Cast plastic unions, gradient vinyl, sep-down transformer and fluorescent lights
1000 x 1000 x 2000mm (LxWxH)
SUN HITS HOT SPOT: BY DONAL FITZPATRICK | THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
The Anne and Gordon Samstag international scholarship has helped many of our aspiring young artists to travel overseas to complete their studies. Perth artist Joshua Webb chose the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top-three art schools in the US.
This exhibition is a body of work made during his time in New York studying at the prestigious academy.
The title Apathy for the Setting Sun comes from the metaphor of the Sun setting in relation to the Earth. It tries to dismantle this romanticised trope by citing the continual repetition of this event across the world and then the use of the term "sunset" to describe the end of things, be they societies, ideologies or empires.
The front room at Dusseldorf is dominated by the work that lends the exhibition its title, an imposing light work made from coloured fluorescent tubes constructed in a star formation. This piece is both evocative of the Sun and of the image's use as a part of the emblematic iconography of power.
This piece, coloured in the tones of sunset, hovers above and near an adjacent floor work called The Mirror of Capital, a dark pool of laser-cut, mirrored acrylic that suggests a shattered and recessed space beyond. These two large works are accompanied by two object pieces of decapitated heads, one of Karl Marx in white plaster of Paris and the other of Balthasar, one of the wise men attending the birth of Christ, inverted and rendered in plaster and topped with a dark pool of black perspex into which a chainsaw is sinking.
The entire front room of the gallery is bathed in a warm coloured light filtered through gradient vinyl on the gallery's windows.
The effect of these pieces upon each other and on the viewer is to evoke a cinematic conception of sculpture and a haunting sense of the trappings of power coming to an abrupt end. This strategic installation recalls images of graveyards full of monuments that accumulated after the fall of the Soviet Union, where amputated legs of statues lay piled against enormous red stars and the upended monumental heads of Stalin and Lenin.
In this context the neon star hanging in the central gallery evokes for me the personal memory of walking across Charles Bridge in Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution and the way in which the electric Soviet celebratory decorations seemed sinister in their dilapidation, luridly illuminating the lines of Russian soldiers trying desperately to sell their uniforms and medals.
This sense of both revolution and ossification is reinforced in the back room at the gallery where a pile of stone-carved books sit on a concrete plinth. The carved title of the book at the top, Politics Within Nations, and the entire pile function sculpturally as a memento mori, a fossil monument to ideological intransigence.
Across the room on the back wall there is a video work on a monitor called Captain of Your Soul, a short looped piece in which a construction of candles and a cast polyurethane arm revolve in a darkened space. This presents the viewer with a sense of erasure as it moves from the production of abstract light patterns to the illuminated and revolving scaffold of the work's melting construction of candles and the arm. This play on the revolving and changing dynamic of time achieves a sense of decay amid the gradual eclipse of being within a void of space.
The only jarring note in the exhibition was the inclusion of a large watercolour drawing on paper. This autobiographical work and its attendant piece, Majesty, diluted and lessened the experience of the more powerful works in the exhibition.
At their best, the works unite the simple and the sophisticated. They refuse to define their presence as art prior to their existence as propositions, and they project a convincing sense of the uncanny by not reaching out so far to please the viewer's aesthetic indulgence.
There is a sense of raw enquiry in Webb's work that continues a WA tradition of idiosyncratic artistic experiment into phenomena that stretches from Howard Taylor to the present and makes a unique contribution to Australia's visual culture.