By Anna Gibbs
Affiliated Text is ‘a year-long gallery project exploring visual representations of language’. A new show opens each month at the tiny Cross Art Books in Roslyn St, Kings Cross, a space already overflowing with a cornucopia of books on art, design, architecture and craft – and featuring a concentration of works about marginalised and innovative social and cultural practices, and dissidents and dissidence. It seems the perfect intimate venue and containing frame for the initiative of curators Bronia Iwanczak and Lynne Barwick. Both artists themselves, each has employed text and the practice of writing in different ways in their own work, Iwanczak making artist books, and Barwick painting short texts investigating various linguistic formulations on canvas.
The first show, ‘Notes Towards a Future Feminist Archive’, opened in March to coincide with a series of exhibitions marking both the 40th anniversary of International Women’s Day in March 2015, and the 20th anniversary of the National Women’s Art Exhibition held around Australia in numerous galleries and museums and small, independent and artist run spaces. Artists working with text were invited to respond to the theme of future feminist archive, drawing contributions of more than 60 works in a variety of media ranging from artist books and altered books through photography, sculpture and construction, collage and assemblage, drawing and painting.
Addresses to the theme were sometimes direct, sometimes oblique; sometimes serious, and sometimes funny. Some works looked back to the previous wave of feminism in the 1970s and 80s, while others took their points of reference from popular culture or classical myth. Some actively acknowledged and commemorated other women artists, like India Zegan’s ‘PAM/MAP (for Pam Harris 1946-1992)’. Other works pointed to the complex relationships between women’s lives and their artistic productions and the ways they might be remembered and represented – or not – over time.
Running counter to ideas about the need for the preservation of marginalised forms of cultural memory, Helen Grace’s ‘The Records Disposal Authority’ was a witty story about the unanticipated relief of having responsibility for an ad hoc and uncatalogued archive collected from the everyday activism of the 80s and beyond forcibly removed from the premises by officialdom. While it comprises an ironic commentary on the politics of memory-cleansing in the present, the work also resonates humorously with ideas about women’s responsibility for housework and the concretisation of shame in hoarding. But beyond that, it provokes questions about the archive as ongoing entanglement of source and effect both of repressive political surveillance and guilty self-surveillance. And finally it seems to suggest that the operation of power will always produce unintended consequences in the form of new possibilities for producing unimaginable futures.
A second show in the Affiliated Text series, ‘Counting Bone’, focusing on numbers and numerals, opened this month. The title of the show is taken from an intriguing mathematical paradox described by Clio Cresswell. ‘Hyperspheres for a Hypercube’, described by the artist as a ‘poem and associated notes’ is a story about the joy to be found in letting go of sensory experience to be swept along by the pure abstractions of mathematical logic, arriving finally at a completely counter-intuitive destination. Algebraic equations which at first look like a magical spell to the mathematically uninitiated turn out, on explanation in the form of a story of discovery, to demonstrate a process by which outside paradoxically becomes inside, resulting in wonder and the joy of surprise:
‘I love it! I love it! I love this piece of mathematics so much. I love being pulled up by mathematics like this. Reminding me not to get too settled in my ways. To keep my wits about me and bear an open mind. I love the pace of this piece also. I love how it potters along innocently and then with suddenness something unforeseen happens. Like a good story.’
In another work, ‘Seeking a Meridian’ by Lily Hibberd, a complex but extremely lucidly written short story-length piece of fictocritical writing is framed by two images that work subtly on it, reflecting and refracting it back on itself. (This piece can be removed from its hook and enjoyed in the comfort of a chair). I won’t divulge the details of this work here, but leave to it be discovered by those who can make an opportunity to visit the exhibition and read it at leisure.
Melbourne artist Sadie Chandler draws numerals as clear spaces in seething darkness, and her work here points to contemporary thought about the relationship between writing and counting. British linguist, the late Roy Harris, argued that writing is not the representation of speech, nor the sophisticated distancing from the pictorial.
Rather, according to him, the critical move in the invention of writing is the one from the graphic isomorphism used for counting (as when counting on ones fingers or making iterative marks as tokens) to emblem-slotting. (The latter is a ‘structural technique’ in which a dedicated slot or symbol comes to indicate individual integers). In western traditions we tend to take a more or less Saussurian view of writing as essentially phonographic, a transcription of speech, and this means we often exclude musical notation and mathematics from consideration as forms of writing. This exhibition seems to contest that view.
The next show in the ongoing series will open in May: check Affiliated Text’s Facebook page for details. The curators are also planning a series of readings and performances accompanying future exhibitions.