Artists: Craig Burgess, Marcia Jane, Taree Mackenzie and Ronen Becker with David Chesworth, Dirk de Bruyn and John Nixon, and curated by Kelly Fliedner.

22 November 2013 - 14 December 2013

History is our audience was intended to interrogate the role of the audience, history and community within experimental artist run initiatives and contemporary art organisations. Craig Burgess, Marcia Jane, and Taree Mackenzie and Ronen Becker were commissioned to produce three new site-specific works, which were accompanied by a small selection of film works by David Chesworth, Dirk de Bruyn and John Nixon, from the 1970s and 80s — works produced in creative spaces not too dissimilar to West Space.

History is our audience marked the 20th anniversary of West Space by recognising a history of experimental practice in Melbourne more broadly. The project attempted to write an alternate history, one that bounces between the present and the past, or one that attempts to merge a sense of history with the contemporary, whilst wishing to refrain from a nostalgic reading of history itself.

Craig, Marcia, Taree and Ronen, who’ve worked at West Space previously, produced new site-specific works that either sat literally in the windows of the Front Space, Gallery 1 and the Back Space, or near them, playing with the light in the space—in particular, how it dramatically changes during the course of the day. At times these works were visible and at times they faded away. The ephemeral nature of these pieces acted as a metaphor for West Space’s current situation—caught somewhere between being a small artist run initiative and a larger contemporary art institution—a kind of liminal zone within its own history.

Giving these new works context was a series of films made by David Chesworth, Dirk de Bruyn and John Nixon from the late 70s and 80s, made in or for experimental Melbourne spaces like the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, Arts Projects or the George Ewing Gallery. The inclusion of these films is an attempt to recognise the trajectory of West Space, born out of a rich local experimental arts and artist-run-initiative community. A history of an organisation is not merely it’s own, but is a gathering of other histories around it.

Launching toward the end of the exhibition and to wrap up our 20th anniversary was the History is our audience publication. Not intended as a substantive history of West Space, the publication gathered small pieces of writing by a large collection of people—artists, curators, writers, volunteers and audience members—with varying degrees of connection to West Space. These small pieces formed a series of vignettes of particular moments in the history of West Space and the independent contemporary art scene of Melbourne.

Contributing to this publication; Amita Kirpalani, Anusha Kenny, Arlo Mountford, Ben Sheppard, Brett Jones, Camilla Hannan, Cherie Schweitzer, Christina Apostolidis, Craig Burgess, Danny Lacy, Dirk de Bruyn, Drew Pettifer, Helen Johnson, Ian Haig, Ieuan Weinman, Janenne Eaton, Jarrod Rawlins, Jeremy Bakker, Jess Knight, Jon Campbell, Kate Just, Katie Lee, Kelly Fliedner, Kiron Robinson, Lillian O’Neil, Lisa Young, Lyndal Walker, Mary Feary, Max Delany, Meg Hale, Meredith Turnbull, Michael Graeve, Nella Themelios, Patrice Sharkey, Patrick Pound, Peter Tyndall, Phip Murray, Ross Coulter, Rowan McNaught, Sanne Mestrom, Scott Mitchell, Simon Maidment, Suzi Attiwill, Tai Snaith, The Telepathy Project, Tim Alves, Torie Nimmervoll, Zara Stanhope + more.

Jeremy Bakker, Belle Bassin, David Capra, Helen Johnson, Veronica Kent, Sanne Mestrom, Jake Walker and curated by Kelly Fliedner.

24 August 2012 - 15 September 2012

Ode to form was an exhibition of works that encapsulated the tension between the “tragic fate and comic misfortune” of Romantic Conceptualism as described by Jörg Heiser. It worked against the notion of the “‘conceptual’ as a closed system controlled by intellectual heroes, but at the same time spoil[ed] the sublime of Romanticism itself.” Ode to form explored the tension between two opposing but prevalent assertions in contemporary art; that a conceptual, cool, depersonalization is a precondition of an art that makes itself checkable and revisable, whilst celebrating the repositioning of the “artist’s hand” within the conceptual framework of contemporary art itself.

