pp 121-158. See also Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.

 

[6] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

 

[7] Timothy Morton, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, Open Humanities Press, 2013, freely available at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.13106496.0001.001

[8] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, Part 1: Commodities and Money, cited December 12, 2013, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4

[9] Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, Part 1: Commodities and Money, cited December 12, 2013, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4

[10] Bim Morton, Alms for Mother Nature, 2012, artists statement from Bim Morton Timber Joinery, Raleigh, NSW.

[11] John A Douglas, Eco-Spirit artist statement, cited March 10, 2014, http://www.modernartprojects.org/eco-spirit-john-douglas/.

[12] Email from Sarah-Jane Norman, January 28, 2014.

[13] Rosa Nimming, Interchange and the contemporary, the temporal objects of Sarah Keighery, Belgium, 2010.

[14] Jacquelene Drinkall, unpublished PhD thesis Telepathy in Contemporary, Conceptual and Performance Art, available online via UNSW library catalogue, 2006. See chapter on Jane and Louise Wilson for wider discussion of telepathy as part of documentary photography as well as numerous references discussing telepathy in their work.

[15] Jonathon Massey, Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. See also Claude Bragdon’s book Four-dimensional Vistas.

[16] Philosopher of Science Bruno Latour discusses the geopolitical force of action at a distance in his book Science in Action. Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to follow scientist and engineers through society, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

 

[17] Gianni’s work extended his recent work with plastic brains and wires at Alaska gallery. See Jacquelene Drinkall, Brainrain, catalogue for the exhibition Brainrain at Alaska gallery, Sydney, 2013, available online http://gianniwise.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/brainriana3printfin.pdf.