Unthinkably, Susan Knight has monumentalised those flimsy plastic tags used for tying up commercial bread bags. Knight has laminated enlarged versions of this ugly clip, giving them a mirror finish and taking the ubiquitous shape to unprecedented glamour.

A large array of them is installed in the corner at Linden, creating a tiled pattern, as in some posh hair salon.

Knight’s extrapolation of the insubstantial fastening has a poetic dimension, confounding the design with op art and the chunky décor of the 1970s. So the conflation of the bread tag to the prestige of chic ornament is a paradox, a strange promotion of the tacky to stylish authority.

Though bizarre, this is the kind of inventive power that art has always sought. An artist contemplates subject matter - probably handled by others in the past - and seeks to reinvest the material with new moods, skills and techniques or symbolic content. Many of the works at Linden achieve this by translating materials, such as Narelle Desmond’s glasses made from sticky tape, which demote the traditional blown forms through an improvised spun construction.

Alas, all of this invention - where one work outdoes the next in poetic wit - is under threat. A new generation is abolishing its competitive premises, calling for a moratorium on creative assertion. Hence, a group exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces is called Don’t show me your poetry.

According to a catalogue essay by Robert Cook –which is itself highly poetic – the title is “a tart, early morning slap in the face…a passive-aggressive move taken in order to steal back some kind of personal power and space to think against those out there who will persist to judge you and hold you accountable.”

A large part of the essay goes like this: “Don’t show me. Your introduction. Your paper walls. Your lip-syncing. Your bedroom as a zone for untested ambitions…Your whole idea…Your song number seven. Your exhibition of work.” And it goes on brilliantly, to produce a misanthropic litany of negations, listing all the personal traits, appurtenances and achievements that an artist could be proud of, all with the implicit chilly response of another artist: I don’t want to know about these glories.

Never before has the art scene produced such a confession of the artist’s need for asylum in the face of another artist’s egocentricity. Artists are brought up to project their persona and genius upon everyone else. But artists themselves need to be protected against one another’s skills in personal satisfaction. The new psychological economy of art culture demands nonchalance.

Lest any jealousy be incited, the exhibition is self-effacing, burying works of distinction amid mediocre ones. An example is Alin Huma’s splendid photograph of ancient sculptures gazing upon a barrier erected in front of their imperious noses.The gods and heroes are fenced off by construction works. The one big project negates another. Alas, this wonderful image enjoys patchy company, so its thematic potential is not reinforced. It’s as if we have repudiated “your whole idea.”

Meanwhile, Cook’s clever essay could be applied with equal aptness to the works at Linden. Don’t show me your crystal made from sticky tape, your dress embroidered with blood, your butchery in petit-point (Rohani Osman), your abject glasses wilted in the furnace (Liliana Barbieri), your eggs impregnated with old masters (Sarina Lirosi).

One artist, however, has a method for obtaining sympathetic curiosity – even from artists – with his personal preoccupations. Stephen Hennessey’s Unkept appointments at Blindside pursue an ambitious melding of personal memory and optical systems.

His sculptures are made from book illustrations and text related to various meetings, some recalled painfully. But he literally folds this material into severe platforms and edifices, propping up the graphic content with the great institutions of perspective and display.

Illustrations of various encounters are collapsed upon Newtonian structures, implying that things of memory and wonder map onto the universal. With winsome humour and a sense of paradox, Hennessey presses his experience into a geometrically cerebral mold. With art as pensive as this, there’s no risk that someone will say: don’t show me your memories, your clever juxtapositions, your critique of the Cartesian. It’s too gentle for another artist to want to ignore.

 

Robert Nelson

2007