Alex Vivian @ Sandy Brown reviewed

, 1 June 2015
reviews

The first time I see images of Vivian’s ‘An afternoon, rain, open door’ (2013) a vaseline-smeared highchair. My synapses go berserk making new connections, or running lengths over those connections that I wasn’t presently aware of. The effect is immediate and there is something simple about it, yet I don’t quite know how to articulate just how true this feels or why. It just is, it feels real, the proximity is spot on.

Scenes is the first European solo exhibition for Melbourne-based artist Alex Vivian. Opening on April 29, at Sandy Brown (and running to May 23) it joined the likes of Windowlicker at Center and Drawings and Windows at Spike Art Quarterly as a favoured harbinger to Gallery weekend Berlin.

Alex Vivian, ‘An afternoon, rain, open door’ (2013).
Alex Vivian, ‘An afternoon, rain, open door’ (2013).

Working across sculpture, installation and text, Vivian demonstrates a certain mastery when it comes to turning suburban filth and shredded remnants of cheap household discards into immaculate art objects. Typically featuring clean lines and smooth forms with impeccable tidiness, each work’s title and its often long list of materials – which Vivian threads into each piece with a raw and gentle, tactile poetry – forms a kind of aura, imbuing it with the sticky truth of its humble origins. In an opposite and gibbous transformation, Vivian is just as likely to adorn a mass-produced commodity with something uncanny, rendering it unique. Maintaining always a tension between the object’s content and its form, he pokes at the flimsiness of learned or conditioned associations and very quickly urges the viewer towards an alternative understanding, one that is wavering and obvious, yet deep.

At Berlin’s Sandy Brown, a small white-cube set flush with the sidewalk of one the city’s more hectic roads, Vivian’s show comprises four wall-mounted sculptural-objects and an amorphous-seeming floor installation. Typical of his work, the materials are as important as the objects, as important as the names Vivian has given the objects, as important as the verbs and adjectives that form the prose on the exhibition hand-out. ‘Newspaper headline (Men, Boys, teenagers, etc come across as mere fodder in comparison to Tom of Finland)’ (2015) adorns one wall like a museum parchment. On the same stretch of white hangs ‘Wall from a men’s club… familiar anyone????’ (2014-15). The two pieces spread out like a stain of gammy yellows, as if they were chapters in the same lively work. Considering the materials lists —“filthy pillowcases, thread, vaseline, butter, saliva, acrylic paint, safety pin, filthy bed sheets, hair, towel” —the wall starts to crawl. Though in their current context the illustrative works look clean and slick, each is a bedroom/sex club palimpsest, born of layers of sweat and scalp grease, intimacy and estrangement. Yet their resonance is subtle.


On the opposite wall hangs ‘Noxious Chaps’ (2015), a flat 3D sculpture. The title cuts into a meaty construction of “men’s flannelette shirt, PVA glue, cardboard”. Across the room on the same wall is ‘Nursery wall hanging (well on its way to becoming something else entirely.)’ (2015). The materials sounds like the ingredients of normativity: “Men’s polar fleece, polyester fibres, spray adhesive, infants clothing, towel, woolen scarf, stretched canvas, styrofoam, hair, dirt, women’s clothing.” A spongy-looking square of patchworked felts billows prudishly over two perfect spheres, protruding pneumatically, like two lopsided and disaffected, nippleless tits. The piece is both neat and manky, sprayed with the tacky-ness of adhesive foam, I’m reminded of the clumpiness of the rotting insides of my childhood toys, filled with yellow foam. On the floor, over-powering everything, is Vivian’s installation ‘Something, happening… happened?’ (2015). “Toy baby, toaster, towel, safety pins, flannelette, wooden box, polar fleece, magazine pages, permanent marker, stuffing, comic clipping, plastic packaging, toy ballerina show, toy fluff, hand-held juicer, hair, cutlery tray, stuffed toys, plastic bag, dirt.” It looks like suburban glut, a whitebread evisceration, a kind of bland crime scene. The title seems ironic, for the primary violence of suburbia, is that nothing ever happens.

Out on the pavement in front of the gallery I overhear a man speaking about a reality cooking show. He mimics the master-chef screeching, “don’t put things you can’t eat on the plate.” Quite unintentionally, I eavesdrop one possible reading of Vivian’s show. Amongst all these beautiful, perfect, saleable objects, the artist’s installation, ‘Something, happening… happened?’, could be a kindred of that sad sprig of plastic parsley skulking uselessly on a plate. Another possibility presents itself, as I am reminded of an anecdote told to me by artist/writer Holly Childs about her older sister, who, dressing in front of her said, “you always have to add something totally fucked”, before tying a denim shirt around her waist, completing her outfit.

The strength of this show isn’t it’s concept, nor its meta narrative, it is the beautiful objects on the walls through which Vivian tells stories like sullied poetry. **

Alex Vivian’s Scenes is on at Berlin’s Sandy Brown, running from April 29 to May 23, 2015.

Header image: Alex Vivian, ‘Scenes’ (2015) @ Sandy Brown press image. 

Victoria Haynes on falling in love with her idols via the internet & the cross-temporal relationships of her museological parafiction

Vijay Masharani, 18 March 2019

London’s Pentu contributes a delirious digital club dreamscape to Merci Jitter’s Riddled Form compilation

aqnb, 14 March 2019

Examining representations of race & queer experience through the lens of artist James Bantone in Zurich

11 March 2019

Lucy Cliché contributes ‘Ladies Pool’ to Sydney label Body Promise’s mutant dance music from the Australian DIY underground

aqnb, 8 March 2019

Sci-fi futurism & pop cultural interpolations in the Infrared Roses group exhibition at Sleepy Hollow Fine Art, Portland

7 March 2019

Art Los Angeles Contemporary’s 10th edition is testament to endurance on the edges of the Californian city as it was & will be

Steph Kretowicz, 6 March 2019

Angels in America present a vivid depiction of fractured identity in their ‘Congealer’ video directed by Boy Harsher’s Jae Matthews

1 March 2019

DJ Plead delivers bristling & stark percussion inspired by Middle Eastern rhythms for ‘Baharat’, named after a Lebanese spice blend

aqnb, 28 February 2019

The figure of the witch as contemporary folk hero with Devin Troy Strother at Shoot The Lobster, Los Angeles

27 February 2019

Cherushii & Maria Minerva’s posthumous 12-inch features a cheap & glorious take on the 90s house VHS bootleg for ‘Out By Myself’

22 February 2019

Recreate, record, communicate, propagate: C.A.N.V.A.S.’s Cipher examines coded messages & the hegemony of authorship in music

aqnb, 21 February 2019

Freedom & control: Issues of power, privacy & accountability in our digital lives at the heart of the EU in Strasbourg

Caroline Heron, 20 February 2019

Brave new worlds: rkss shares a mix & some thoughts on flattening the hierarchy of cultural value in music ahead of Sonic Acts 2019

19 February 2019

Tami T traces the endless cycle of dating & disappointment in the thumping electro house of ‘Single Right Now’ via her new label

aqnb, 15 February 2019

Cade’s body horror sci-fi supports the sound of inscrutable individual experience in Precious Child’s ‘Beat it Back’

14 February 2019