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Ways and Means:

The Red and The Blue

Drawing International Brisbane (DIB) 2015

at Griffith University Brisbane.

For the Fun of it- Emergent gameplay in experimental, collaborative drawing.

Ways and Means:

The Red and The Blue

Westspace ARI, Bourke st Melbourne January 2013

Sporting Colours – Ben Sheppard and Vin Ryan

Kelly Fliedner

 

The red and the blue was a collaborative project by Ben Sheppard and Vin Ryan at West Space in February 2013. For one week both Ben and Vin inhabited the project space at West Space then exhibited minimal remnants of the time they shared in the space, leaving a room that resembled a basketball court or some sort of sporting arena. A place where a game or simple competition had occurred — coloured lines on wooden floorboards, red and blue baskets on the floor, and a television monitor recapping the activities that had previously taken place.

 

Whether you are a participant, spectator or neither, there is no denying the important role sport and game-playing has within the community. Many people feel ineffable emotional connection or strange investment with particular sporting clubs, codes and competitions. Ben and Vin who are both innately drawn to oppositional subjects found themselves in the gallery space instinctively competing in the most trivial of ways by throwing red and blue pencils into two red and blue baskets.

 

The game which at first was of little consequence (there was no scoring, no outcome, no apparent winner) soon became more than a simple act but an ongoing ritual within the space. Blue and red tape was placed on the floor evoking court lines to distinguish various sections and a camera was set to record the two dueling adversaries. All of a sudden, what had started as a drawing project, quickly became an investigation of the impulse to compete. Why are we always drawn to games? What about sport gives it its value?

 

Sport is a proxy for life, but perhaps better because it isn’t real. It is a competition that only appears to carry real consequences. It’s war where no one dies. It mirrors the drama of real life, and all our hopes and desires for life. There are two modes to playing games — one of exploration and innovation and one bound by rules. The best games have both of these modes. Much like in broader society, boundaries (or laws) are set up for the drama of the game to take place, ready for the element of the unknown to occur. The tension created by these two modes is why we keep playing, and in that tension story telling transpires. This is why sport is so successful, why whole television networks are devoted to the recording and relaying it. But that is not to say some sport isn’t boring, those that don’t live up to the expectations of the grand narrative fall flat.

 

What makes Ben and Vin’s game different is that it does not have a point. Hundreds and thousands of red and blue spots speckle the walls behind the baskets, marking where pencils have reflected into their final location. There is no rhyme or rhythm to the coloured flecks. There is no distinction between red and blue, no clusters near their respective red or blue baskets. Although there is an element of competition, the game is essentially pointless. Drama has been removed because there is nothing at stake.

 

Of course real life isn’t always filled with drama. In the red and the blue enjoyment is found through the repetition of the act, the pure joy of “scoring”. The tension of this game has lifted because it is not a contest with rules our outcomes. Expectation has been discarded. Instead it becomes meditative, mirroring the reality of monotonous real life for most. In recording their performance in the space, and screening it for later audiences either onsite or off. Ben and Vin continue to mirror sporting themes, but also evoke a history of performance art, which quite often like the red and the blue usually focuses on the mundane, the base reality of our human existence and actions within space.

Le Coq

Le Coq: Benjamin Sheppard

16 August to 16 September 2012
Opening: Thursday 16 September, 6 – 8pm
Thursday 16 August, 6-8pm
To be officially opened by Phip Murray (Curator and Former Director, West Space)

Benjamin Sheppard makes intricate drawings executed in biro and lineal sculptures that he also considers drawings. Le Coq is a new series of works created during a residency in the medieval town of Caylus in France last year, and will be exhibited at the Counihan Gallery in August.

Le Coq takes its cue from the rich narrative of nationalism to explore our complex, contradictory and sometimes contentious relationship with systems of power and governance. Using the cockerel as a key motif – flamboyant and proud, posturing and prosaic – these new drawings stage incongruous encounters. Unexpected juxtapositions create poetic, political and often humorous associations that interweave history and fiction, popular culture and mythology. Also present in these works is a satirical commentary about masculinity and ego and, more broadly, how we negotiate certain power structures and social relations.

