Contemporary histories register disquiet with humour

Tony Coleing and Stephen Killick, “The Thick Plottens – Collaborative Sculptures from 2001”
Tony Coleing and Stephen Killick, “The Thick Plottens – Collaborative Sculptures from 2001”

“The Thick Plottens” claims the sign at the entry to the exhibition of collaborative sculptures made in 2001 by Tony Coleing and Stephen Killick. And what follows is an imaginative journey that speculates about the technological apocalypse. This exhibition is an edited version of a show originally seen at Port Macquarie Hastings Regional Gallery in 2001, yet the work has stood the test of time, with some of these objects space-age looking, others carved and painted in traditional media, some hybrids utilising mechanical media. Yet in their construction and ideas they are prescient in their take on the possible future of technologies, many of which, some eleven years later, are with us. Now, the reality of what was conceptualised in 2001 allows us to download, upload and access data (personal and professional) anywhere with internet access. There is an App available for every task – no matter how trivial.Today a headline in The Weekend Australian declaims, “Digital age is dumbing down our children” (July 28, 2012), and Coleing/Killick’s Skull (circa 2012), made in 2001, imagines this with a strange brain experiment involving the downloadable brain. It notes that such activity may be “leaving little internal evidence of occupational life force”. Arm’n’leg, 2001 is a carved arm, with a green spreading surface like an alien disease, sprouting a large alien-looking ear on its palm. It morphs into a limb mounted on a plinth and imagines the type of scientific gene splicing experiments now de rigueur in laboratories. While the subject matter may suggest pessimism, humour turns this innovative excursion into an adventure of the human spirit. The signs, in road sign black-on-yellow, mark the journey: “Thread Ahead”, “I’ve Just Passed Another Particle”, and “Back to the Wheel World”. These are playful reminders that this is an aesthetic and conceptual artistic excursion accompanied by wit.

Downstairs (also at Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane), an exhibition of large narrative paintings is accompanied by possibly the first digital prints created in Australia. This solo exhibition from Tony Coleing in part marks his 70th birthday. The monumental paintings are contemporary takes on history, and ruminate on the central importance of China – its transient, political and economic might mediated through paint and concept. Coleing is always tight-lipped about meaning and motivation, but these paintings present like contemporary history paintings, and offer an imaginative excursion developed from political and economic global forces.

“Made in China” shows a map of China above a funnel, being poured into Europe. The sinister over-tones are ameliorated by the pandas that parachute into the remainder of the painting. China’s dominance over the international agenda is unquestionable, and Coleing invites us to scrutinise the ramifications of this weighty situation.

Tony Coleing, “Made in China”, 2011-12, acrylic on canvas, 188 x 235 cm



“The Thick Plottens – Collaborative Sculptures from 2001” by Tony Coleing and Stephen Killick

“Tony Coleing: 1st Bytes and Last Bits”

Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane, 18 July to 18 August 2012.