Exhibition Essay: The Agency of Things


Sarah Contos, Chris Dolman, Betra Fraval, Michaela Gleave, Justin Hinder, Zoe Kirkwood, Sam Leach, Melanie Upton, Mark Whalen

@ Anna Pappas Gallery, 19 February to 26 March, 2016


The artworks in the agency of things have produced their own exhibition. They are not simply outcomes of creativity – the material expression of a creative act – they themselves are productively capable. They themselves have acted – they have transported and transmitted their capital in such a way as to find themselves in this particular place at this particular time.

The ideas, people and the objects in this space – the things – have built a field by assembling themselves into a configuration of their own choosing. A composition playing out its harmonies and dissonances. The principle agents in this composition are the artworks, but there is also the gallerist, this architectural space, wifi connections to disseminating channels of communication, the audience, and the artists.

The title of this exhibition refers to the idea that while we generally attribute conscious decision-making and the capacity to deliberately alter reality to human beings, perhaps things have this agency as well. The agency of things. The wilfulness of entities to act.

A gallery is also a sort of physical ‘agency’ – like a department, or a store, or an organisation. An art agency or artist agency. Or an agency of things.

At the heart of this exhibition though, is the artworks. And importantly, by activation of their reality, you – the audience. In order for the artworks to materialise though they require a human conduit, a creative chaperone. The talent, diligence and dedication of these human conjurors can’t be underplayed. Chris Dolman propelled himself and his art across the continent in a steel and rubber box that blew its radiator half way from Sydney to Melbourne. And here now  his art is interfacing with an audience of curious minds and sensitive central nervous systems. David Haggar, an artist agent himself, nursed Mark Whalen’s pristine vibrancy through customs in two separate countries with words, both written and spoken. Zoe Kirkwood escorted component parts across 800km of paddocks and freeway to reconfigure painting and sculpture into an assembled whole.

In this space, Sam Leach has a rock that wishes it was a meteor, Michaela Gleave is riffing puns on what really matters in materiality and Justin Hinder articulates the energies of our cultural artefacts in choreographies of colour and the residue of action. Sarah Contos harmonises choirs that sing across the divide between the thing and the image of the thing. Each artist in this show produces work that at some level honours the wilfulness of basalt boulders, molecular compounds, analogue watches, concrete sinks, lobsters, paint, gravity and so much more.

Zoe Kirkwood weaves reflection with shadow, and marries gradient with force. Betra Fraval pulls geology and pools time. Melanie Upton, her piece in the centre of the downstairs gallery is the fulcrum point upon which much of this show rests in more ways than one. Actual component parts of this building pair with reconstituted echoes of remainders, towering in tension under pressure and hope. Chris Dolman frees boundaries to emancipate the fragment and to give permission to the permutation. Mark Whalen greets you as you arrive and oversees you at your ascent. His subjects play the most serious fun and, seriously, fund the play.

At one level, this exhibition is a straight-forward metaphor for art itself. We credit art objects with a power that sees them live on well past the life of the artist and sometimes even bend the life of the culture, community, or epoch within which they were created. In art we also acknowledge that one of the materials is ideas – that ideas are some of the things that go into making an artwork. What if human beings are just fleshy carrier devices that birth ideas and then facilitate their longevity? What if materiality births ideas and facilitates their longevity?

Something that I was constantly reminded of during this project and will leave as the final thought in this essay: the oldest continuously functioning parliament in the world, first established in Iceland in AD930, is called Althing (literally ‘the all-thing’ or general assembly). That an assembly of human beings gathered to talk and to collectively set out guidelines of behaviour would be called the all-thing makes for an interesting moment of contemplation about what we define as things. As an exhibition is a gathering, we could think of them as mini-parliaments that allow for the good existing rules to be reinforced and for new improved rules to be established. And in so doing, for a collective sense of community and a hope for the future to be celebrated.

One thought on “Exhibition Essay: The Agency of Things

  1. looking forward to seeing this when I’m in town tomorrow!

    Sent from the iPad of Robbie Aitken My phone contact is +61 418502571


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