Sheppard’s practice recalls the lineage of artists throughout art history who have utilised animals to relay allegorical stories, often with ethical undertones. In this new series, Sheppard summons up the exalted status of birds as messengers and spirits, through carefully rendered surfaces that reveal a resolved and fluent form of mark-making.

There is also a distinctly formal approach to the use of mark-making in these new works. The hand- drawn line is a most personal and individual form of expression in contemporary art. Florid, angular, circular, expressive, it is as if the line speaks. The line is consistent throughout Sheppard’s new works applied by the permanent and unforgiving nature of the pen, and represented by the material strength of the steel in his lineal sculptures.

Le Coq opens at the Counihan Gallery on Thursday 16 August 6-8pm. The exhibition will be officially opened by Phip Murray, Independent Curator and Author and (until recently) Director of West Space.

Further inquiries: Mellissa Kavenagh 9389 8622 | 0406 831 058 | mkavengh@moreland.vic.gov.au

Benjamin Sheppard
Je pense donc je suis 2012 Biro on paper
150 x 110cm
Courtesy the artist

Benjamin Sheppard Tabarin’s spoils 2011-12 Biro on paper
160 x 150cm
Courtesy the artist

Benjamin Sheppard Thinking about Agde 2011 Biro on paper
120 x 80 cm
Courtesy the artist

Benjamin Sheppard
In the black 2011
Biro and black felt on paper 20 x 28cm
Courtesy the artist

Le Coq

Counihan Gallery, Brunswick August- September 2012

Le Coq Motif- Phip Murray
Benjamin Sheppard’s exhibition Le Coq features exquisite drawings of cockerels. These are marvelous drawings of marvelous animals. Rendered with the most beautifully intricate penmanship, these roosters seem princely with their opulent plumage and feathers. Ben has both laboured and luxuriated in drawing these birds: he is an expert drawer and each cockerel is a deft concoction of tiny biro marks worked up sometimes over months to reveal this magnificent plumage. The birds are often juxtaposed with spheres, whether unmissably large and intense or relatively small and almost playful in the composition. The spheres have been drawn using frenetically swooping line work – their busy abstraction is a lovely counterpoint to the fine figurative rendering of the animals.

These drawn spheres are echoed in the space by large sculptural orbs that increase the sense of frenetic energy even further. These spheres, which feature more colourful materials, emit a buzz, a kind of visual static. They seem to embody chaos or industry. They remind me of the crisscrossing of data through the ‘network of networks’ that comprises the Internet, or perhaps the back and forth of capital as it flows through bank accounts across the world. Some of the sculptures are more pared back, more minimal in their aesthetic. These are ‘three-dimensional drawings’ of scrunched-up balls of paper, which tread an interesting line between figuration and abstraction, a tension often operative in Ben’s work. If you look closely at some of the drawings, you will see this paper motif. A strength of the exhibition is the way that the motifs bounce back across the space and across different media – Ben has spatialised the ideas in a strongly interconnected way.

The cockerel is, however, the central motif of Ben’s exhibition – Le Coq Motif, if you will pardon my pun on the French sporting label. The cockerel is also one of the national symbols of France: it is the proud ‘le coq gaulois’. Throughout 2011 Ben and his young family travelled around Europe undertaking a series of residencies, the longest of which was six-weeks in Caylus, a medieval town in the south of France. Many of the images exhibited here were made in his French studio. So, this meditation on cocks is partly a response to his French village surroundings. A tribute to the roosters that scratched around the medieval marketplace as they had, no doubt, for centuries.

This exhibition is also, of course, a wry commentary on another kind of cock. The egomaniacal kind. The strutting, power hungry, chauvinistic kind. Notable characteristics of this species include a blatant strain of machismo and a ‘greed is good’ attitude. This is an aggressive animal that, if provoked into its fully puffed-up and posturing state, can take down whole economies and perhaps even collapse entire ecosystems. Thus, Ben’s drawings of roosters are also, metaphorically speaking, and to adopt the vernacular, ‘cocks’.

