By Linda Walker
"The Venerable Ananda wished to know whether there was any fragrance that wafted equally with and against the wind. The Buddha replied that the fragrance of virtue wafts in all directions."(1)
I stood at the gallery door, my heart sunk: immediately ahead were two bales of hay and a pitch-fork, to my right a straw broom and a large painting of a cow, and beside me an empty ornate frame above a metal bucket on (what looked like) a milking stool - and all of this titled 'from dialogues with a new window dresser - HARVEST', an Aleks Danko work. And nearby a sculptured column accompanied by a painting of the column: a representation of a representation. In the middle of the floor, as a signal toward the remaining works, a blank blue globe of the world on a piece of dark marble with the gold inscription '1990'. This could have all been a stage-set for a visually enticing but materially complex play: to slumber low in my seat, ignoring the gestures, was an option. If I stayed awake however chances were the spaces on the walls and floors would alter, become more than the marks: "Henceforth, the important thing is neither what is said (a content), nor the saying itself (an act), but rather the transformation, and the invention of still unsuspected mechanisms that will allow us to multiply the transformations."(2)
Next came a picture of a little boy with determined eyes, in a smock, chipping away at a rock, making art ('PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS TRADITION'). Alongside, a picture of a little girl with startled eyes (the one that's appeared in previous Danko work(3)) on a pedestal, and the rock itself (on a pedestal); between them a slab of wood ('incidental - STUPID AS A PAINTER, THICK AS A SCULPTOR'). Looking into the smaller central gallery space the girl appeared again, this time upside down (and this seemed fitting, in that she might as well be, being so relentlessly wide-eyed), high on the wall above four large grey paintings by Micky Allan ('Transparency'). To their left on a side wall a single larger blue and grey work, to their right a group of 'empty' frames with 'empty' titles flanked by one frame filled with a painted T ('Salon'). Both Allen's. In the centre of the room a piece of slate on a chair on a platform, all painted blue except for the back of the slate ('incidental - CHAINSORE'). And at the entrance to this room an easel arrayed with several art ingredients, like a recipe ('incidental- A MEASURE OF FAITH AND DOUBT). Both Danko's. Faith and Doubt were essential at this point; the urge to distinguish the Allans from the Dankos was tempting, to see where work overlapped, to pin down their version of collaboration. In the back room there was more work, work, work; above the entrance a bright pink painting by Allan ('Pink'), and framed by the doorway 'Folly' by Danko - a cupboard balanced on a tall cone-pedestal. Both these declared the precarious yet stable ambience of the installation (everything was strategically placed, and the gallery over-flowed). It induced leisurely looking, a drifting off ("Critique must be drifted out of. Better still: Drifting is in itself the end of all critique(4)
Harvest required patient active viewing, a willingness to persist, to travel back and forward over re-occurring motifs, materials, colours; it demanded commitment to subtleties, an abandonment. Pleasure here came from detailed attention, or attention to detail, as the blurring between individual work was banal, once one saw it, yet fascinating as a record of their method. An analytic method perhaps: not the addressing of a theme/issue, nor the denial of personal art history, or of that history's present voice.
The overall work was, on one level, a form of play (of interaction) which expected the viewer to play similarly. The rewards were quiet: surprise, say, at the moments where one artist's work could have easily been the other's; where one had caught the humour of the other, or taken up the other's obsession. These differ slightly from the rewards of appearance; the manners of usual response were redundant.
The subjects, or subjectives, were present throughout, (within each of the actual collaborative works, of which there were fourteen, the presence of both artists was implicit); a struggle was not evident; that is, the collaboration hadn't desired a third identity, although it probably hadn't denied that possibility either. "We are searching without knowing that the manner of the searching is taking us in wave steps, over the sea and back again, to a place where we can get our feet back on the ground. When the gallery is no longer an isolated shorting on a darkling sea and we know once again how it might sparkle as a meeting for some sort of community, and not be divided from within and without by warring factions" (5): and this was achieved, by unrestrained exchange, a generous state forfeiting the idea of preciousness, and the preciousness of ideas.
There was an unstated text throughout, which, while clever, was almost reticent (perhaps): as in one wanted to ask (and repeat) even though the question was useless: yes-but-what-do-they-mean. The text resulted from the two, initially incompatible, philosophies brought to Harvest. One: art practise itself, its hopes, dreams, and pretences, the traditions to which it clings; the other: Eastern cosmology, and its translation into the Western mileau; and further, that translation into art: "...the language of a translation * can - in fact, must - let itself go, so that it gives voice to the intentio of the original not as reproduction but as harmony, as a supplement to the language in which it expresses itself, as its own kind of intentio." (6)
Curiously, it was the individual works of the artists which most clearly revealed the text/texture, and therefore the collaboration. For example, the cow in Danko's 'from dialogues with a new window dresser - HARVEST' recalled the cautionary axiom for Buddhist aspirants: if you see the Buddha on the path kill him. Because over the cow's head was the round / cross symbol seen down the sights of a rifle. A sacred cow art; the target. And Allan's 'Ideal Buddha' was funny (clownish, like stating: this is correct/ideal art). Here a tiny line-Buddha sat in the classic pose surrounded by tokens of diagrammatic proportions, an architectural god. He was placed on a largo white background, it was an exquisite work. The idea of an Ideal Buddha is impossible, given the buddhist teachings: there are many buddhas, every student aspires. It's a difficult path: "Better than a thousand utterances, comprising useless words, is one single beneficial word, by hearing which one is pacified." (7)
A bird's eye view of Allan and Danko's exhibition might have shown a plain, the site of a gentle opera, a pantomime even, where two philosophies tell each other divergent never-ending stories, while providing a single muted spectacle. The title, Harvest, suggested the gains of a collaborative style where difference (irrepressibly) remains.
1. Narada Thera (trans.), The Dhammapada, Ceylon, 1972, p. 57
2. Michel de Certeau, The practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1988, p. 152
3. Taste, Reconnaissance gallery, Melbourne, 1988
4. J.F.Lyotard, Driftworks, Semiotext(e), Inc., N.Y. 1984, p. 13
5. Caroline Barnes and Christina Davidson, Harvest catalogue writers' notes, Watters Gallery, Sydney, and Contemporary Art Centre, Adelaide, 1990
6. Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator, in Illuminations, Shocken Books, N.Y., 1989, p. 79
7. N. Thera, ibid., p. 95
Broad Sheet, Vol. 19, No. 3, September 1990