The exhibition also attempted to position itself within a broader discussion of the communal and the idea of community in art through the accompanying online publication that focused on the somewhat conflicting notion of an artist as a “single individual creator”. Ode to form light-heartedly acknowledged and was aware of the pitfalls of romanticising–in that sense, rendering sublime–that single individuality, the “artist’s soul”, itself, aiming to strip away any pretension that the artist’s soul as a medium of the otherworldly or godly (while allowing a sense of tragicomic mourning for that secularization to linger on).

While each artist’s practice is distinct, amongst the works was a strong material synergy, through which an elegant post-minimalist aesthetic presided. The exhibition was intended to investigate the connections between the simple beauty of the artists post-minimalist aesthetic and the absurdity and humour of the romantic subjects which Ode to form embraced. Post-minimalism, in this instance, describes artists who use minimalism either as an aesthetic or conceptual reference point, using everyday objects, simple materials, reflecting upon “pure” formalistic aesthetics and quite frequently rejecting them. In Ode to form the simple beauty of post-minimalism is paired with absurdity and humour of romanticism–mocking the conceptual and minimal fixed art object, its plasticity and its concreteness. Each artist participating in Ode to formrecognises human faults in perception and explored themes of uncertainty and crisis that are mirrored within post-minimalisms challenge of minimalism itself.

The exhibition was later accompanied by an online publication featuring seven texts on each of the artists by Nicholas Croggon, Simon Maidment, Oliver Watts, Adrian Martin, Anusha Kenny, Zara Stanhope and Christopher Williams-Wynn.

Ode to form has been generously supported by the City of Melbourne through the Arts Grants Program.

All installation photography by Matthew Stanton.

Artists: Damiano Bertoli, Lou Hubbard, Sanné Mestrom, Deborah Ostrow, Daniel Price, Matthew Shannon and Jackson Slattery. Curated by Kelly Fliedner

16 April 2010 - 8 May 2010

The Nothing explores the unknown and potentially unknowable realms of human understanding—the things that we can’t fully comprehend or for which words and formal representations simply don’t exist.

The exhibition’s title, The Nothing, is taken from The Neverending Story and refers to the indescribable ‘emptiness’ that pervades Fantasia (the mythical land in which the story takes place), chronicling the gap between islands of human knowledge and understanding. The Nothing addresses liminal spaces, transposing and transforming materials from the familiar to the foreign in order to explore themes of uncertainty and crisis.

Through conceptual photography, ephemeral installations, works on paper, and sculptural interventions, the artists participating in The Nothing bring forward concepts that propose open-ended and possibly unanswerable, yet enduring, questions about how we function within, and respond to, our world and our society. As a means of opening up psychological spaces of doubt and further inquiry, in their respective practices, the artists use a range of different approaches to explore the things that can’t readily be seen, or necessarily be understood, but that we know of and experience nonetheless—the forces that govern our being. The intention of the exhibiting artists is to take something familiar (an object, an image, a material, a word, or a social intervention) and manipulate it into something that challenges the viewer’s perceptual awareness, and understanding of what actually constitutes ‘real’ for the viewer.

While each artist’s practice is distinct, there is a strong material synergy amongst the work’s elegant post-minimalist aesthetic. Post-minimalism usually describes artists who use minimalism either as an aesthetic or conceptual reference point. They use everyday objects, simple materials to reflect upon ‘pure’ formal aesthetics—quite frequently rejecting them. In The Nothing, the simple beauty of post-minimalism is paired with absurdity and humour—mocking the minimalists’ fixed art object, its plasticity and its concreteness. The works orientate around the viewer, allowing for a moment when he or she becomes an active agent aware of perceiving and apprehending an artwork. As a result, the artworks become both performative and temporal, evoking elements of uncertainty and unpredictability in the perceptual consciousness. However, each artist participating in ‘The Nothing’ recognises boundaries of perception and explores themes of uncertainty and crisis that are mirrored within post-minimalism’s challenge to minimalism itself.

While there is an implicit pathos shared by most of the artists, many also embody elements of humour and irony. Even as they pose sincere and searching questions about meaning and belief, they seem to recognise a certain impossibility in seeking concise answers. While the works are earnest, they also peer at themselves obliquely and recognise an absurdity in the task of understanding the nothing, a project that may never be fully resolved in our living reality.