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Artist Profile - - NEWS - Ali McCann

SEV­ERAL YEARS AGO, I IN­HER­ITED a num­ber of art his­tory text­books from my mother, a high school art and ce­ram­ics teacher who be­gan teach­ing in the early 1970s. It seems to me now that much of my art prac­tice has been an un­con­scious chan­nel­ing of the ped­a­gog­i­cal aes­thet­ics of these pub­li­ca­tions. I’ve no­ticed par­al­lels in my re­cent works with an ed­u­ca­tional hand­book called The Story of Sculp­ture (1969). I’m par­tic­u­larly drawn to its pho­to­graphic re­pro­duc­tions of an­cient, ‘prim­i­tive’ and modernist sculp­tures. In tech­ni­cal and aes­thetic terms, these im­ages vary con­sid­er­ably: ob­jects are pre­sented in greyscale, mono­chrome or against de­sat­u­rated back­drops, in situ, or as part of a muse­o­log­i­cal dis­play. Some are bland, awk­wardly cropped, and cap­tured with harsh light­ing. Oth­ers are beau­ti­ful, em­a­nat­ing a strange nos­tal­gic res­o­nance that tran­scends their in­struc­tional pur­pose. The ob­jects in my pho­tographs, videos and sculp­tural works are in­vari­ably sourced from the store­rooms, cup­boards and waste bins of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions where I have taught pho­tog­ra­phy. In my 2017 ex­hi­bi­tion ‘An In­tro­duc­tion to Lim­i­nal Aes­thet­ics’ (at c3 Con­tem­po­rary Art Space), I pho­tographed a num­ber of out­moded teach­ing aids, which had been used for decades to teach the prin­ci­ples of math­e­mat­ics, physics, art and tex­tile de­sign, but were now de­funct and marked by time. Other sculp­tural forms ap­pear­ing in this se­ries were as­sem­bled from wooden off-cuts from the col­lege’s luthier work­shop. More re­cently, in the ex­hi­bi­tion ‘Polytech­nic’ (at Tris­tian Koenig, 2018) these ab­stract forms and teach­ing aids be­came my point of de­par­ture, such that I re­garded these sin­gu­lar ob­jects with a sort of rev­er­ence, as minia­ture ‘mon­u­ments’ to the re­cur­ring forms, mo­tifs and im­agery of ob­so­lete art and de­sign text books. Such rev­er­ence for the ob­ject has car­ried over to my re­cent works Un­ti­tled (Sphere) (2018) and Un­ti­tled (Bust) (2018), which will ap­pear in my forth­com­ing solo show at Caves Gallery in Melbourne. In the lat­ter work, the found ob­ject is el­e­vated on a cus­tom-made tri­an­gu­lar plinth; a poly­styrene head is cov­ered with black panty­hose. Once used to dis­play head­wear de­signed by stu­dents, the form is weighed down by a kitchen tile, with dress­maker pins il­lu­mi­nat­ing the eyes. Aes­thet­i­cally, the works have par­al­lels with Dada and Sur­re­al­ist pho­tog­ra­phy. My un­der­ly­ing in­ter­est is pri­mar­ily in the re­ac­ti­va­tion of these dis­used and aban­doned ob­jects, and to re-con­tex­tu­alise the psy­cho­log­i­cal space once oc­cu­pied by such arte­facts and their in­her­ent aes­thet­ics, which have long been rel­e­gated to the archives, lay­ing dor­mant in the in­te­ri­ors of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

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