Margaret Roberts, Sharna pax, 2018, black fabric hoods approximately 450mm square and 3m poles in the gallery window, in HOLES [working title] at Our Neon Foe, 411 Parramatta Road, Leichhardt, 2040, open 2-28 October 2018.

HOLES [working title] is the project of Therese Keogh in which the following artists participate: Kate Beckingham, Maggie Brink, Clare Britton, Barbara Campbell, Laura Carthew, Carolyn Craig, Saskia Doherty, Lyn Heazlewood, Jana Hawkins-Andersen, Christoph Hewrbig, Therese Keogh, Louisa King, Nikki Lam, Gillian Lavery, Llewellyn Millhouse, Biljana Novakovic, Les Prest, Margaret Roberts, Kat Sawyer, Saskia Schut, Jacqui Shelton, Harald Stäuble, Leyla Stevens, Bryden Williams, Gary Warner and Vickie Zhang

HOLES [working title] includes a book of text and image, in which is published the followng text which aims to explain the thinking that led to Sharna pax.

Below is the floor plan that Therese emailed to us when she proposed her communal hole experiment. It is a plan of the Our Neon Foe building that she has re-oriented to resemble a hole, making an ambiguous image suggesting iceberg-like jetsam, or the gallery exposed head-like on top with Therese’s studio at the very bottom. The plan arrived just as I picked up a copy of Riddley Walker to read on a plane to Melbourne, and I was surprised to find the book began with its own intractable hole—a horror story in which Riddley was employed in his father’s mining team to haul out old machinery buried since the ‘clever times’. When that ‘girt old black machine fel back into the muck with my dad unner neath of it’ (p. 10), killing his father, Brooder Walker, it left Riddley to inherit Brooder’s ‘connexion-man’ status at 12 years old.

Riddley Walker is a demandingly savage book populated with ‘poals’ as well as ‘hoals’, recurring elements in the story imagined by author Russell Hoban of a brutal human society two millennia after a nuclear holocaust: ‘get the poal’ is code for knocking off your enemy, or anyone who looks suss—as in this chant by Hoban’s Eusa folk:

‘Sharna pax and get the poal
When the Ardship of Cambry comes out of the hoal’ (p. 177)

As I read Riddley Walker over the memory of the building plan, poles (and the hoods that hide the horror of execution) emerged in my mind as code for the alienation that characterises exhibition conventions, a violence implied in the plan—the building’s exhibition space like a ‘head’, exposed and vulnerable, the body buried to the ‘neck’. My poles, with hoods as their accoutrement, respond to the invitation inherent in the re-oriented floor plan to read more into the building than a regular plan would allow.

This idea emerged partly because Therese’s plan reminded me of Daniel Buren—who, coincidentally, came to talk about his artwork at Carriageworks shortly after I returned from Melbourne—and the death of the artwork he wrote about in ‘The Function of the Studio’ in 1971. In that famous essay, Buren justifies his decision to abandon the studio on the grounds that the convention of producing artworks in a studio and then removing them for exhibition elsewhere killed the works by displaying them too far from their place of origin to survive. To save the work, Buren proposed uniting the place of production and place of exhibition by constructing the work in the place it was to be exhibited. The essay was popular among my own 1980s cohort because it supported our belief that artwork made where it is to be exhibited develops its own connexion to that place and is rewarded by the welcome the location gives in return.

Nearly fifty years after Buren’s original essay, Therese’s re-oriented floor plan asks us to consider again the relationship between exhibition and studio space. We all know that most exhibition spaces are galleries for artwork made elsewhere, and yet Buren’s talk at Carriageworks was booked out. It went way over its advertised time limit and most people hung around well after being asked to leave to make room for the next event. Even if many did not know Buren’s essay, its sentiments are reflected in his art practice, and people were clearly keen to hear more from him. There is also other support for working in situ, for making work where it will be exhibited, to be found in certain artist-run spaces, and Our Neon Foe in one such space.

Towards the end of Riddley Walker I discovered that Riddley meets up again with Goodparley, the Pry Mincer he had thought of as his enemy, and I was pleased to read that Goodparley’s insight into his predicament seemed to take my grimly coded response to the alienation inherent in conventional gallery practice and turn it into an appeal for connexion:

‘Riddley, my heads ben on a poal this long time. My head ben cut off from the res of me it ben oansome and greaving in a hy place. Iwd like to get my head down off that poal is what Iwd like.’ (p. 144)