New Violence. Australia. 2008  
 
Slide 1

 

Digital print on archival paper

1000 x 1520 mm

 

 

Slide 3

 

Styrofoam, poly concrete-resin found objects, and a 6mins High Definition digital Video loop

 

 

THE STAGE OF TERROR: By Jessyca Hutchens

 

In the final scene of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God, we see the figure of the crazed Spanish soldier, Lope de Aquirre, maniacally pacing around the dishevelled remains of his raft as it continues to float down the Amazon River on a now pointless journey to find El Dorado. In delusional ecstasy he raves: "We'll stage history as others stage plays."

 

In New Violence, Webb stages a similar scene, one that not only encapsulates an historical moment of madness and folly, but which alludes to a kind of cinematic reverence for such moments (Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane). He presents us with the end, the final scene. We witness a suicidal soldier heading towards an ephemeral, ungraspable red drape, it's constantly morphing form imbuing the space with an inertial momentum that is also implied in the structure of the "floating" oil barrel raft. Without a preceding narrative, or a finite point at which to "roll credits" Webb's ending is set adrift. He presents a space that continuously performs the quality of endings while also refusing closure.

 

New Violence, which follows in the wake of New Disorder (The Ice-Cream Factory, 2007) and The Gift (PICA, 2006), is the third show by Webb to create such a space of portentous cinematic drama. It is also the third re-incarnation of his work, The Gift, a Styrofoam monument that Webb continues to offer up as potlatch to his audiences. This new instalment sees the plinth rendered in concrete (a clever disguise for its lightweight foam frame) and aptly re-named Trojan Horse, a warning to his audience that an artistic gesture is never empty.

 

These works are staged theatrical images. They are, particularly in the case of Trojan Horse, faked, and obviously so. Unlike the images of war and terror that proliferate in mass media, purporting to signify the "return of the real" in their preference for the graphic and the grotesque, Webb does not attempt to approximate reality. Instead, he creates fantasy from the images that fuel our obsession with reality, namely those related to global politics and the war on terror. Ultimately his pieces would be more at home in a B-grade horror film than a realistic war epic. And this is precisely the point. That the true "horror" of our present day image production, is our renewed belief in the reality of images.

 

Webb is engaged in a process of actively historicizing the images of terror, scrambling a host of didactic political images (the oil barrels, the UN soldier, the red-curtain), with the most potent methods of historical glorification (monument building, war propaganda and film-making). By reviving the aesthetics of the post-apocalyptic landscape and the art of war glorification, he creates an advertisement for the new world order that reveals all political history as effectively staged.

Slide 4

 

Styrofoam, poly concrete-resin found objects, and a 6mins High Definition digital Video loop

 

THE WEST AUSTRALIAN TODAY

2008– VISUAL ARTS: By Ric Spencer

 
Also illuminating and also at ease with reinventing icons, Joshua Webb's first solo offering at Galerie Dusseldorf is equally enigmatic. New Violence continues from recent incursions into dystopian visions at Artrage and PICA and recently showed, though in a slightly different form, in Prague. As the excellent catalogue essay suggests, Webb's work is heavily influenced by the cinematic vision. It's also very neo-dassical in its references.

Webb knows his art history and his re-working of Gericault's The Raft of Medusa is excellent. this time the raft is a vehicle for The Diplomat, a UN soldier, and the Trojan Horse, another citing of his classically influenced plinth.

On Webb's raft, hope and dismay cancel each other out, bringing only a new false hope. The raft points towards a video of a red curtain, constantly morphing shape, which hovers over destroyed landscapes. Like the survivors on Gericault's raft, the UN soldier on Webb's raft is driven delusional by thirst and desire, this time drifting hopelessly on a sea of oil, and the rescue on the horizon becomes only an elusive semblance of our collective imagination.

New Dawn, the high-definition video of the red curtain that the soldier looks out at, is a seductive piece which never quite takes shape.

On the other side of this projection New Violence, a digital print which looks at the world like a watercolour, hangs over a donkey's head - well, not a real head but a Styrofoam carving. The image on the print is a hand gaffer-taped to a fuel bowser tap. This reading is a given but the donkey's head is up for grabs, though as any gangster film addict knows, it's never good news to wake up with a horse's head in bed.

