Undercoat reviews Artificial Selection, Observatory, and Play with Me

Posted on March 24, 2014

Undercoat reviews Artificial Selection, Observatory, and Play with Me at Rubicon ARI.

In 1836, Charles Darwin picked up his 1836 version of a modern biro. He tapped it a little around the edges of his leather bound writing pad, probably with the non-inked end, and then returned it back to the side of his desk, humming as he thought. He was on a boat sailing headlong towards the Azores. This evening, a wind started kicking around in the cabin window, so he got up to batten down the hatches, then returned to his desk and milled over the page a bit more. One second passed, then another. Then the words came: “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” He shuffled in his seat in order to pass wind, thought about mother England, and jumped into his rickety bed for a restless, sea-borne sleep.

Because of these constant sea-voyages, Darwin may never have dreamed the continuing impact he would have on our planet, and least not the art world. Although plenty of hours have doubtless been wasted trying to explain the intricacies of his evolutionary theories, North Melbourne’s Rubicon ARI gallery is currently wasting no time in showing them off in artistic form. John Brooks, Rebecca Monaghan and Cassandra Rijs’ separate exhibits each have a strong Darwinian element pulsating through them, combined with a gripping interplay of messages surrounding our creative evolution.

Brooks’ weaving has produced a series of amorphous wall hangings which make up the Artificial Selection collection, a striking and challenging compendium of forms and layers. Basing his work on the ridiculous construct of Pantone’s ‘colour of the year’, Brooks’ work looks at the ways our lives are shaped by adherence to principles of aesthetics and taste, by exploring the array of surfaces found in nature. In this visual game of ‘animal, vegetable or mineral’, we are asked to question creative heritage, and ponder how our living environments are constructed by social norms. Brooks uses expanding foam to accentuate the colourful threads and died cascading wool, and the effect is unique and in places confronting. Rubicon’s director Neil Shurgold points to Brooks through the ARI milieu; his hand bandaged from his work, he seems fine: living proof of survival of the fittest.

Skirting past the bar, I find Monaghan’s Observatory, a scene which looks to be out of a movie about a mad scientist in the post-apocalypse. I’m glad to find Monaghan standing there, who promptly tells me that the collection of objects belong to a group of mad scientists in the post-apocalypse. I feel at first really chuffed about this… and then really scared. There’s artificially-grown coral made from resin and glass bottles, there’s a Jacob’s ladder device which is developing bio-organic threads of some sort, and there’s warped celestial-themed prints half jumping off the walls, directly at face-level. I imagine some alien thing staring out from behind it; then I imagine I’m the alien. Behind the obvious enjoyment of delving into this creative space, the questions raised here are important; Monaghan is projecting a world that has been irreversibly decimated by climate change. Her message is simple, Darwinian and very plausible; once we fuck up the planet, only the smartest people will survive, and they will have to relearn everything about human life on earth. I find myself feeling a bit guilty for posterity. Thank God (uhoh, irony) I cycled here.

In my state of nervousness about my progeny having to extract nutrients by dunking their foods in stale water (isn’t that how you ‘activate’ a nut?), I have wandered well and truly back into the current day. Standing in the centre of Rijs’ Play with Me is like standing amongst Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, minus the boxes and the overbearing drabness (Sorry, Andy). Instead of hoarding them like Mr. Warhol, Rijs has sat down to paint still-lifes from everyday objects found in her home, creating memetic connections across each canvas with style and unmissable colour. To my symbolic eye (correction: my eye is real), the still-life totems build from the ground up, harnessing the necessary development of a higher-functioning organism. Base needs form the lower levels of the piles (toilet rolls and vacuum bags), and higher functions such as aesthetics and taste are found at the top (necklaces, sunglasses, wine corks). As with a Darwinian lifeform, here everything is ordered, stacked, and in place for energy and life. I chat briefly with Cassandra, who is as colourful and excitable as her work. It’s nice to put a face to the person behind these canvases’ faces. Face away, it’s fun.

It’s filling up. Even the colours in here are getting drowned out by the noise. I take off my professional hat and head to the bar for a cold one; donations are welcome. Again, and as usual, I’m impressed with Melbourne, and the appreciation of three fine young artists holding their own in their trade, supported by a network, and a city, which clearly relies on the right side of it’s brain. My hour or so is up, and looking back, Charles, I’m happy to say I’ve made the most of it. You should too.


Artificial Selection, Observatory, and Play with Me run at Rubicon ARI until April 5.

John Brooks holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Victorian College of the Arts, and two degrees in textile Design and Development from RMIT University (images in this article are from John’s wider collection).

Rebecca Monaghan is currently undertaking a Master of Contemporary Art at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she also holds further degrees in Studio Arts and Visual Art.

Cassandra Rijs is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Eric Brotchie is Scribbler at Undercoat.

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