Holden Bonnet, 2014

Undercoat reviews A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking and Evidence

Posted on March 18, 2014

Undercoat reviews A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking and Evidence at Blindside Gallery.

If I was an aviation enthusiast (the discipline, not the cocktail), I would probably shy away from parachutes. As beautiful their graceful buoyancy, as effortless their weightless bulk,the whole Steve Fossett thing freaks me out, and the thought of my life being held ransom by a dubiously-stitched fitted sheet is to put it bluntly, fucking terrifying. To put it more bluntly (think like, exercise ball blunt) I prefer my parachutes safely grounded, preferably indoors, and abstracted to the point where the prospect of their immediate use is as fantastical as say, unicorns.

Luckily for me, such a hot air balloon exists, and is currently on show as A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking, running until the 29th at Blindside. Australian Artists’ Grant recipient Kieran Stewart takes centre stage, with an impressive minimalist display of his home-made parachute, and an accompanying tongue-in-cheek programme. The place is jammed with cardigans, beards and leather shoes as I wriggle in for the opening night festivities, but peering through the hipsterscape it becomes immediately clear that Blindside has been deftly chosen because of its height. Craning above the bustling crowds of the Flinders Street intersection visible through the window beyond, you are looking at a parachute and only a parachute. The semantics: strap yourself in and giving it a shot.

As far as I can tell, the humour in Stewart’s work is offset by a poignant reminder that fanaticism is a reality in urban modernity; the will of so many to do something out of the ordinary, often at extreme personal cost. The will of so many to do something out of ordinary, often at extreme personal cost. The programme’s highly amusing conversation between our wannabe parachute designer and members of the parachuting community are therefore highlighted with tilts at the absurd: ‘I trust you are not planning to jump this’, ‘…use dummy’, and ‘if a manufacturer is willing to talk to you about this process, awesome but unlikely.’

The crowd fills in more as I shuffle around taking notes; an errant weirdo. I wander into Evidence, Todd Johnson’s eclectic display. A disembodied display of either an accident or a crime. Immediately striking is the taxidermied fox, hung up after some forgotten hunt, it’s body swaying ever so slightly, tied up by the feet with a long white shoestring. It’s surrounded by devastation and loss. A stripped-back image of a pair of man-eating stilettos has been splashed above a broken ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ sign. Underneath it; a burnt out handkerchief. What happened to her? Was it an accident? Did society allow this murder?

Other pieces to the puzzle, a car bonnet; an oddly anthropomorphised tree stump, and some human ashes being swallowed in the long arm of a slashed up car wheel. It’s a tragedy, that much is certain, and the more you look, the more you get out of it. A few people wander into the room and sidle up next to the tiny bar, extracting some stubbies. Life imitating art, they shuffle about piecing together the carnage. Johnson has certainly provoked emotion and thought in equal measure. My tip if you can though: go in alone.

Momentarily, I find myself jotting furious notes in the corridor outside. When I bring my pen up for air, I notice the Nicholas Building’s interior is perhaps just as suitable for Johnson’s Evidence as it’s vista is for Stewart’s Undertaking. I slink around tiled corridors and stairwells, smelling the damp of the 1920s. I fade out the colour and imagine I’m in a noir film. Each brass ‘letters’ flap on each sturdy timber doorway makes me feel like I’m in The Third Man. Perhaps there will be a crusty P.I chugging a cigar in one of these rooms. It occurs to me that perhaps there are further clues as to what happened to Evidence’s femme fatale… I run for my life.

Out on Swanston there’s an altercation at McDonald’s family restaurant. More fodder: buskers and bandits; the rattle of trams. I stare into the twilight above and get a new fit of imagination. A lone parachutist, gliding the high rises, is staring me down from above; all-seeing, all-knowing, but unable to find a place to land. Stewart’s patchwork absurdity is holding him up, multi-coloured and bright, as the swirling wind engulfs him. The chute is a microcosmic, floating on winds of change, movement, vibration. Melbourne is a city of so much depth, I’m dead-centre, Steve Fossett is dead, and my story’s in the bag.

A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking and Evidence run at Blindside until March 29.

Kieran Stewart is a graduate of Visual Arts at Edith Cowan University.
Todd Johnson is currently undertaking a PhD in Photo Media and Art Installation at Deakin University.

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