Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

BOAT and BIRD – Craig R Cole + Alister Karl : MADE Creative Space

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Boat and Bird invite

A tale of two types of gallery exhibition

The gallery, the artist, the exhibition and the audience have been around for a couple of hundred years where a common expectation is that the exhibition operates as a vehicle for the selling of art. There is a commercial reality that ‘selling’ art funds the process of art-making, on the part of the artist – and staying in business and generating income through commission, for the gallerist. There has always been an anathema or disinterest in the making of art as commodity against the creative free place that artists see themselves in a community.

In the 1960s, artists rebelled against the commercial gallery structure by making art in the landscape (land artists like Robert Smithson) or making ephemeral conceptual works (Fluxus), which were not the saleable commodity like the painting in the frame. Later, performance art and video artists created art that was often unpalatable to the art purchasing (investor) clientele by the nature of both the content and the medium itself. Artists want to just do their own thing but can art exist outside the mercantile frame? And were does fit within the contemporary artists’ community?

An exhibition by Craig R. Cole and Alister Karl in Toowoomba’s MADE creative space may serve to provide some insights. Entitled Boat and Bird the exhibition is a collaboration project by the two artists that features subject content as defined by the title – boats and birds. The two artists have a creative friendship that goes back over 14 years and for much of this time they claim the subjects of boat and birds have permeated their relationship.

The MADE space is multi-roomed, with wooden floor and black and white walls and the two artists have drawn, affixed and assembled found and collected objects. There is no catalogue, no erudite didactic panels, no pretence (or perhaps – all pretence) and no ‘in your face’ message the viewer to be burdened by. Drawings are fixed to the wall, and in some cases, they have been allowed to leap from the paper onto and into the gallery wall itself. A collection of delicate feathers appears to have settled on one part of the gallery wall where its embryonic bird shape morphs into a boat sail. In a mini installation space around 20-feathered shuttlecocks sail through the air before a framed print of the game being played.

Some collaborative boat works utilise nautical themed things rescued from junk shops and car boot sales. In the context of gallery these objects take on new meanings by the interaction of the viewer. Juxtaposed in the gallery space are boat models, a photo jig-saw, consisting of a harbour full of boats, is presented as a DIY for viewers to attempt to assemble, and a set of coded nautical message flags is presented for deciphering.

In one corner a collaborative piece consisting of things like ship models a bird covered cuckoo clock, a metre or two of fishing net, steel mesh, a pair of crutches and ancient surveyors strings and ropes. The collaged objects seemed sometimes bird-like and yet at other times maybe even boatish.

In viewing the works one may take clues and cues from the art works and then connect them with personal lived experience. Sometimes there is a moment of instant delight at discovering a hidden joke or glib message. Other times there is and enjoyment of the beauty of the simple line and outline or the whimsy of the extension of the artwork into the space.

The exhibition Boat and Bird presents art at its best – free, fresh and fun with enough take away visual memories to stir further thought and reflection. Here perhaps is the ‘other’ form of the exhibition, the hors commerce one. Perhaps this form is where the true he(art) is.


Is it a boat? or Is it a bird? A collaborative installation by Cole + Karl

Birds drawing: Cole + Karl

Feathers morphing into a sail: Cole + Karl

"Float on": Cole + Karl

Boat harbor jig-saw: Cole + Karl

Birds escape from page

Alister Karl @ opening of Boat and Bird

Craig explains the viewing alignment of boat and painting

Craig's photo of boat and painting

Craig R Cole and the author Doug R Spowart

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