Ornamental Labours Written by Mya Morrison-Middleton

Tūrei 26 Ākuhata

Tuesday 26 August


Response to: 
ornamental labours.
Andrew Kennedy and Blaine Western
26 August – 20 September 2014

ornamental labours is a collaborative exhibition between Andrew Kennedy and Blaine Western, two recent Elam graduates who this year held another collaborative show at Artspace, Auckland titled: a hollow action, a room held together with letters

ornamental labours consists of over 40 photographic prints—the majority being archival and lining the gallery walls, and the remainder being ‘studio’ photographs, constructed and taken by the artists for the show for a series of steel display structures that populate the gallery. The exhibition also includes a video installation, which plays in the intermittent room between the two print series. ornamental labours is extracted from a text by Marina Vishmidt who writes on labour value and art and the title is used alone in promotional material as a summative introduction to the conceptual elements of the exhibition.

The first photographic series encountered is Partial Carpentries—an overarching title for Kennedy and Western’s hanging studio images. The display format for these is derived from The Family of Man (1955), a formative exhibition for photographic display curated by American photographer Edward Steichen (1903-1917). The photographs are hung from large, overarching black steel structures at corresponding levels; their MDF floating frames left untreated, interrupting traditional effusive rituals of pictorial display and encouraging an awareness of the processes performed to display the artwork. The photographs are compositionally controlled and indexically noted in a final wall text to accentuate gestures enacted in manual labour. In ‘no. 5 a’ and ‘no.5 b’ the subject photographed is disconnected via the tightly cropped edge of the image into the gestural form of a hand sequentially molding a plaster cast. It is described in the wall text as ‘Hand extruded plaster molding’.

The documentative style of the photographs and their indexing is evocative of Dan Graham’s Home’s for America series (1966-1967), which documented domestic spaces in an archival format. The Partial Carpentries series explores the polysemous function of images as gestural and didactic by replicating the visual codes in instruction manuals. The rawness of the photograph display and the overtness of building materials as subject matter reiterates the exhibitions title by assembling actions and materials which are not conventionally valued for their aesthetic content and presenting them as art objects.

The archival prints are predominantly by Duncan Winder (1919-1970), and consist of 1960s architectural construction scenes. All of the images are cropped to highlight specific actions and situations current to the time – a protest, an experimental construction by architecture students. The actions photographed extend in subject matter beyond construction sites into protests and art spaces emphasising gestures in abstracted forms of labour. Remnant areas of grey space visually unify the archival series as landscape.

The video installation contains two projections a of a single panning shot projected onto opposing walls of the enclosed space. The Dutch narrator dictates in a steady, instructional manner how to create a wooden mould for ‘formwork’ (concrete moulded with a woodgrain surface texture). The script was lifted verbatim from a formwork manual and, with it’s jazz soundbed and cinematography, is mistakable for an actual filmed tutorial. The video expands heavily on the pedagogic function of images and the aesthetics of labour. It places formwork as an unfamiliar subject to the gallery floor and opens it up to an aesthetic context, adjusting the confines of what is considered to have artistic and aesthetic value.

The physical structure of the exhibition combines the historic and often structural practice of photography in an experimental style influenced by exhibition design histories as well as the architectural practices of Paul Rudolph and Maurice K. Smith. The steel structures create a dialogue between the architecture of the existing space and the contained artworks by intentionally echoing the interior black wooden framing of the gallery. In this sense the exhibit takes on a site-specific character often seen within contemporary installation practices. In several areas where the frames intersect the gallery walls, the interior framework of the space is exposed, making the spectator aware of the manual labour intrinsic to installation and is reminiscent of Gordon Matta Clark’s Conical Intersect (1975). As the structural bones of the gallery are exposed in the hollowed cuts in the walls, the pink beams are visible, in this sense the artists both acknowledge and move past the existence of the gallery as a container or dividing structure and activate an awareness of the gallery space as a pre-existing constructed space.

Mya Morrison-Middleton