Exhibition Catalogue Text
David Attwood & Oliver Hull - Endless Autumn
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery
13 June - 26 July 2015
In 1964 Bruce Brown produced the definitive surf movie: The Endless Summer. The movie follows surfers on their worldwide quest for the perfect wave. It was the first ‘pure’ surfing movie – made by surfers, for surfers – which crossed into the mainstream of popular culture. It marked a cultural moment; surfing became a hot new sport, associated with youthfulness and an ideal Californian lifestyle, and shamelessly exploited by the media. The surfer style and antiestablishment identity became a marketing tool to sell clothing, movies and magazines. Surfing culture spawned a style of art which collapsed boundaries between art and design. Hierarchies became established in the art world and the surfing world: between contemporary and kitsch, between locals and wannabes. Endless Autumn uses humour to explore these divisions in the context of the less desirable aspects of surfing: ‘waxed’ car doors, broken thongs and the great white shark.
Confronting the viewer on first entering the gallery, Stalagmite suggests aquatic shapes: gelatinous sea creatures, the accretion of salt on handrails near the beach, or the sea itself as it swells to a curling abstraction of a breaking wave. Its phallic symbolism punctures notions of the heroic male artist, an idea underscored by the collective nature of the exhibition –Attwood and Hull share authorship of all the works.
Machismo and surf-wax recur in Waxed Again, a work alluding to the practice of local surfers destroying the car doors of out-of-towners. Surfers speak of ‘localism’, being the extent to which surfers mark out their territory using violence and intimidation. Although surfer Tom Trigwell recalls that in the 1960s a certain break was known as ‘Bunbury Break’ in recognition of the number of surfers who made their way down from the regional centre, the waves of the south west now have some reputation as ‘localised’.
The two waxed car doors are paired with two paintings of local beach landscapes from the City of Bunbury Art Collection. The inclusion of these works again raises questions of collective authorship of an exhibition, but also provokes viewers to question the forces that determine the course of art scholarship. Just as typical Surf Art incurs the disparagement of the art world, this disdain is echoed by the hierarchy of genres in academic art, with landscape towards the bottom. The question of authenticity and acceptance runs parallel in art as in surfing.
Anti-Shark Abstraction serves up the hard-edged painting style of West Coast geometric abstract painting, in this instance representing the shark-repellent patterning of surfboards and wetsuits. The intense colour and bold unitary forms draws on the human fascination with machine-made uniformity and standardised experiences as contrasted with the thrilling unpredictability of natural phenomena.
Blue Tube, an air-conditioning vent painted the colour of Bunbury seas invests a quotidian object with the mystique of the perfect tube. The item is offered as an object of obsession – the hovering mirage a surfer might see if stranded in an art gallery in a town with no waves. This all-too perfect tube can be seen as commentary on the increasing popularity of surfing amongst the general populace, where surfing is compartmentalised and packaged for a mass audience.
Similarly, Freddo pokes fun at the ubiquitous surfing imagery in mass culture. Along with Blowout, it speaks to the hybridity of Australian culture – appropriating American styles of footwear (made in Brazil) and presenting a British candy as a mark of Australian identity. The exhibition as a whole plays on the motif of provincialism in its repeated allusion to the benchmarks of international modernism, referencing Duchamp’s readymade, the monochrome paintings of modernism and the mass cultural references of pop. However, in this instance, the artists engage with modernism to entrench themselves all the more firmly in the regional. Their artworks locate themselves firmly in this specific site, thus anchoring the hybrid, unstable identities of postmodernism firmly in the complex histories, practices and identities of this region.