While Ben was drawing for hours on end in his French studio he told me that he would listen to the radio or to podcasts. The two subjects on highest rotation were the global financial crisis, which was breaking around that time, and also debates on religion and society, which had a resurgence through the publication of texts such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. These global themes also pervade this imagery, but in a quietly satirical and impressively lateral way. The motif of the posturing cockerel – a motif that is, importantly, at once bombastic but also vulnerable and which, significantly, represents traits that are no longer gender specific – stands in for a particular mode of pumped-up machismo. Here, the cockerel becomes a symbol for the unchecked ego, for an identity curdled into arrogance and posturing. And Ben, in his own gentle way, offers a nuanced commentary on this all-too-prevalent contemporary attitude. Ben’s exhibition is a way of ‘calling bluff’ on this outlook and, as such, his exhibition acts as an elegant act of resistance.

The Edge of the Line

Utopian Slumps Collingwood, Melbourne 2009

From Nothingness to the Infinite -Kelly Fleidner

The Edge of the Line, conceived by Ben Sheppard, encourages the audience to understand and appreciate formal beauty, to concentrate on each detail, on every aspect of form, to not just glance carelessly at form but to trace with our eyes every curve, every twist, to experience every nuance of form defined by the presence or absence of linear delineation. The exhibition simultaneously embraces a notion of the persistence of eternal values embodied in the classical tradition of art whilst rejecting them completely and is both abstract and expressive in its formal and conceptual utilisation of line.

Within Aaron Carter’s series of light boxes, the strongly defined horizon lines etched into delicate mirrored surfaces stand out against the splayed and scattered markings of incomprehensible landscapes and vistas. Our eyes quickly read the long straight horizontal lines, whilst stumbling over their curved, torn and cut counterparts. Here line is not just mere surface description, but rather acts to fill whole bodies of fluid moving form. In contrast Sheppard’s gesticulating sheets of paper are only given delineated silhouettes, using line to also propel dynamic forces, but in this instance creating rhythm amongst void objects.

The impersonal and cartographic line sourced by James Kenyon simultaneously constructs volumes of stagnant space, but alludes to vibrant movement in the very nature of is depicted highways and freeways – human tracks cutting through the landscapes in an everyday homage to desire for prompt circulation. Manipulating the usually stable, objective construction and practical purpose of maps that establish control over landscape with line and form to ultimately (and cheekily) question audience gullibility with the mythical story of The Lost City of Adelaide.

Matthew Shannon in his allusion (or rather illusion) to indescribable bodies of space challenge the notions of line as being able to absolutely define spheres at all; indeed line fails in this respect and relies on the audience’s expression, imagination and internal abstraction to occupy the purposely empty intervention. Giving form, or more so formlessness, to the illegitimate and illogical way that we perceive meteorological and atmospheric conditions – in expressing this nothingness and attempting to define the infinite, Shannon subtly communicates his opposition to the fixed and sometimes rigid limits of line.

Shannon asks the audience to line up his fragmented sentence ‘what does the wind do when it stops blowing’, offering them an expansive canvas to interrogate and interpret his work. Sheppard also leaves ample room for viewer analysis, however his fixed and mounted sculpture (belying there attempt to mimic movement) contrast strongly to the kinetic mobile. The established line cuts through space, actively and strongly determining its own boundaries.

Like a storyboard, the repetition and permutation of each individual component in the work by Sheppard and Kenyon (with their emphasis on line to create this division), invites the audience to visually link the divided parts in a rhythm of mutual connections. Carter’s work also develops uniquely as a set of five individual components with every line on each light box seeming to work in confluence with each other, creating a moving and infinite narrative. The question posed by Shannon, resulting from motion, as the audience waits, moving around the object to piece together its parts, finally introduces a complimentary dimension of time. Whether line is used to define a horizon or a symbol, allude to a missing boundary or point to its margin directly, its value is linked to the fact, more or less, that it is a line – that it exists as an integral component within each work.


Follow link to:

Catalogue of Inaugural Exhibition at Alliance Française de Melbourne, Eildon Gallery July 2007

www.afmelbourne.asn.au/Eildon_Catalogue.pdf

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