Webb's use of symbolism can be overtly didactic; the bowser pump and oil barrels (which the raft floats on) give away no secrets as to his position on the Iraq war, but his extroverted use of these and the technical efficiency with which he plays with open-ended scenarios ultimately ask some serious questions about our priorities and goals.

 

Slide 5

 

Styrofoam, poly concrete-resin found objects, and a 6mins High Definition digital Video loop

 

 

THE ALCHEMIC QUESTION : BY JOSHUA WEBB

 

In short, my work grows from an ongoing pursuit of the trauma associated with the collective cultural memory of late contemporary Western society and its re-emergence into cultural totems.11 The products of my production, these cultural totems, manifest themselves as my works; sculptures, films and installations that resurrect political, cultural, religious and consumer archetypal icons from the living-dead of history. These re-animated corpses are plucked from history and combined with the fresh ruins of their contemporary counterparts, only to be absorbed back into the collective cultural memory.

I sense that in art, the alchemic question was solved. It was the artist who finally turned lead into gold and worked out the formula for eternal life. Armed with a methodology of cultural deception, the artist has the keys to unlock the rules of the game between meaning, representation and value. I am guilty of caring about the game's ability to deceive as I feel it is at the heart of the paradox of the human condition: the paradox of art. I suspect, however, that my distribution of this cultural deception at times has been all too convincing. The installation New Violence (2008) at Galerie Düsseldorf, Australia illustrates this powerful persuasiveness when it tended to be viewed overwhelmingly within the language of political literalism. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the use of political literalism. In hindsight, though, my deployment of this system of communication within the work naturally gravitated toward a not-so-subtle, heavy handedness – a hijacking of the works' intention and a confinement of its meaning. The byproduct (and for me, the trap) of this formula is propaganda. If it is only see as propaganda, the work is flawed, as I do not consider myself to be a teacher nor intend my art to instruct the viewer so finitely. My idea is that a better art would come from a more delicate balancing act between political realism's didactic nature and abstraction's collapse into obtuse meaning. I am more interested in a provocation of possibility than in literal communication. When art is within the zone of ephemeral possibility it is at its best; not truly alchemic, but a flickering between ash and gold. While maintaining context, an example of this de-contextualization can be found within (my work), A New Dawn (2008)

 

A new dawn is an apocalyptic landscape, a desolate place where the rubbish stretches as far as the eye can see. A rising sun and portentous cloud only restore some sense of normalcy. Then, in the DVD version, above this same landscape hovers a distinctly unnatural and amorphous red shape. It moves, drapery floating as if shaped by a benevolent breeze, taking attention from the wreckage. It's a neat conceptual fit, using a beautiful aesthetic to distract attention from sad realities. The reverse may also be true, with destruction drawing attention away from pursuit of beauty and ideas. (Martin-Chew 2008 p13)

 

The film's strength is its ability to blend and distort the rules of abstraction and at times, produce a conceptual flickering akin to decentered meaning. It is at this point that my thinking has begun to embrace the cinematic moment as a point of inspiration and potential. 12

 

11 I also have a healthy interest in the idea of modern horror both aesthetically and conceptually. Specifically my work has at times tried to incite the floating signifier of the zombie metaphor and its relation to cultural trauma. The zombie as a truly modern monster contains the flux-ability to encompass the full and multiple fears of our time (a time that is apparently anti-historical or at the end of history- a time of histories) from: slavery, cannibalism, terrorism, spirituality, the Cold War, consumerism, technology, Communism to AIDS – to name a few. The strength of the zombie metaphor lies within its ability to debunk, even destroy the foundations of truths. The zombie metaphor turns logic literally upside down when the dead walk the earth; the superstructure that constitutes our reality is broken. In decentring the principle of the death-drive you destroy the concept of truth. (Russell 2005)

 

12 I view the cinematic moment ability to collapse time, past, present and future into one; creating a paused moment which can present itself as an experiential solution to post-structuralism's assault on the power of binary dichotomy.

 

Slide 6

 

Styrofoam, poly concrete-resin found objects, and a 6mins High Definition digital Video loop