The Elusive Yonder

installation view. Photograph courtesy of Bewley Shaylor

There is much talk in Perth of the city’s isolation, of the role that global mobility might play in local contemporary art practice. ‘Mobility’ here is a necessity, inevitable in some form, although its direction is another question as the city remains attached to a European history that is far from the reality of the continent and region. These concerns are visible undercurrents in Yonder, curated by Jasmin Stephens at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, in which mobility is explored as subject and method. In scope, however, the exhibition is more ambitious: ‘yonder’ is a complex place.

The term suggests an elsewhere that could be metaphysical or political and the 14 artists included in Yonder run the gamut of interpretation. Australian Andy Best’s photographs search for Merlin and mythology in the Black Forest, whilst Singaporean Charles Lim Yi Yong’s elegantly simple video of rope slowly lolling in the ocean evokes the mutability of borders with significant political resonance. There is also a diversity of material approach: Clare Peake’s rudimentary vessels, sculpted from the earth of her regional home-town of Geraldton share the floor with Benjamin Forster’s Short Message Service, an electronic ‘sculpture’ delivering geometric patterns by request and satellite to pockets and handbags.

Simon Faithfull, Limbo: An Expanding Atlas of Subjectivity, 2012, live digital drawing

Yonder is, due to this inclusiveness, a busy exhibition but the heft of its engagement is relieved by a series of clever and surprising formal echoes. A reductive approach in many of the works, which frequently refer to 1960s and 70s strategies of distribution or dematerialisation, creates a negative space both physically and conceptually important. A shared art-historical irreverence means that traditions jostle and merge like meals at an international food court. Simon Faithfull’s observational drawings, made on a tablet, are transmitted to a printer in the gallery space and used to create a fragmented map of his daily experience in Berlin, applying the ethos of Lucy Lippard’s suitcase curation to naturalistic representation with digital immediacy. Heman Chong’s work, positioned on an exterior wall, provides a pertinent closing statement. Using Richard Long’s font and format, Chong presents a series of odes to international cities as though experienced on foot. Each sparse poem is heavy with a weight of emotion and imagery that is, importantly, fictional. Great journeys, as artworks have often suggested, can occur whilst stationary.

Heman Chong, Circle of Despair/Beijing 2002, 2004, from the series Walking Long and Hard Vinyl on wall Dimensions variable

Interestingly, Stephens considers not only theme and material but also the pragmatics and geography of contemporary artistic practice. It’s not accidental that a Singaporean artist based in London shares an Australian exhibition-space with an Australian artist recently returned from a residency in Berlin and a British artist who resides permanently in that international city of expats. Overlaying these ‘peripheral’ networks on a densely packed, sparely arranged exhibition with its feet on the ground and its eyes on the horizon means that Yonder often feels like a physical manifestation of the electric connectivity experienced online, although it insists on a slower and more considered navigation. In the connected world there are ‘yonders’ everywhere – or perhaps because of this, nowhere, for the role of ‘yonder’ may be to remain invisible, a dream. For those intimate with mobility’s sibling – with distance – this could mean everything, or nothing.