A room for ordering memory / First and Last

Words by Nick Tapscott

Photos by J Forsyth

Counihan Gallery, 223 Sydney Road, Brunswick

So it certainly was a nice night to be attending an opening, and for reasons beyond the fact it was just another Thursday in North-Side Melbourne. The weather was cool but not cold or wet, allowing the flowery crowds of the gallery set to blossom in their finest of casual fineries for the occasion. It was definitely one of the better looking rooms I’d seen in a while, with an almost semblance of a fashion event or publishing party.

Although the young were in attendance the overall presence had a distinctly mature edge, and not to take anything away from youthful energy and all-over bounciness, was appreciated by myself as one that’s prone to the over 30 grumpies. It definitely felt more of a refined appreciation of art and culture and less of a free-piss free-for-all that some of the CBD shows end up as, but there’s nothing wrong with those from time to time.

There were actually two shows opening this night: A room for ordering memory and First and Last, and because I’m such an unappreciated-in-my-own-time pioneer, I started in the second room first.
What struck me when I walked into that room was a tiny stuffed toy dodo that chilled me to my pubes. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, or on my pubes, but for some reason the darkest places of my sub-conscience started growling with recognition and violent imagery, like I once had a nightmare about this friendly looking bird. Weird.

As I moved through the room I became increasingly impressed. First and Last is group show presented by Brunswick Art Space with the intention of exploring notions of the unfamiliar and the uncharted as well as the transitional realms of the dying and departed, named for the Brunswick pub that serves as the historical last urban outpost before the cultural oblivion of rural Victoria.

One piece that particularly struck me WITHOUT chilling any particular appendage was the installation which I don’t have a title for that involved an empty leaning chair, a desk with houses built into the undersides, colourful streamers and hanging glass. The detail, complexity, and sheer craftsmanship of the piece was inspirational. Despite the strangeness and almost random selection of objects, the arrangement led to a poignant communication which I found to be quite a positive statement on the fleeting and temporal nature of life and the humanity that surrounds it.

As I moved around the room I was snared by the floating installation ‘Orrery of a Flat Earth’ by Alister Karl. I like the way the individual illustrations were named after the planets and featured what appeared to be a 20th century Ocean voyage around the solar system. The drawings themselves were richly laden with meaning and offered an almost ironic positioning to the whimsy of a period piece of an intergalactic voyage.

The next works featured the chilling bird I had seen when I walked in and again it made my unmentionables freeze with shuddering cold. The piece was aesthetically beautiful and superbly crafted as a series of photographs told the story of the fate of the Dodo, but with a twist (They escape to outer space). I was fascinated, mostly because of the images of grinding meat and bloodied fangs that popped into my head every time my eyeballs crossed their purpled plushing plumage. It was seriously freaking me the fuck out, so I moved on to the other room.

A room for ordering memory is the solo show of one Melanie Jayne Taylor and features photographs thematic of geometry, geography and nostalgia, a subject which purely by co-incidence has recently captured my imagination. The works all featured two similar yet sometimes dissonant titles, such as ‘Carefully Coiled, [Red Flowers]’ and ‘Around the Light [rounded light]’ and the actual prints often featured more than one correlating image. Interiors juxtaposed with mirrored images or printed upside down offered a perspective of home and human space which most may find unfamiliar resonated with me personally as it dredged the earliest of memories of the childhood home, seen from a perspective of age which will never be seen again.

There was also interesting use of the placement of prints, with some images obscured by others. This was apparent in the work ‘The Overlap [An Overview]’ featuring images of nature in full beautiful bloom dominated by empty human walkways via alternating perspectives. Although I’m not sure what the artist was trying to communicate by this, I definitely appreciated the manipulation of the media.
An example of the use of geometry could be found in ‘Sky, Lines’ which featured cables crossing a clear blue sky, reminiscent of suburban visual domination and subjugation of nature, and the inspiring yet melancholy optimism of ‘The Curve, The Cove, [Irretrievable]’ which looked to be a one way tunnel to an illuminated future/space.

As I was writing this, I figured it out. Have you read ‘Lunar Park’ by Brett Easton Ellis? Man, it’s a pretty creepy book about his father/son/self being haunted by his father/son/self in the form of an evil, man-eating toy bird called a ‘Terby’. The way I always imagined this bird, and I’m not shitting you, IS EXACTLY WHAT THIS FUCKING DODO LOOKS LIKE. It’s scarring the shit out of me, I think my pubes have just turned white.

So over-all a pretty sweet show.

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